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2013- the year that was
Another year passed. And along with it, another set of memories – good, bad and ugly. As part of this Annual Issue, IE continues highlighting ten major happenings in the past 12 months. The annual caveat still holds – this is NOT a top ten list or THE 10-item list. It is, but just a list. So, with this preamble, here are the ten events that had (in my opinion) the most significant events with widespread repercussions over the past 12 months:

Nelson Mandela passes away

It certainly was the end of an era when Nelson Rolihlala Mandela passed away in December. He was a reluctant activist, an avid boxer and a militant leader before he was arrested and spent 27 years behind bars. Through the prison term, a tremendous metamorphosis happened that saw him become one of the most eminent statesmen and leaders the world has ever seen. More than even helping move past the apartheid era, he perhaps should be remembered as a leader who forgave the injustice done to him, worked with the very people that put him behind bars, gracefully retired and didn’t meddle in policies afterwards. In this era of partisan politics and bloated egos, those lessons are worth  emulating.



New Pope, new hope   

It was just a few months ago that Pope Francis became the 266th Pope. The first to hold the post from Latin America, he has already become Time magazine’s Person Of The Year 2013. Known as the “people’s pope” Pope Francis couldn’t be more different that Pope Benedict XVI - who become the first pope to resign in hundreds of years. Already the new pope has brought a fresh perspective to the papacy - with his public displays of humility and pragmatism, especially in handling the many social issues that have brought controversy to Catholics worldwide.
    Not content with just being a ceremonial religious head, he has also recently been outspoken on topics like austerity measures, professionalism in the Vatican, homosexuality and abortion rights. These are political and social issues that are divisive and as a leader, one is called for to take a stand and make the right decision – even in the face of tradition and politics. The former bouncer at a nightclub, janitor and chemical technician has scaled the heights of religious order.

 

Typhoons Haian and Phailin – and what happened next

In 2013, two typhoons stood out – both with vastly different stories. The first, Haian, was the strongest typhoon ever to make landfall. Philippines bore the brunt of its fury – with more than 6000 dead, 2 million homeless and more than $850 million in damages. The Philippine government was blasted for its slow recovery efforts – despite huge aid contributions from around the world. Most of the delay was blamed on the local, last mile efforts but the criticism seemed to be justified given the scale of destruction and the length of delay.
    The year also saw Cyclone Phailin batter the east coast of India a month earlier. The second strongest cyclone to make landfall in India, it quickly became a Category 5 hurricane and threatened enormous damage to life and property. And that is where the comparisons between Phailin and Haian start to differ. The Indian coastal states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh designated hundreds of buildings as storm shelters and almost 1.5 million people were evacuated  and sent to safer zones. Food supplies were quickly mobilised and army helicopters were aiding in rescue efforts. It was an excellent effort and showcased India’s disaster preparation and assistance capabilities.

 

Edward Snowden opens up the debate on privacy like never before

When former defence contractor Edward Snowden began releasing several classified documents from the National Security Agency in the United States, it altered the way we view privacy in this digital age. And then the world suddenly got to know of the super secret surveillance programme called PRISM – where US, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia kept tabs on people’s web browsing, phone calls and instant messages. Most troubling were the subsequent revelations that telecom giants like AT&T and IT companies like Microsoft and Google were forced to share records with the NSA, made it even more troubling.

 

Iran gets a nuclear deal – or so we think

It was heralded as such a significant watershed event just a few weeks ago and already it seems to be unravelling. Led by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian President Hasan Rouhani this deal promised to move Iran from being the poster child of unwelcome states while securing peace to a highly volatile region. Israel and several Arab states cried foul as did political heads of many countries that brokered the deal. It was a realistic approach to dissolving a dangerous stalemate. On a side note, it was also one of those rare displays of consensus between the Democrats and the Republicans in the US on any issue. Sadly, we already are seeing cracks in the relationship that threaten this agreement – mainly with respect to the right to enrich uranium. IE and the world hopes that saner heads prevail in the crazy paths the next several weeks will witness.

 

US Government shutdown

A combination of political ideology and personal egos literally brought the US government to a standstill. The Republican Party and the more conservative faction called the Tea Party members, vowed they wouldn’t support any legislation funding the government after 30  September unless it repealed or delayed President Obama’s health-care law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) also derisively known as Obamacare.  Given that this was THE signature law for Obama, the Democrats didn’t budge and the federal government shut down on 1 October, leading to furloughed workers, stopped paychecks and the closure of federal parks and national monuments. The Republican Party faced a huge backlash and criticism. Its approval polls took a beating, the healthcare law’s popularity went up and Democrats’ popularity was increasing – to the point where many believed that they would regain the House majority in 2014. But as the next item in the list points out, it was only a matter of time when the opinion polls started shifting again…

 

Healthcare Reform – United States – and Obama problems in 2nd term

When the actual roll-out happened on 1 October, it turned a nightmare for the Democrats!
    Every day seemed to bring with it more issues around the website working well, cancellation of earlier policies that didn’t fit in with the new guidelines and overhyped projections. It became a technical and PR disaster for the administration as the website for enrollment was strife with programming errors, had bandwidth issues and several data integrity problems. Just when the technology side was being fixed, media stories focused on those citizens that were forced to cancel their old policies and select from one of the newer ones – but at a significantly higher cost. Although these were small as a percentage, they made for sensational stories and were prominent exhibits in the Republican charge. President Obama had to salvage not just his signature legislation but also his personal reputation and gave firm deadlines for improvement. Since then, the federal website has substantially improved, and so has the number of Americans who have selected health plans in the state and federal exchanges.  Sadly, the healthcare law took a toll on the health of the Democratic Party – an eight point advantage in the congressional polls turned into a 2-point advantage for Republicans.

 

AAP: Non-traditional political entrant for the first time in India

It is still hard to believe that a grassroots campaign led by a Gandhian senior citizen and his young, educated protégé will reshape the political landscape in India and awaken a sense of social consciousness amongst its citizens. Although now separate in their beliefs and approaches, the Aam Aadmi Party created by Arvind Kejriwal seems to come out of nowhere to claim significant political success in the nation’s capital.  The fact that the change happened in New Delhi is significant and should be a wake-up call for the Congress all over the nation. The just-in news of the party forming the government should hopefully bring some stability and justification to the election system. More importantly we hope the much needed economic and social issues will be focused on now that the political impasse has been addressed.

 

From Arab Spring to the Egyptian coup

The past couple of years, we highlighted the dawn of democracy and progressive approaches in the Middle East and several African countries. Led by activists and fuelled by social media, it was reshaping geo-politics and societies in a way that was just unimaginable a few years ago.
    It was therefore shocking when the world learned that Mohamed Morsi, the acting president of Egypt, had been thrown out by the army and that fresh elections were needed. Egypt has always been one of those countries where the might of the army was crucial in politics and when Morsi lost their support, it was only a matter of time when the Muslim Brotherhood party had to surrender. It was suddenly a conflicting issue where passions around retaining a democratically elected government clashed with concerns around how popular the government’s policies were.

 

Syria and North Korea ramp up their antics

In both Syria and North Korea, 2013 saw sharp deterioration in governance and human suffering. Syrian opposition groups began accusing the regime of Bashar al-Assad of using chemical weapons on civilians in April and by August, video proof confirmed the suspicion. The attack outside Damascus killed more than 1500 people. Led by the US, there was looming military intervention which at the last minute was suspended due to the deal struck with Syria to allow international inspectors in the country to audit and eventually destroy its arsenal. While military action has stopped, the violence in the country continues even as tenuous peace looms over the nation, and underlying reasons still remain unresolved.  
    Cautious optimists around the world expected Kim John Un in North Korea to move away from the repressive policies his father subjected the country to. Sadly, the son turned out to be a chip of the old block. Even China, the only major country that has some level of access and relationship with North Korea, was forced to ponder the relationship with the recent purge Kim Jong Un is reportedly orchestrating – starting with the execution of the once-favoured uncle who was his mentor. The combination of a nutty dictator in a nuclear-armed country is a potent combination and the world continued in 2013 to figure out a solution. 
    We speak about someone like Mandela earlier who eschewed the trappings of power when the time was right. Bashar al-Assad and Kim Jong Un can certainly look to such examples.

– The author is based in Chicago

 

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