Editorial: A look back on 2011

Noorulann Shahid

2011 has been a pivotal year in terms of history, and I want to look back at the major events that occurred during this year, that will undoubtedly shape 2012.

The Arab Spring revolutions, now dubbed as the “Arab Winter” was sparked in Tunisia in December 2010, after a 26-year old man named Mohammed Bouazizi doused himself in paint thinner and set fire to himself outside a local municipal office. Bouazizi’s act of desperation highlights the general consensus felt by all Tunisians over living standards, unemployment and police brutality. His act inspired Tunisians to protest against the police, which led to widespread violence and deaths. After desperate attempts by the Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to restore peace, on January 14th 2011, he imposed a state of emergency on Tunisia, fired the government and fled the country for Saudi Arabia. Elections were recently held in Tunisia, with a record turnout.

The Tunisian uprisals ricocheted throughout the Middle East, and the next set of people to speak out against corrupt dictatorship was the Egyptians. They were determined to overthrow the regime of Hosni Mubarak. The protests took place in Cairo, notably in Tahrir Square, and begun on January 25th 2011. Thousands flocked to and erected tents in the square to be part of the revolution. Their grievances were similar to the Tunisians and included unaccounted corruption particularly regarding elections, high inflation, low minimum wages and state of emergency laws. After amounting pressure from his own citizens, Hosni Mubarak resigned from office on February 11th, despite remaining defiant he would not step down until September. This marked the end of his 30-year reign. Protests in Tahrir Square began again in November 2011. The Syrians haven’t been as fortunate as President Assad is continuing to slaughter his people without any strong international resistance to his actions.

The North African state of Libya was the third country whose residents also participated in the Arab Spring. This time, it was those loyal to Colonel Muammar Gadhafi and those who wanted him gone that clashed. The war was preceded by protests that took place in Benghazi, on the 15th February. The United Nations Security Council quickly froze Gadhafi’s assets and restricted his travel. In March, a no-fly zone was established over Libya since Gadhafi did not agree to ceasefire. The war finally ended in October: when Gadhafi was captured and killed by those that opposed him on the 20th. Saif Al-Islam, Gadhafi’s son, has since been arrested and will be tried in court next year. The United Nations has agreed that he will stand for trial in Libya and not The Hague.

Moving closer to home, a media storm was brewing. A whistle-blower, in the form of Sean Hoare, exposed the Murdoch Corporation for their practices to the world. Media ethics had been hitting the headlines in the past, but this time, it was serious. He uncovered how newspapers, notably the News of the World, which was at the centre of the allegations, used phone-hacking techniques to spy on celebrities in a desperate attempt to write scandalous stories. It then became apparent that the newspaper also hacked the mobile phone of deceased teenager Millie Dowler. The Murdoch’s; father Rupert and son James, and ex-editor Rebekah Brooks, were all summoned by the Commons culture, media and sport select committee for questioning. The Leveson Inquiry into media ethics began at the end of November, as victims such as JK Rowling testified the impact the media had upon their everyday lives. James Murdoch has recently resigned from The Sun and The Times boards.

The summer’s riots were without a shadow of a doubt a pivotal moment in the history of the UK. The riots began in Tottenham, North London, as a peaceful protest was held outside the police station following the death of Mark Duggan. Mark was shot at by the police, and a recent inquest proved that he was not armed, despite previous claims that he was armed so the police shot him in self-defence. The peaceful protest turned sour after protestors were not given any answers regarding Duggan’s death. Riots broke out in Tottenham as protestors and police clashed. Similar riots ricocheted throughout the country within days, and spread to areas such as Birmingham, Brixton, Liverpool, and Manchester. It soon became apparent that the rioters had no real demands; and the riots were branded by Home Secretary Theresa May as “organised crime as the rioters looted shops.

In September, New Yorkers decided to take a leaf out of the Egyptians’ book as the Occupy movement officially began in Wall Street. The movement is in essence an Anti-Capitalist protest, amongst other things, as protestors’ grievances lie with banks and corporations who have caused the global economic crisis. The movement uses the slogan “we are the 99%” to symbolise their anger at the 1% of the population who own the majority of the wealth and therefore hold the most political and economic power. Governments are attempting to impose orders to make it illegal for protestors to remain in their tents, and in New York, police clashed with protestors as they tried to diffuse the protestors. The UK government is contemplating banning protests as London prepares to host the Olympic Games next year.

It is clear that 2011 will go down in history as a key year in which ordinary people spoke out against their leaders; particularly in the Middle East. We can only but hope that in 2012, the uprisings continue and that we begin to see real global political change.

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