That Was The Year That Was


While New Year’s resolutions are still resolute, and the faint taste of mince pies still lingers on our lips, Cherwell takes a final look back at 2011, a year in which revolutions swept the Arab world, the English rioted, the EU tottered ever closer to breaking point, and the British press was forced to take a long, hard look at itself.


When Mohammed Bouazzi, a young Tunisian fruit seller, set himself on fire in December 2010 in protest at harassment by the authorities, the Arab Spring ignited, spreading across the region in a wave of protests. Within a month, the 24 year reign of Tunisian dictator President Ben Ali had come to an end. Tens of thousands of Egyptians filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square, leading President Mubarak to step down after 30 years in power. The grizzliest dictator of them all, Colonel Gaddafi, managed no less than 42 years, before being killed by rebels in October at the end of the 6 month war in Libya.


Meanwhile, Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh finally caved in to popular pressure after 9 months of protests while, over 5,000 lives later, Bashar Assad is still clinging to power in Syria (though some hope the arrival of Arab League observers will stop the spiral into civil war). Islamist parties have had significant electoral successes in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, leading some in the west to talk of an ‘Arab Winter’.




After four years of cult-building as Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin surprised no one by announcing that he would be swapping jobs with Dmitry Medvedev, and running again for President in 2012. When Putin’s party then swept the board in parliamentary elections tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets of Moscow and St Petersburg in the freezing December weather, to protest against the results, which they believed were rigged. Putin has since made vague noises about engaging in political ‘dialogue’.


TIME magazine declared ‘the protester’ to be their person of the year, with ordinary people making their voices heard across the globe in and beyond the Arab world and Russia.  Women (and men) bared their bodies in SlutWalks, in response to Toronto policeman Michael Sanguinetti’s comment that ‘women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised’. The Occupy Wall Street movement declared ‘We are the 99%’ when it pitched camp in New York. Anti-capitalism camps then sprang up in cities across the world, including outside St Paul’s in London.




As austerity measures began to bite across Europe, Greeks were the most violent in venting their anger, while Britain saw its biggest public sector strikes for a generation. Meanwhile, the Eurozone lurched from crisis to near catastrophe, increasingly drunk with the weight of its sovereign debt and bailouts amounting to hundreds of billions of Euros. The governments of Ireland, Portugal, Greece, and Spain tumbled one after the other, and it was these economic woes, rather than facing trials for corruption and having sex with an underage prostitute, that finally felled Italy’s Prime Minister, Silvio ‘bunga bunga’ Berlusconi. While Cameron exercising Britain’s veto to “protect” the City had some arguing that we are now on the sidelines in Europe, the Eurozone leaders have yet to get a grip on the crisis.


England’s cities went up in flames in August, as peaceful protests following the mistaken killing of Mark Duggan by a policeman in Tottenham turned to riots, which spread across London and the rest of the country for four days. Looters made off with trolley-loads of TVs, trainers, clothes and food, while historic buildings burnt, and the police stood by, helpless to prevent the anarchy. Thousands have so far been arrested and charged over the violence, and many Brits said they would support the army being used to quell riots.


The UK rejected changing the electoral system from First Past The Post to the Alternative Vote by a staggering margin of 67.9% to 32.1% in a referendum in May. While mud was slung on both sides of the campaign, the most controversial advert was a poster of an ill baby with the slogan “She needs a new cardiac facility NOT an alternative voting system”, used by the No campaign to claim that changing the voting system would have cost £250m. 


Warring Democrats and Republicans brought the US economy to the brink over raising the debt ceiling, and the US then lost the prized triple A rating on its debt.  Republican presidential hopefuls have sharpened their swords, and then fallen on them in an increasingly bizarre series of faux-pas. Rick Perry couldn’t remember which government agencies he wanted to close, Michele Bachmann suggested that the earthquake and hurricane on the East Coast was a message from God, and Herman Cain’s campaign folded after accusations of sexual harassment. Mormon millionaire Mitt Romney is currently leading the polls for Tuesday’s crucial caucus in Iowa.


Almost ten years after the 9/11 attacks, the world’s most wanted man, Osama Bin Laden, was shot by US special forces in a gated compound in the quiet Pakistani town of Abbottabad in May. US-Pakistani relations subsequently soured, with the Pakistani government suspected of complicity in enabling the Al-Qaeda mastermind to live in relative comfort, and not in a cave as believed. Relations took a further turn for the worse when the Americans accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in an airstrike, and the overland route through the country, to supply the 10 year old war in Afghanistan, was then shut off.




Americans commemorated the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. This in the same year that they withdrew their remaining forces from Iraq, and announced an official end to the war that came as a direct response to the attack on the Twin Towers.


Hillary Clinton went to Myanmar, in the first visit to the country by an American Secretary of State in 56 years.  The national junta made gestures towards softening its repressive regime, allowing greater freedom to Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the democracy movement, whom they released in 2010 after 15 years of house arrest.


The South of what was then Sudan voted to secede from the country, and the UN welcomed the new nation of South Sudan as its 193rd member. Meanwhile, the Palestinians launched their own bid to become the 194th full member of the United Nations, with the US promising to veto the motion if it reached the Security Council.


Violence erupted in Norway as Anders Behring Breivik embarked on a 69-person killing spree at a Labour Party-run camp, after exploding a car bomb in Oslo that left eight people dead. He defended his actions as atrocious but necessary for the protection of Europe against a Muslim invasion. Psychiatrists concluded he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.


Tragedy also struck Japan, when an earthquake and tsunami killed 18,000 in March, leaving parts of the country looking like a post-Hiroshima wasteland, and causing a meltdown at the Fukishima nuclear plant. The fallout from radiation is, as yet, unknown. Earthquakes in New Zealand and Turkey claimed up to 1,000 lives.




Extreme weather linked to climate change flooded much of Bangkok in the autumn, but the deal brokered in Durban was seen by many as no more than a plan to construct an actual deal in several years time. Famine also struck the Horn of Africa, with up to 10m people affected.


2011 saw the deaths of important figures across the globe. Kim Jong-Il was replaced by his son Kim Jong-Un as Supreme Leader of North Korea, after the former’s death on 17th December. Apple’s innovative number one, Steve Jobs, lost a prolonged fight against pancreatic cancer at the age of 56, while Christopher Hitchens, formerly of Balliol College, died of pneumonia as a result of complications from esophageal cancer. Amy Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning at the age of 27, while football mourned the death of Gary Speed


Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the IMF and onetime darling of the French Left, suffered a tumultuous fall from grace after he was arrested in New York on charges of sexually assaulting a hotel maid. Despite the claimant’s case falling apart after she was revealed to have lied when giving evidence, the episode prompted French novelist Tristane Banon to accuse DSK of sexual assault eight years previously. Conspiracy theories of political collusion to disgrace Strauss-Kahn, tipped for the Presidential candidacy of the Socialist party, abounded.


Meanwhile, the indiscretions of the well-known and well-heeled in the UK became of increasing interest to the public, as consternation about super-injunctions came to a head.  So averse to Britain’s liberal values were these press-gagging court orders felt to be, that the Prime Minister himself waded in to share his misgivings on the matter. But sympathy for the press lasted only for so long. The News of the World, a tabloid paper owned by News International, the British newspaper division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, was forced to close after a story broke revealing the endemic use of phone hacking by its journalists. The scandal, which resurfaced in July after previous instances involving celebrities whose phones had been hacked, provoked general opprobrium as new victims, including a murdered 13-year old, 7/7 victims, and relatives of deceased British soldiers, were revealed to have been targeted.




All was not doom and gloom this year though, as 26 million Brits tuned in to see the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton in April, while a further 23 million Americans and 41 million Indians watched the Royal wedding.


On the 31st October the UN selected several babies, born on that day, to mark the date that the earth’s population was estimated to have reached 7 billion.

And so, on to 2012, with the Olympics, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, yet more upheaval in the Eurozone, US and Russian presidential elections, and the Mayan end of an era/end of the world to look forward to.


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