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.
Syria has rejected the Arab League’s demand to end its violent crackdown on protesters and allow greater freedom or face economic sanctions from the League after 3500 people have been killed since the rebellion began in March.
They were suspended from the League on Wednesday.
Along with the demand to end the violence, the League also ordered Syria to allow foreign journalists to work, release all recent political prisoners, withdraw all military from the cities and enter talks with opposition groups within two weeks.
It is understood that the Syrian authorities have agreed to allow a small number, much smaller than originally proposed by the League, of observers in to monitor the peace talks but activists say that 11 have died in the unrest since last Friday are worried that the country will slide into civil war.
Libyan’s suspension from the League was a major factor in the UN agreement to send in support for the rebels back in March and with huge public pressure in countries around the Western world Syria is widely tipped to be the next country faced with foreign intervention. However there are fears within the elite that if they give into the League’s demands and in allowed foreign peace keepers they will lost control of large swathes of territory.
Meanwhile in Egypt, more than 200 people have been hurt in clashes in Tahrir Square, the symbolic heart of the Egyptian revolution earlier this year, as police use rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the long-term sit-in that started on Friday to protest against Egypt’s military rule.
Finally, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son that always claimed the regime would rise again, was captured trying to flee the country yesterday and will be transported to the Hague to stand trial at the International Criminal Court.
It would seem the Arab Spring still isn’t over.
Continue reading And the Arab Winter Rumbles On…
I know that I’ve said this before, but I hope that this is at the very least the end of beginning for Libya.
Seven months and three blog posts later, Gaddafi has been dragged through the streets of Sirte, whether dead or alive no-one knows yet, to thunderous celebrations across the country.
However now that the euphoria has died down somewhat, the ugly side of Gaddafi’s demise has emerged.
Now I’m certainly not going to mourn him and Libya is better off without him overshadowing the reconstruction process. However again, as I said with Osama Bin Laden’s death back in May the manner of his death is not a cause for celebration.
No-one is exactly sure how it happened but it seems to me that he was just left to the mob.I can’t imagine a more brutal way to die.
I do think its a shame, it may not do too much for Libya to see him brought before a war crimes tribunal but it would certainly bring to light the duplicity of other world leaders over the past forty years.
I’m sure Tony Blair will be sleeping easier now he knows that Gaddafi won’t live to tell his tale.
I’m not going to sit here and condemn the actions of the rebels the way everyone else will inevitably. I will not condone it either but I really don’t think they’ve done anything that any other person in any country of the world wouldn’t do.
I’m all for the condemnation of actions, punishment and holding people to account but the sanctimonious way people condemn other people’s actions as if they wouldn’t do the same in the same situation bothers me. Its hypocritical.
These people have been bullied, brutalised and threatened by Gaddafi for the past forty years. He threatened to kill everyone that stood against them. If you want to quote some famous writer (as commentators seem to in these situation) then I would go with Shakespeare or Macbeth in particular:
‘Who could refrain who had a heart to love and in that heart, courage to make love known’
Now that the Gaddafi regime has been ousted from Tripoli and the rebels revel in and loot the various palaces of him and his family, the blogosphere and the Guardian’s picture editors are making the (slightly obvious) comparison’s between Gaddafi’s regime and the forgotten colossus in Shelley’s Ozymandias.
However, as talk turns to what Libya and the Middle East will do next I think a probably more profound literary allusion would be George Orwell. Or more specifically, the final words of his 1945 novella Animal Farm:
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from
pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
The rebels are closing in. The heirs to the regime have either been arrested or killed. The compound is all that is left of a dictatorship that has spanned four decades.
With only 20% of the capital, according to current reports, still in his possession and night long celebrations in the capital’s Green Square it looks like the jig is up for Colonel Gaddafi.
His time in power, lubricated by sitting on top of an oil reserve that the Western powers don’t want to lose, has been marked by suspicion, mystery and worldwide condemnation. It is hard to believe this is the end of the saga that has been going on since the airstrike began back in March.
Back when NATO sanctioned the air attack the government tried to suggest that it would be quick and painless as Gaddafi was already on his last legs. However the past 5 months have proved that was as naive as most commentators and members of the public thought at the time.
Continue reading Gaddafi’s Last Stand And The Future Of Libya.