Friday, December 30, 2011

2011- A year gone by

So another year will be soon passing into history,  for scholars, academicians, historians to ponder over.  They sure have a lot to think about this year though, a whole lot  of  stuff  has happened, that has just left them struck dumbfounded not  knowing what exactly to make of it. Governments were toppled, invincible dictators met  their ends, and in the case of one, it  was a rather  messy end,  people came out on the streets to protest.  The over riding theme of the year seemed to be "No govt is good, no ideology works".  No  single ism or  ideology  really seemed to work,  the US  sank into a debt crisis,  the Mecca of  welfarism Europe  went bust up, and the future of the Euro  seems bleak,  the Middle East and the Arab world exploded with a fury  against  their Govts and for a change the anger there  was not against  US or Israel.  Anna Hazare bought the Govt to it's knees,  with  his  agitation for the Lokpal, while Putin faced  unprecedented protests at the end of the year in 2011. In short it was not really a good year, if you happened to be one of the rich and powerful, and the Forbes  list, seems  rather ironical now.  Anyway I am not going to get into the Top 10 or 100 , Best of, Worst of  Lists  which the media usually does at the end of the year, not my cup of tea.  Rather  this article  is an attempt to  take a look at  what  I feel could be the defining moments of  the year.  Again  these are just my own observations  and it may or not necessarily come true.

A Libyan Woman, holds an AK 47 in the fight against Gadaffi

Women Protesters in Egypt

The Arab spring and women

One of  the noticeable aspects  of the Arab Spring  that rocked the  thrones of the leaders for life,  was not the resignation of  Mubarak  or the rather gory end of  Gadaffi.  There  was another  unforgettable image,  it  was the women on the street out there,  shoulder to shoulder  with the men, raising slogans against  the rulers.  The sight  of  the women in headscarves,  their long flying robes, defiantly raising fists against the Govt,  was  something that could not be ignored. In a region where women had traditionally been relegated to the home and kitchen, where they were always  expected to play a subordinate role,  this  was a significant shift.  Be it  Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Tunisia  the women in the Arab world came out  in large numbers leaving the comfort of their homes, fists raised, and shouting slogans. And no it  was not  armchair activism. These women were there out  in the streets,  facing  the riot police, the tear gas, the batons, the firings.  Some of  them were  jailed, some of them were tortured brutally, some of them were sexually assaulted, but that  did not really stop them. Rather the Arab Spring seemed to give  them  the opportunity to break free, which they had been waiting for all these decades.  In a way Arab women had to bear suppression from both the Govt, as well as the society, but they seemed to be speaking out in one voice, enough is enough. Yes the Islamists  have won in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, and  seem to gain in Syria.  But  they can't  rest  easily, the women in the Arab world, have found their voice and tasted the fruit of freedom, they are not going to let it go. More important, these women are tough, determined, and can fight till the end.  It is important to note that the feminism espoused by these women has little to do with the bra burning, slut walk feminism of the West,  rather they seek  an independent  role for women, well within the context of their  religion and culture. The  Arab Spring is not yet over,  the Islamists will have to contend with an awakened women, willing to fight for their right till the end, and that could define 2012.

The Dragon in Africa

Sometime back,  Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda,  had remarked in an interview "  The West  gives us only Aid and promises, China  gives us what we need, infrastructure and jobs".   In  a way,  it  sums up how China has been able to expand it's  dominance in Africa. First things first, many  Africans are not really comfortable with Chinese presence. China  sees Africa more as a market, to flood it's  cheap goods with, while not buying back any products made there. Chinese  factory made textiles  at lower rates, have devastated the native African textile industry. The working conditions in most of the Chinese companies in Africa, would  certainly do the Third Reich proud. Add to it, China's  record of  hobnobbing with  dubious  Govts in Angola, Zimbabwe, Sudan as these nations offer them the energy resources they need.  So  what has made China  a dominant player in Africa?  The Chinese have a  simple policy with Africa "If your nation has something to offer us, we do business with you".  In essence, this means  China does not really care for  stuff like human rights,  rule of law, and can often end  up  supporting  Govts like those in Angola and Sudan, on the other side,it  means your Govt  is less likely to be toppled.  The  fact is China does not really care if  your Govt is communist, fascist, dictatorial, democratic as long  as it benefits from you. And tomorrow should the Govt  change, it does not really bother the Chinese much either. The fact is most  ordinary Africans  are tired of  being seen as that  lovely exotic place where you go to watch wildlife,  those poor, sodden souls, who have to be showered with Aid  by the benevolent Westerners doing all those rock concerts.  To put it in Chinese terminology, Africans had enough of  being fed  fish all their life, they want the fishing rods, and China does just that.  They have a lot of issues with the Chinese,  but they are willing to put up  with them, because China has been investing heavily  in infrastructure and industrial projects in Africa. The kind of projects  that  bring in the jobs, the money  which most  ordinary Africans seek. The West  needs to get out of it's  lets shower  Aid  on these poor natives mentality, China is taking over large  parts of the continent.
Lula of Brazil, Erdogan of Turkey, signing the Treaty for Iran's Nuclear Program
Al Jazeera's  TV Studios

A more  multipolar World

The King is dead,long live the king. Ok  maybe the US is not exactly finished, it could still come back.  What is clear however  is  that the days  of a unipolar world, with one single nation dominating the world, seem to be  gone by. 20 years back, the US  seemed to have clearly  won the Cold War, with Russia  gone, disintegrated, and the  Eastern bloc turning capitalist.  Things have changed rapidly, Wall Street's collapse, the fiasco in Iraq and Afghanistan, mean  that  the US is no longer the lord  of all it  surveys.  Lula, the former President of  Brazil, summed it up perfectly "Earlier  when the US sneezed  we caught pneumonia, now when the US sneezes, we too sneeze". He should be knowing  better,  like Erdogan in Turkey,  Lula has transformed Brazil  from a perennial underachiever nation into  realizing  it's  true potential.  The 8th largest economy in the world  tag for Brazil  was long over due. Samba, Soccer  are still popular in Brazil, but beyond  that  is  a nation, that has shaken off  it's  under performer  tag, and is on the way to make use of it. What is  clear though is there is no one single, major  power  in the world, rather  you have countries  that  are dominating  a specific region. Brazil  in Latin AmericaIran and Turkey  in the Middle East /Central Asia , China in Asia-Pacific, Russia and to an extent  Germany in Europe. It bears an eerie resemblance to the Mughal Empire after Aurangzeb's rule, when  the Marathas, Sikhs, Jats, Rajputs   all broke away to form strong empires within themselves.  What it  means is that the power equations are shifting in a rather  significant empire,  Uncle Sam's  favored nephew, Saudi Arabia, finds  it's  influence under threat not just  from Iran and Turkey, but from the tiny nation of Qatar  which is using  Al Jazeera  as a tool to expand it's influence,  broker peace deals, support  and finance  rebel movements in Syria and Libya.

The end of  -isms.

When Mubarak fell,  most of the Liberal fraternity rejoiced, they called it a triumph for freedom, democracy and human rights.  No issues with that, but the test came when revolts against  Gadaffi  began  in February,  and  took on a violent tone.  It  was easy to hate  Mubarak, he  was pro American, pro Israeli, a dictator, enough  for the Liberals to hate,  but  Gadaffi  was  a different case, he  was anti American, anti Israel. And  precisely, many  were confused,  do we support Gadaffi  for his  anti American stance,  or do we support the rebels.  Some of the Liberals took the easy way out, they blamed  the West  and imperialist forces  for  stirring trouble, forgetting the fact  that the dissent  against  Gadaffi  was waiting to explode at some point or other. During the Cold War days,  when the CIA  was  accused of  propping up tin pot dictators and  warlords, they had  a simple explanation  for it " He is a bastard, but he is our bastard".  Left-Liberals  actually for  quite  some time, went to the other end with "He may be a Bastard, but  he is anti American and anti Israel, this is all a Zionist-American conspiracy to discredit him" .  The CIA theory had long ago gone for a toss, and  I suspect 2011, could see the end of  that liberal thought too. What is  clear is  the Arab Spring  exposed the opportunism and shallowness in the intellectual world, for whom concepts like  humanism, freedom, human rights just seemed a matter of convenience.  So  Mubarak  had to go, because he was a crook, but when it  came to Gadaffi and Assad, they were mere victims of  imperialism and Zionism, oh so sad.  

What is  clear  that  the traditional divisions between Right, Left, Liberal and Conservatives are slowly disappearing. What else can account for the bizarre spectacle  of  Republicans  in the US  supporting Gadaffi, a man whom their icon Ronald  Reagan had once described as the "Mad dog of the Middle East".  Honestly  speaking, I think the concept of  a  particular ism or ideology  no longer holds valid. People and even nations are refusing to be straight jacketed into an ideology,  what matters more is  the utility and convenience.Dogmatic  adherence to  ideology  be it  Right or Left is passe,  what is needed is an approach, that takes into account  the  prevailing ground realities.  Traditionally Leftist leaders in Latin America like Lula in Brazil  have used  a mix  of  populism and  more pragmatic  economic policies to fuel the growth of their nations, Erdogan in Turkey  seeks to introduce a system that is secular in nature yet within the parameters  of  Islamic faith.  Imported concepts  don't  work, we have to devise systems and methods best suited for  our  nation's  circumstances.

What is going to happen in 2012, I have no idea, I can't even predict  what is going to happen in the next one hour or so, forget the future.  But i firmly  believe that some of the  issues I have mentioned above, are going to significantly impact  the way we talk and live  in the years to come. We can't afford to be stuck in nostalgia  and  a specific ideology. There is a lot of change going on in the world, in India, fossilized  leaderships  clinging on to outdated concepts will be tossed aside be it in politics or business or  trade, they may win the battle but they will be losing the war in the longer run. The traditional  ideologies of  capitalism, communism, socialism or any form of ism, are not working,  they need a relook  in a world  that is changing rapidly.  What i foresee in the future is a new ideology  bound by  self interest,  the national interest  that  would be driving  countries ahead. 

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