New start? No chance: Spruced-down NY party as the ME braces for a sobering 2013

Published January 2nd, 2013 - 12:05 GMT

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Dubai's Burj Khalifa at New Year 2013
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Image 1 of 7: Ain't no party like a UAE party! Dazzling pyrotechnics lit up the skyline of Dubai, with an estimated 2 billion people watching the fireworks display at Burj Khalifa remotely. A table in a tower restaurant cost up to $4,300 per person on the night. 1.7 million people are thought to have attended, out-partying festivities in Times Square.

Aleppo's Syrian Santa Claus bears AK-47, not gifts
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Image 1 of 7: Syria's Santa was more likely to wield an AK-47 than a sack of gifts: The usual New Year cheers and revelry of Syria’s ancient cities was replaced this year by staccato gunfire and the thud of shelling. In the capital, the few open bars and restaurants catered to those who could make it through the labyrinth of checkpoints and roadblocks.

Alexandria lights candles for New Year 2013
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Image 1 of 7: Egypt: Festivities in Tahrir square came to an abrupt finish after well-known activist Mohannad Samir was shot and his friends threatened to rip down the stage where musicians, actors and poets, including the revolutionary band Iskendrella, were scheduled to give performances. Over in Alex, people kept it spiritual with candles of hope.

Lebanon tries to have a Happy New Year 2013 in times of hardship
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Image 1 of 7: Lebanon – the capital of ME partying - was surprisingly subdued. The Syrian conflict & kidnappings kept the usual Gulfi revelers at bay but in their place affluent Syrian refugee-tourists were on the scene. The traditional NY fireworks display sponsored by Solidere was cancelled, and many stayed home due to the party-pooper public smoking ban.

Palestinians of Ramallah see the New Year of 2013 in with flags
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Image 1 of 7: Palestinians injected a note of nationalism into their NY party as they huddled around the West Bank city of Ramallah waving flags to usher in 2013, their aspirational year of the new 'promised state', while flagging down 2012, the year of settlements, past.

New Year in Le Royal, Amman marks Jordan's 2013 party
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Image 1 of 7: Jordan: Pricey parties swamped the capital Amman, while many escaped the city to the Dead Sea. But in the capital’s fashionable districts the liquor flowed along with the throngs of party animals ready to dance into 2013. Elections & political panics paused for the night, while some spared a thought for their Syrian neighbors & refugee guests.

Morocco's vigilant and sober New Year 2013, the market
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Image 1 of 7: Tunisia spreads the spirit of Salafi sobriety: A dampener for the North African Arab hub, or ‘Maghreb,’ set in this NYE after a popular preacher told Tunisians that New Year's Eve was un-Islamic. Meanwhile, Morocco was having a vigilant night, buffering its security to protect revellers from the Al-Qaeda threat at large. Not much NY cheer here.

"Happy New Year" felt like a hollow greeting if not a wise-crack on December 31, 2012, for many members of the Arab hemisphere, entering their third year of Arab Spring. The New Year’s celebrations were muted to a minimum in the Arab capitals, as the region let its upheaval roll into another year.

While Lebanese, Iraqis and Jordanians were among those who had ducked the outright 'change' of some of their neighbors in-revolution, they could not avoid the same old problems with plenty of new issues to add to their 2013 scoreboard.

What, you may ask, of the Arab-inspired resolutions? Can the region hope for an end to the bloody conflict in Syria? Will political change sweep the Gulf states? Or will 2013 be an echo of 2012, and be more about surviving and striving for normalcy than pushing for new gains? In such uncertain times making predictions or a wish-list seems senseless.

Guilty pleasures

The party as a result of unrest and economic depression took a distinct back seat. In countries neighboring Syria, many felt in no mood for celebrating on account of their crisis-ridden Arab brothers,  and the party spirit took a knock due to financial hardships.

This NY was off to a good start if the skies were lit up with fireworks, as opposed to the missiles or shells usually cluttering the Mideast-scape. Parties were punctuated by habitual power cuts in Iraq and Lebanon; and war-racked Syria's infrastructure could hardly cope with celebrations.  In Damascus, few marked the date in the historic Old City, usually a seething hive of activity and decoration. The rattle of gunfire and rumble of explosions replaced the rush of the yearly firework display. 

Despite all these problems and more, celebrations went ahead in much of the region, with Dubai hosting one of the world’s largest (and most expensive) parties. More than 1.7 million people watched the fireworks at the Burj Khalifa building, with about 2 billion said to have caught it on television or online. 

From Cairo to Cassablanca, Beirut to Baghdad, this NYE was off-color and the ring-tone was barely audible compared to previous New Years rung in. But, 2013 promises no let-up in the push for change, even at the cost of a shindig or two.

 

Have your say: Should the Middle East have cancelled their New Year party altogether this NY 2013 in view of struggling Arab nations in the throe of civil war? Or should we give the region a break? Perhaps they needed the celebration to lift their fighting spirits to gird them for the battle ahead.

 

 

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