The world in 2011: the events

By Emma Brooks

As 2011 draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on what events have marked the year and what it will be remembered for. It has been eventful in more ways than one, marked with the usual natural disasters, political upheavals, scandals and economic woes. Here are but a few of the events that marked 2011.

The Arab Spring

Sparked by the death of a young boy in December 2010, Tunisians took to the streets to protest against the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, President of Tunisia for 24 years. Shortly after the start of the protests on 14 January 2011 Ben Ali resigned, the Tunisian people having successfully brought about change.

The movement soon spread to neighbouring countries, emboldened by the success of the Tunisians. Egypt and Libya followed suit, as well as Yemen Syria and Bahrain. Egpytians were successful, culminating in the resignation of Hosni Mubarak on 11 February 2011. Libyans too succeeded, after months of internal war and the help of Nato.

The Arab Spring was unexpected, though many countries abroad welcomed the sudden change of events and the desire of the Middle Eastern people to change their fate. It had been many years during which Western countries had watched developments in the Middle East with concern, and had intermittently tried to intervene. Worried about rebel countries and the axis of evil, the United States made a point of keeping watch on the area. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had not helped an already unstable situation, and it was uncertain what the outcome would be.

However the Arab Spring marked a new era of democracy and the beginning of a shift in relations between the Middle East and the rest of the world. It has also marked a genuine desire for change from the countries involved. No external involvement took place, meaning that the Tunisians and Egyptians were fully responsible for having successfully getting rid of their governments. Nato intervened in Libya but only after being asked for help from the Libyan rebels themselves.

What remains to be seen is what type of regime will now emerge in the Middle East. Though the long-standing dictatorships have ended, this does not necessarily mean democracy will follow. Establishing a well functioning democracy is a long process, and it could well take time before the area reaches the stability that can be found in Europe.

Furthermore, there are concerns over the peaceful co-existence of Islamic and democratic values. Countries have turned to Turkey as an example, whilst the United States and the EU worry over the progress of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Fukushima

On 11 March, a huge tsunami hit Japan, provoked by an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 on the Richter scale. The waves of the Tsunami following the earthquake  washed away much of the cities and villages surrounding the Oshika peninsula coast. The town of Fukushima, home to a large nuclear power plant was the worst hit, when three of the nuclear reactors exploded and the cooling system failed. The accident reached level 7 on the international nuclear event scale, and resulted in round the clock frantic work to keep the reactors cool by any means possible.

Workers at the nuclear plant were exposed to high levels of radiation whilst trying to prevent further nuclear disaster, and residents were evacuated or told to stay indoors. Since then radioactive water is known to have leaked into the nearby ocean, whilst Fukushima only just reached a “cold shut down” condition on 16 December.

The Fukushima crisis reignited the debate over the use of nuclear power in Europe and abroad. It painfully brought home the realities of having nuclear plants so close to home and what the potential dangers could be. Politicians across Europe promised to re-think their nuclear strategies, with Germany promising to gradually phase out nuclear energy. Others, though understanding the gravity of the situation nonetheless underlined the dependence on nuclear energy given the growing demands in energy.

The worst accident of its kind since Chernobyl, Fukushima has seriously put into perspective the use of nuclear energy and the ability to make it safe. Though there has not been a direct turn around in policy, hopefully Fukushima has provided the necessary wake-up call and will change the opinion and policy towards nuclear energy.

The Euro crisis

Following the bailouts granted to Greece and the Republic of Ireland in 2010, matters only got worse. Although aimed at solving the debt crises in both countries, the fear and speculation soon spread to other countries of the Euro zone. In April 2011, Portugal asked for a bailout from the European Union, making it the 3rd country to do so. Later, a second bailout for Greece was agreed whilst the situation started to go downhill in Spain and Italy and the debt crisis spread.

We seem to have reached the worst point in the Euro crisis yet, with governments taking the toll for the situation they have put their countries in: Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy’s governments all changed. Meanwhile, fallouts between heads of state continued over what the solution should be regarding the crisis. France and Germany have taken the lead, whilst the UK tries furiously not to be left out whilst not being part of the Euro-zone.

The crisis has brought about serious questions on the survival of the Euro and of the EU itself. Some of the most negative outcomes suggested have been a break up of the euro zone with a return to local currencies, which would have dire consequences. Should the Euro zone collapse, this would most likely threaten the EU project and everything it has striven for since the creation of the Euro, as this is partly what has forged deeper integration.

Others seem to think that the Euro crisis will provide much stronger and deeper integration for the EU once it has come out the other side. This could well be true and is an encouraging thought, however the hardest part still remains to be done. With France and Germany trying desperately to save the EU at all costs, it is hopeful that they will succeed in coming out the other side, though at what price?

The death of Osama Bin Laden

In May, as the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks was looming, President Obama announced the death of Osama Bin Laden. This came after a long planned operation after the United States received intelligence of Bin Laden’s whereabouts in Pakistan. The news resulted in huge displays of joy and emotion across the United States, though some people still felt that it wasn’t much comfort for the loss they had suffered.

This was of course an event that will be remembered for many years to come. After ten years of the relentless global war on terror, the United States had finally succeeded in getting rid of Al Qaeda’s number one. However, it is questionable whether Bin Laden’s death will have much of an impact. Though he may be gone, terrorism still exists and we will not be rid of it so soon. Countries and governments will still have to be vigilant and on the lookout for any potential attacks.

The United States’ involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as its special relationship with Israel and its sometimes belligerent attitude still put it at risk of being a target for terrorist attacks. Similarly for European countries, their involvement and interference in Middle Eastern affairs continue to make them targets.

The decrease in Al Qaeda’s influence results more from the change brought about by the Arab spring and the lack of a charismatic leader than from Bin Laden’s death directly. Whether Al Qaeda continues to pose a threat and is considered the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization remains to be seen.

News of the World Scandal

On 7 July 2011, the News of the World newspaper closed following the phone-hacking scandal and mounting accusations. The scandal and allegations of phone-hacking by the News of the World newspaper had already started in 2010 but really erupted in July 2011 when it became apparent that the newspaper had hacked into the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. After that, the newspaper closed, followed by an investigation and an inquiry.

The scandal sparked revolt and kicked up a lot of dust on the tabloid’s dubious practices. It also created a larger debate on journalism, reporting and to what lengths the tabloids were willing to go to get information. Furthermore, it also raises the question of how much people’s lives can remain private and how much is made public.

The British tabloid industry is quite singular in its functioning and popularity, and the News of the World scandal highlighted the unethical practices existing within it. But it also revealed flaws in the scrutiny of the press and how much politicians and the police were prepared to turn a blind eye to the illegal activities. Why were sources not questioned sooner? Why did the Met not re-launch a previous investigation in 2009?

Though the phone-hacking has been brought to light, it remains to be seen whether these practices will change and whether tabloids will be under closer scrutiny, or if they will simply find new ways of obtaining information illegally.

To conclude…

It has once again been a busy year on all fronts. The economic crisis that started in 2010 deepened and it still remains uncertain how long it will take until the European and global economies come out of recession and start seeing a brighter future.

Momentous changes in Middle Eastern politics may well start a new era for international relations, though these are still early days. It also remains to be seen what impact this might have on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But there has also been a lot of political upheaval within Europe, partly due to the economic crisis. The year 2012 promises to be interesting with presidential elections taking place in France and the United States. It seems certain that the events witnessed in 2011 will be key issues in future presidential and political campaigns.

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