Image 1 of 17: The Syrian crisis has been escalating, and the last Friday of 2011 saw a climactic spate of protestor killings, using nail bombs. The opposition is defiant, and as the death toll rises so does the volume of protests - fortified in the knowledge that the Arab League (following sanctions) are in town on their mission to halt the regime crackdown.
Image 1 of 17: The GCC side-steps trouble, with the glaring exception of Bahrain, curbing real threat from tiny protest pockets, by bribery: Still, Kuwait faced a parliamentary storm; Oman saw small protests; SA contended with East coast Shia protests. Bahrain struggles with its epic bloody crisis where Shia-led rallies demand an end to the 40 yr plus rule.
Image 1 of 17: Israel ends the year in protest, as ultra Orthodox Jews call for gender segregation. Earlier, their mass protests were secular, with camps calling for cheaper housing & living. The year found Netanyahu a touch beleaguered after a mutual snubbing with ally Obama at Congress, and Obama later exposed with Sarkozy making 'mean' comments about BiBi.
Image 1 of 17: The Horn of Africa suffered a famine; Somalians starved again to death. Physical hunger was perhaps blurred by the focus on hunger for democracy elsewhere. This disaster was cited as 'man-made' and political rather than natural. Aid was slow-coming to this no-go zone, sealed off by Shabab Islamists and haunted by the legacy of 'Black Hawk Down'.
Image 1 of 17: North Africa semi-mobilizes. Following in their neighbor's footsteps, Morocco saw a series of protests of varying intensity calling to curb the King's power, beyond the reforms offered. Algeria's President Bouteflika is safe, despite two waves of protests, of limited national support, seeking social justice, but staying clear of the regime.
Image 1 of 17: UAE: pays off its subjects. Emirati pay-outs seem to keep people happy—as the state upped student grants & handed out individuals bonuses. Kuwait too. This didn't stave off a dissolved parliament charged with corruption. Oman headed off threatened unrest by pouring money into housing & employment. SA likewise fed billions into the public sector.
Image 1 of 17: Lebanon- This hot-spot, which never failed to command our undivided attention, kept a low profile while Arab neighbors were mired in strife. Not without incident, 2011 was marked by the usual politico-sectarian tensions & a cabinet crisis: Saad Hariri, whose father's death still plagues Lebanon, the tribunal in disarray, was pushed out of office.
Image 1 of 17: Ashura attrocities: Adding to the grim tone of the occasion of Ashura for Shia Muslims, was news of suicide bombings in Afghanistan. Shia Afghans marked the holy day of Ashura in Kabul by ritual flagellation, where the blood-letting was augmented with 50 deaths by this attack on worshippers to a shrine of Hussein, grandson of the Prophet (PBUH).
Image 1 of 17: Not all was doom and gloom and existentially political, though: 2011 saw the most high-scale, upmarket Arab Games in living memory, with thousands in the Qatari capital of Doha going to see events varying from chess to Kung Fu, spanning over a fortnight of the final weeks of 2011.
Image 1 of 17: Japan's nuclear coolers were not the only meltdown to afflict 2011. The Euro-meltdown saw divisions in the EU crystallize. Cameron dumped Europe effectively by opting out of the rescue committee. The UK while not a member of the Eurozone, retaining its sovereign currency, was invited as an EU member to muck in with the rest to salvage the crisis.
Image 1 of 17: Evidence that the Arab Spring really snowballed into other climes: Russia got the protest fever with a veritable winter of discontent that resulted in tens of thousands amassing in Moscow's square, outside the Kremlin. Government opposition rallies called for a parliamentary election re-run, accusing Putin of rigging his re-appointment.
Image 1 of 17: New Zealand ended its year as it started: An earthquake shook things up again in December. Of less ferocity and impact than the February episode that struck the core of Christ Church and took 182 lives. Just to cap the stormy year past, India saw said goodbye 2011 with cyclones. Not the apocalyptic flooding seen in Australia & Thailand earlier.
Image 1 of 17: Turkey's best of days and worst of days. From its own 'Turkey Spring' that seemed to bravely promote the Arab revolutions, it was vocal on the wrongs of Arab leaders. Then came its Autumn earthquake in Eastern Van that left 600 dead. Its last 2011 days saw protests at 'Murderer Erdogan' over a botched airstrike that left 35 (Kurdish) Turks dead.
Image 1 of 17: Jordan's HM King Abdullah II made his own prudent insights on Arab leadership known, when he offered advice on Syria's deteriorating situation. In Bashar Al Assad's place, he volunteered, he would step down. Jordan has so far managed to keep a modest run of protests controlled, and has appeared to address the people's complaints with reform.
Image 1 of 17: Another country on the North Africa map: The Republic of South Sudan is a new independent state. It gained instant full-membership to the UN. Its capital is Juba. The modern day South Sudan & Sudan were part of Egypt under the Muhammad Ali Dynasty. With South Sudan's official language being English, Arabic is widely used, as in neighboring Sudan.
Image 1 of 17: A royal riot! The British monarchy had a bittersweet year, including 2 joyous weddings. The big headliner making global waves (only interrupted by Bin Laden's dramatic death) was the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton. Untimely illness befell Prince Philip who had to miss Christmas celebrations with his Queen and newly extended family.
Image 1 of 17: Words nor pictures capture the March 11 carnage. The Earth went berserk. The ground shook at 9.0 magnitude in Japan's mega-quake. After a tsunami shock-wave from the off-coast epicenter hit, devastating costly damage left 20,000 dead - whole communities cleared in inland Sendai - and the Fukushima nuclear plant melting down & leaking radiation.
As the year comes to a close, many are relieved that a year of stormy clouds and unabated anger is behind us. Things can only get better, or is there still worse to come? In 2011, it turned out that we could not forecast the range of violent weather, nor could we predict the rage of people.
From Joplin Missouri's tornado to Hurricane Irene that had NYC evacuated (the feared but softer touch to predecessor Katrina), even the super-power was not above being invaded by mad storms.
Unemployment and debt crisis dominated the 2011 headlines. The Eurozone was affected, as was Japan with its own devestating quake-caused crisis. Austerity was felt in Europe, even if it didn't topple governments, as flagrantly as it did in the long-term frustrated Middle East. Still, Prime Ministers from Greece, Italy and Spain were unceremoniously shoved out of office. The US was dressed down with rising debt deficit.
Anger swept across the globe leading to Occupy Wall Street. Lines were drawn between the 'Ins' and 'outs' of the Euro while a member of the European Union (EU), the UK opted out of 'saving' the Euro.
The Arab Spring had a distinct snowball effect that was felt beyond the Caucuses. From Europe through Israel and further East, the world degenerated into protesting indignation.
The Gulf States by and large avoided major uprisings, though for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA or SA), recent rallies in Qatif along the East coast, suggest a lingering grievance of inequality and dignity that has not been sufficiently addressed through money spent by the Kingdom in 2011 to pacify its people. SA pumped $36 billion into its public sector, giving state employees pay raises and issuing financial aid to students. Kuwait doled out $4,000 grants and free food rations to its citizens.
Subsidies and cash pay outs in concert with concessions or 'progress' on laws that prohibit women from passing down their nationality were seen in the UAE and Kuwait.
Neighbor to Saudi, Bahrain, however kept Saudi far from complacent. Constantly watchful it has intervened with its own troops to keep a Shia threat at bay, risking accusations of 'foreign invasion'.
The 7 billionth baby was born in the same year that many lives were taken.
Norway served up a different brand of white Christian terrorism.
Steve Jobs the big gun of Apple computers passed away after battling with cancer. We learnt that his estranged father was of Syrian origin. Apple sold 50 million iPads in 2011.
Smart phones and social media played a large role in the Arab Uprisings.
The death of the printed book with the prevalence of the Kindle and iBook was predicted but not quite realised.
Finally, what the people wanted, they sometimes got. The Arab Spring wanted the 'fall of the regime' as protestors chanted in Arabic. For Egypt, Libya and Tunisia at least, they are on their way to 'something' different from the old regime at least.
With Osama Bin Laden out of the picture, the world was now deemed a safer place....
A Frantic and Frenetic Year
Singular moments and memories carry some still poignant images, but the year was marked by a dynamic ever-changing kaleidoscope of inundating pictures and perspectives. Even within a single Arab revolution, many different faces could be found - from promise to despair in the same week. The dramatic spectacle of struggle against adversity, come triumph or failure, were heart-rending to witness.
In a year that opened out with Australia flooded in record rainfall courtesy of Cyclone Tasha and and 181 New Zealanders killed in their deadliest earthquake, the year still ended on a stormy note-- in weather and people anger, expressing grievances and economic distress to the very last day of the year. It remains only to be seen how much the party spirit of the New Year Eve will be affected.
This was a wild wild year, but we in turn had wild creative ways of documenting it tracking it and recording it with our phones and tweeting compulsions.