Archive for January 6, 2012
The Year 2011: Populist Revolts, Troop Withdrawal, Economic Woes, and Human Rights
by Ralph Scharnau
The year 2011 will be remembered as one of popular uprisings. Time magazine, in fact, made the protester its person of the year.
Millions of people took to the streets, protesting against dictatorial leaders, widespread corruption, and economic elitism. The mass demonstrations began in Tunisia in January and spread through North Africa and the Middle East, Europe, and other parts of the world.
In Egypt, an 18-day revolt of youthful protestors drove Hosni Mubarak from power, prevailing despite heavily armed riot police, a ruling party militia, and the state’s powerful propaganda machine. Mubarak resigned in February after 30 years of iron fisted rule, and Egyptians now face the task of building a new political order.
President Obama signed a secret order authorizing the U.S. to join a coalition of NATO members and some Arab states in conducting air strikes in support of rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan strongman, Muammar Gaddafi. After nine months of warfare, the rebels gained more and more territory and on October 20 captured and killed Gaddafi, ending his repressive 42-year-old regime.
On May 1 news arrived that a U.S. Navy Seal Team penetrated Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan and killed him. After ten years of detective work, Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind 9/11 and the international face of terrorism, was finally tracked down.
Less than a month ago, the U.S. formally ended its misguided military mission in Iraq. The war costs totaled about $825 billion, lasted nearly nine years, and resulted in nearly 4,500 American deaths and tens of thousands Iraqi deaths.
Protest burst upon the American scene in the September uprising that began in New York City and took the name Occupy Wall Street. The movement spread across the country, focusing attention on economic inequality, corporate greed, and political corruption.
The OWS movement plays out against the background of a nation in the throes of economic doldrums. While there has been a little uptick in economic activity and the official unemployment rate fell from 9.1% to 8.6%, millions of Americans remain battered by joblessness, housing foreclosures, and benefit reductions.
The political division in Washington complicates recovery efforts. Republican politicians demand cuts in domestic programs, regulations, and taxes for the rich. Democrats try to increase employment, protect entitlement programs, and eliminate tax subsidies for oil companies. The partisan divide more than once reached the point where fiscal issue differences nearly shut down the federal government.
In the spring, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and a Republican-controlled legislature pushed through a law stripping public unions of their bargaining rights. Two of the state senators who backed the law lost their seats to Democrats in early August recall elections. Now a petition drive is underway that seems certain to secure enough signatures to force a recall election of Governor Walker.
In March, Ohio Governor John R. Kasich and his fellow Republican state legislators passed a Wisconsin-like bill to curb collective bargaining rights of public employees. In November, however, Ohio voters struck down the law by a nearly 2 to 1 margin.
Finally, two historic events advanced the nation’s commitment to human rights. Repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” became official in September. This allows military service members to publicly reveal their sexual orientation without fear of reprisal. And in early December President Obama issued a memorandum directing all federal agencies engaged abroad to ensure that diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect human rights of LGBT persons.
Fueled by gloomy economic times in many parts of the world, popular activism reached global dimensions in 2011. The protesters may well have garnered enough public support to begin the process of creating real freedom and true democracy.
December 20, 2011