The political landscape of the Arab world has been fundamentally transformed by the events of 2011. After decades of sterile politics and engrained authoritarianism Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria have embarked on a courageous journey aimed at fostering inclusive societies based on the rule of law and accountable governance. While we are only at the beginnings of what will be a long and arduous process, it is hard to believe that things will ever go back to the way they were. To imagine a return to the political apathy that characterised many countries in the region before December 2010 would be to ignore the groundbreaking social implications of the "Arab Spring" and the spectacular return of people power to the region.
The political success of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in recent years, driven by the charisma of its leader, Alex Salmond, has brought into sharp focus the UK’s still nascent devolved authorities, in existence only since 1998. Furthermore, in the Scottish case, repeated public statements by Salmond about possible independence, with a putative referendum on the issue to follow in the next few years, have brought into question whether Scotland, after more than 300 years, will withdraw from the UK.
Last week, many websites such as Wikipedia, Reddit and Google shut down or took action to protest two bills in the American Congress: The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). SOPA and PIPA are essentially anti-piracy bills whose main goal is to prevent access from within the US to websites which "engage in, enable, or facilitate" the infringement of intellectual property. But if these bills are passed, it could usher in an era of widespread censorship affecting every website in the world and with unforeseen political repercussions.
In October 2011 al-Shabab fighters killed more than 70 African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers in one of the worst attacks that occurred in Somalia since the rising of the Islamist insurgency. However, the exact number of casualties is not known as AMISOM itself has confirmed only ten. Some of the bodies, reportedly Burundian Soldiers, have been put on displayin the al-Shabab-controlled El-Maan area, 18km from Mogadishu.
After more than twelve years as president, Hugo Chavez is again facing re-election. Venezuela is accustomed to turmoil and conflicts, and after another year of chaos, the upcoming elections are to represent an end to the soap opera of Venezuelan politics. The opposition and its conglomerate parties will have primary elections in February to elect a unity candidate to compete against Chavez and his monumental governmental machinery. The opposition will also elect united candidates to participate in county and state elections. With general elections set for next November 2012, the question is who will have the final leverage and political momentum to carry out the winning results.
Europe in 2011 was dominated by domestic politics. Faced with multiple macro-level challenges, from unstable economies to democratic deficits of the polity, leaders have repeatedly prioritised local concerns ahead of the multilateral. Underscoring all of this is a wider malaise. Research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research, indicating that Brazil overtook the UK as the world’s sixth largest economy by GDP in 2011, appears to confirm that the West in general, and Europe in particular, is rapidly losing influence. The death in December of Václav Havel, a symbol of the remarkable transitions to peace and prosperity of Central and Eastern Europe of the last 20 years, appears to reiterate the wider depression.
Recently, the international community convened a special conference in Bonn to discuss their future commitment to Afghanistan. The emphasis was on transition. Western states want to hand over responsibility for Afghanistan’s security to the Afghan government, if possible, in the context of a peace deal with the Taliban.