So its been quite a year really hasn’t it? The Middle East is always a major flashpoint in every year but this year it took over the epicentre of nearly every major news story across the world as nearly the entire region became a battleground between the haves and the havenots.
Arab Spring: The spark that lit the bonfire was the actions of one Tunisian man who set himself on fire to highlight the dire situation. What happened next promises to be endlessly mythologised by the media and a few overwrought novels and memoirs which are bound to crawl out of the woodwork in a few years but the speed and sweep of rebellion throughout the Middle East and the fear and hope it has inspired in countries as diverse as China and UK is certainly compelling. Time magazine named ‘the Protester’ their ‘Person of the Year’ because Mohamed Bouazizi didn’t just inspire the Arab World, he also inspired the anti-corruption campaigning in India, protests over contested elections in Russia and arguably the worldwide Occupy movement and made authoritarian governments like China quiver in fear.
Afghanistan: Another day, another death. As the death toll creeped up for foreign troops battling the Taliban in Afghanistan, talk soon turned to reconciliation and withdrawal as the West hoped that the country could finally build their own future. However, these hopes soon started to sour as Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai appeared to be increasing undemocratic and corrupt despite Western support, a memo leaked back in August showed that the British government were ‘looking forward’ to his departure and last week, fired the head of the commission looking into human rights abuses in the country. Furthermore, in order to bring peace to Afghanistan, negotiations have to be made with the Taliban which could jeopardise the headway made for women’s rights which is claimed to be the main reason foreign troops are still occupying the country. This has led to Amnesty International launching a campaign to protect women’s interests during the negotiations.
Iran: A country never far from international trouble, the end of this year saw the withdrawal of British diplomats from Iran over fresh concerns over its nuclear programme. Although, the Tehran Times recently reports the foreign minister is willing to reopen negotiations 2011 remains yet another tense chapter in the history of Iran’s relationship with the West. Last week Tehran threatened to cut off the vital Hormuz strait oil passage to the West in a move the USA says ‘will not be tolerated’ over a UN report that suggests that Iran is developing atomic bombs for aggressive purposes, a charge vehemently denied by the Iranian government. The stalemate continues.
Iraq: As the withdrawal of British and American troops is almost complete and one of the most controversial wars in recent history draws to a close questions over Iraq plans to govern itself as a modern, democratic nation. Barack Obama said that the country still isn’t perfect but they are leaving behind a ‘sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq’ and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that lives weren’t lost in vain. Only time will tell.
Libya: This year saw the fall of Africa’s longest serving dictator, Colonel Gaddafi. The start of the year saw the uprising inspired by their Tunisian neighbours, March saw foreign intervention with the UN backing air strikes that pushed Gaddafi into hiding and an international game of ‘Where’s Gaddafi?’ had begun by the end of August. By October a brutal man had met a brutal end. It was an inhumane and merciless way to end an inhumane and merciless era, we can only hope there will be better things to come for Libya in 2012.
Syria: The other side of the Arab civil war coin to Libya, Bashir Al-Assad refuses to fall. After almost a year of civil war, rejection by the international community and even sanctions from the Arab League, Syria shows no signs of easing up the oppression of its people. Youtube videos and blogs show images of horrific tortures of civilians as protesters ‘disappear’ and turn up weeks later on their families’ doorsteps in bodybags. With the success of the Libya mission, international commentators are calling for greater intervention as human rights are abuse hither and thither. 5000 people are reported to have been killed. We can only hope that the West will do more than make a show of shaking their fist in 2012.
Palestine vs Israel: The forty year old stalemate between Israel and Palestine saw a dramatic development in the latter’s favour as UNESCO voted to recognise it as a country infuriating Israel and its most influential backer, the USA Congress. Palestine is campaigning for full recognition by the international community to give it more power to move against Israeli land acquistions beyond the boundaries of the Peace treaty in 1967.