Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goodbye to a disastrous 2011

2011 has not been an especially good year for many people. A worsening economic crisis in many parts of the world, particularly in Europe, and a host of natural disasters has left a significant proportion of the globe somewhat battered and worn.

There have been some causes for celebration. A Royal Wedding brought some cheer to people's lives, though there were others who probably thought such a lavish spectacle was somewhat out of place given the current economic climate [tvnewswatch: millions watch royal wedding].

Some of the biggest cheers came after America's most wanted was declared killed in Pakistan, when US troops stormed Osama bin Laden's secret hideaway [tvnewswatch: Osama bin Laden killed by US troops]. There were some who remained sceptical of the whole affair, with suggestions that bin Laden had been dead for some time and that the declaration of a successful operation in May merely helped to bolster the waning War on Terror [tvnewswatch: World reacts to death of bin Laden].

The year was perhaps most notable for a sweeping wave of protests around the globe. In the west many came together to bemoan the effects of capitalism. Occupy Wall Street protests were repeated in many cities across the US and in other cities around the world. But while the protests were loud, their voices mainly fell on deaf ears.

Protests that did have some effect were those seen across the Middle East. In Egypt thousands demonstrated against the Mubarak regime and ousted the leader, though a year on many feel that they have only changed one corrupt leader with another as the military maintain a firm grip on power.

The so-called Arab Spring saw revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and a civil war in Libya resulting in the fall of its government and the death of Muammar Gaddafi [tvnewswatch].

The wave of protests spread to other Middle Eastern dictatorships and autocracies but most were severely stamped out by authorities. There were civil uprisings in Bahrain and Yemen, the latter resulting in the resignation of the Yemeni prime minister. The Syrian uprising which began as a series of protests continues still with signs that like Libya it too may develop into a full scale civil war. Unlike Libya it is unlikely to receive any help from NATO due to the difficult political and geographical factors involved.

There were also major protests in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Oman. Minor protests were also seen in Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Western Sahara. And clashes at the borders of Israel in May 2011 and the Palestine 194 movement were also said to have been inspired by the regional Arab Spring.

China too has seen a number of protests. The Arab Spring inspired a so-called Jasmine Revolution, though the authorities quickly moved in against organisers and rounded up hundreds of activists, dissidents, artists and lawyers [tvnewswatch: China's Jasmine revolution quickly crushed]. Renowned artist Ai Weiwei was secretly detained for weeks before authorities charged him with tax evasion. Others found themselves jailed for years on charges of subversion. The protests seen in China were not all inspired by the Arab Spring. There have been a number of demonstrations complaining about corruption and illegal land seizures, especially in the south of the country.

2011 was also marked by a series of natural disasters. New Zealand was struck by a devastating earthquake which left at least 180 dead and up to 2,000 injured [Wikipedia / tvnewswatch]. But it was Japan which suffered the worst after a magnitude 9.0 quake caused a massive tsunami and wrought widespread destruction [tvnewswatch: 8.9 earthquake hits Japan]. The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami killed more than 15,000 people and caused the worst nuclear disaster in Japan's history and the largest since Chernobyl in 1986 [tvnewswatch: Rising fears of Fukushima impact]. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster may not be over with many fearing the effects will be felt for many years to come.

It was also a year of extreme weather with floods engulfing large regions around the world. Australia saw widespread flooding and in Thailand floods killed more than 790 people and cost the economy more than $45 billion. September's Sindh floods in Pakistan killed over 400 people and devastated a wide area of arable land, though the event failed to gain as much attention as Thailand because of the knock on effects. Thailand is the world's 2nd largest producer of hard disk drives accounting for approximately 25% of the world's production. As such there were fears the world might even see a shortage in supplies of hard disks.

For people in the west, 2011 will probably be most remembered for the crisis in the Eurozone. Estonia officially adopted the Euro on the 1st of January, and may have had second thoughts about becoming the seventeenth Eurozone country to use the Euro. The Eurozone debt crisis had become a major concern since 2009, but by mid-2011 the situation had become critical with some fearing the sovereign debt crisis could result in the collapse of the single currency.

As German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicholas Sarkozy tried to formulate a plan to save the Euro and the Eurozone from collapse there were several casualties [tvnewswatch: Why Euro must not be allowed to fail / tvnewswatch: European debt crisis deepens / tvnewswatch: Fears of contagion loom despite EU deal / tvnewswatch: Britain in danger of joining PIGS]. Greece and Italy both saw a change of leadership and Britain found itself isolated from the Euro-club, with Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron being snubbed by the French in particular [tvnewswatch: Britain becomes lonely man in Europe].

The fallout from the crisis in Europe is far from over, and markets around the world reeled as uncertainty prevailed. Even strong economies were seeing signs of weakness with China showing a drop in exports. A much predicted bubble burst in China's property market, though compared to many other countries, the Chinese economy remains relatively strong [tvnewswatch: Will China's bubble burst? / tvnewswatch: Risks ahead after China's credit bubble bursts].

2011 saw the passing of many notable people from musicians to dictators. Scottish musician Gerry Rafferty, well known for his hit Baker Street, died in January. Gary Moore, a rock guitarist, famous for his roll with rock band Thin Lizzy, departed a month later. Perhaps the most iconic and ironic departure was that of poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron who is perhaps most well known for his song The Revolution Will Not Be Televised [YouTube].

Revolution across the Middle East was only partly televised, with authorities clamping down on social media too. And the uprisings brought about the death of at least one dictator, that of Colonel Gaddafi. Other dictators fell because of ill health. As 2011 drew to a close North Korean leader Kim Jong-il passed away and passed the reins to his son Kim Jong-un, though there was no change to the way the country is ruled [tvnewswatch: Nutty tyrant Kim Jong-il dies at 69].

The passing of Václav Havel gained less attention but was notable given that he had been instrumental in bringing about the collapse of communism in Czechoslovakia and precipitating the Velvet Revolution.

As the clocks tick into 2012 few will mourn the passing of 2011. Many will, instead, hope for a brighter future, that the economy improves, political situations calm and that the damage wrought by nature can heal.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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