Thursday, December 29, 2011

Our age of mounting indignation

by Gideon Rachman

Financial Times

December 29, 2011

It has been many centuries since the Mediterranean Sea was the centre of civilisation. But in 2011 the Med was back – not just as a holiday destination – but at the very centre of world affairs. This was a year of global indignation, from the Occupy Wall Street movement to the Moscow election protests and China’s village revolts. It was popular protests on either side of the Mediterranean – in Tahrir Square in Cairo and Syntagma Square in Athens – that set the tone for 2011.

Revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia at the beginning of the year sparked off the Arab spring, a political earthquake whose after-shocks were felt as far afield as Moscow and Beijing. On the other side of Mare Nostrum, Europe’s sovereign debt crisis spread from riotous Greece to Portugal, and then to Italy and Spain. By the end of the year, the fate of the world economy seemed to hang on the ability of southern Europe to service its debts.

For that reason this column – devoted to my annual list of the five most important events of year – has to begin with the Arab spring and Europe’s debt crisis: regional crises with global implications. Both events brought crowds on to the streets. But the Arab uprisings were also marked by bloodshed and warfare. Even the relatively peaceful transition in Egypt cost some 800 lives, while Muammer Gaddafi in Libya was only deposed (and ultimately murdered) after a full insurrection, backed by western air power.

However, while the costs of the Arab spring were far higher, it, at least, was driven by a faith that the future could be better. Europe’s debt crisis, by contrast, was characterised by fear of the future. The revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia gave many ordinary people a heady sense that, at last, they had the chance to take control of their own destiny, while Europe’s debt problems left most citizens feeling they were at the mercy of economic forces that they could not control.


No comments: