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.
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.
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 America, Iran 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.