Tahrir Square, Cairo, daytime_311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
This was a peculiar year. It exploded out of the starters blocks like a sprinter
on steroids with the death of a Tunisian fruit vendor and ended with a
Soviet-style funeral cortege rumbling across a massive frozen square in
Pyongyang, North Korea.
Muhammad Bouazizi set himself on fire on December
17, 2010, to protest a corrupt, nepotist and autocratic Tunisia. He died
on January 4, before most of us had gotten used to writing 2011 on our checks.
Ten days later, Tunisian president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali was gone and the Arab
Spring was well under way.
Among the tyrants who exited the scene in
2011, North Korea’s Kim Jong-il was the most mourned by his unfortunate,
terrified subjects. The rest of the world won’t miss Kim much, but his
nuclear-armed regime will now apparently be run by a guy in his late 20s whose
sole experience of the outside world is a few months in school in Switzerland,
as news presenters remind us. They may be hoping that this brief sojourn among
the good burgers of Bern will have imparted to Kim Jong-un some nice Swiss
All in all, 2011 feels like a world completely
On February 11, Hosni Mubarak gave up the Egyptian presidency;
he might have done better to flee to Saudi Arabia like his Tunisian counterpart,
Ben Ali, did a month before; a quiet retirement to his palace in Sharm e-Sheikh
was unlikely to satisfy the million of Egyptians who took on the police and
mesmerized the world during the days and nights of Tahrir Square. Less than a
month later, Mubarak’s shocked face stared out from a Cairo court
The people of Egypt have since expressed their will, and to the
dismay of the liberal activists who began the upheaval, they have chosen the
Astonishingly, the desire for freedom spread to Bahrain, Yemen
and Syria, and of course to Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi’s 42 years of vicious
despotism came to an end in a ditch outside his hometown of Sirte.
even 24-hour news TV stations can only really handle one major crisis at a time.
As the Libyan rebels defended Misrata against Gaddafi forces’ tank shelling,
nature had its say in the form of a massive magnitude 9 quake and terrible
tsunami on March 11 that devastated Japan, leaving 15,000 dead and the Fukushima
Daiichi nuclear plant perilously close to a catastrophic meltdown.
time our attention was drawn back to Misrata, the city was razed to the
In a year of demonstrations, riots, civil war and revolutions, it
was an easy choice for Time
magazine to name “The Protester” as its 2011 Person
of the Year.
By its very nature, global media tends to take a global
view. The mass demonstrations in Rome and Athens around the euro zone debt
crisis that unseated Silvio Berlusconi and George Papandreou bore little
resemblance to the summer riots on the streets of London involving people
expressing their support for looted electronic equipment.
Half a million
people taking to the streets in Tel Aviv to demand social justice are not the
ideological cousins of the protesters on Wall Street or of the rallying
But taken together, these mesmeric events appeared to
function as parts of a whole – an overwhelming zeitgeist of millions of people
across the world, coming together for revolution. Taking all of that in, we were
barely surprised when Standard & Poor’s in August downgraded the United
States credit rating from AAA, for the first time in 70 years.
many protesters did have in common was the use of social media, on iPhones and
Macs from Alexandria to Auckland. Apple founder Steve Jobs died this year after
doing more than most to make print media obsolete; Britain’s newspaper industry
hastened the process with phone-hacking revelations that left one wondering what
deleting the messages on a dead girl’s mobile phone has to do with
At the school I occasionally attended in England, a history
master would become briefly animated if our essays suggested that the First
World War was launched because a Bosnian Serb by the name of Gavrilo Princip
assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to the
Austro-Hungarian throne. “A trigger is not a cause,” he’d intone.
vendor in Tunisia started an historical process the end result of which is
uncertain. Today as we reach the last weekend of 2011, Arab League observers in
Syria appear to be suffering from collective myopia as the killing goes on in
Homs and Hama.
In 2011, Iran encouraged revolution in Egypt and tried to
prevent it in Syria. It is plowing on with its nuclear weapons project even as
scientists and generals get killed in accidents the frequency of which would
have insurance assessors scratching their heads.
2012 will surely be like
nothing we have seen before.