Start of the Arab Spring
2011 was for the Arab world what 1989 was for Europe: a year of revolution and the ousting of well-established but widely-despised regimes. The spark that set alight the Arab Spring, the series of events for which 2011 will be remembered, came in December 2010 when a Tunisian street trader named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest after police confiscated his equipment. Ordinary Tunisians rose up, exasperated with unemployment and the lack of opportunity. They took to the streets and defied the security apparatus of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. More than 200 protesters were killed but after a month of demonstrations, the people won. Ben Ali, having lost the support of his generals, resigned on January 15 after 24 years in power.
The turn of Egypt
Encouraged by the success of their Tunisian neighbours, the people of Egypt became instilled with the belief that they, too, could overthrow their dictator. Many commentators at the time said Egypt, ruled for nearly 30 years by the iron fist of President Hosni Mubarak, was too big to fall. It wasn't. Despite attacks by armed pro-Mubarak militiamen riding horses and even camels, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to Cairo's Tahrir Square to set up camp. They would stay, they said, until Mubarak stood down. Over the course of 17 days during which the world watched, spellbound, more than 800 protesters were killed. Just as in Tunisia, Egypt's army refused to follow Mubarak's orders and his resignation was announced on February 11. The Arab Spring had well and truly sprung and protests intensified in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Algeria, Iran, Jordan and Libya.
New Zealand earthquake
2011 was also a year that would be marked significantly by natural disasters. The first to grab the world's attention was the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that struck New Zealand's second city, Christchurch on February 22. Some 181 people from more than 20 countries lost their lives and thousands of buildings were either flattened by the quake or demolished for safety reasons afterwards.
In the early afternoon of March 11 a magnitude nine earthquake off the east coast of Japan triggered a tsunami that would wipe entire communities off the map and have consequences across the world. The earthquake itself was the most powerful to have hit Japan since records began 140 years ago. But Japan being a country that is used to earthquakes, the damage done was minimal compared to what was to follow. The waves of the tsunami reached up to 40 metres high and swallowed towns and fishing villages along Japan's east coast. Japanese authorities have confirmed nearly 16,000 deaths, while several thousand people have never been found.
Japan was still in shock from the destructive power of the tsunami when it emerged that serious damage had been done to the nuclear power plant at Fukushima. Three of the plant's reactors went into meltdown and residents within a 20 kilometer radius were evacuated. Again, the world was on edge, unsure of what the consequences of such a complex problem would be. It took until mid December for official to declare a 'cold shutdown', or a stabilisation of the site but radioactive materials continue to leak from the plant, which will take 40 years to decommission. In the wake of the nuclear scare, governments around the world began to review their energy strategies. Germany, for example reversed its energy policy and is now to phase out its nuclear power plants by 2022.
Some news events are planned well in advance, and such was the case with the Royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. A veritable media circus descended on London for the occasion on April 29 with cameras broadcasting live pictures to a global audience that some estimates put at two billion people! 'Royal Wedding' was also the most sought-after news term of the year on Google.
Death of Bin Laden
After a near-10 year manhunt led by the United States military, President Barack Obama announced on May 2 that a squad of marines had killed al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in a compound near Islamabad, Pakistan. The operation was carried out without the knowledge of the Pakistani government, to its embarassment and annoyance. Bin Laden was held responsible for the 9/11 attacks on the US and his death was celebrated noisily in New York. Bin Laden was identified by DNA tests and he was buried at sea, according to the US government.
Protests continue in Yemen
While regime change in Tunisia and Egypt was achieved relatively quickly, protesters in other Arab countries began to realise that their revolutions would take much longer to complete. That has proven the case in Yemen, where President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been in power since 1978. Protests erupted in January and clashes between youth protesters and pro-Saleh troops, as well as between Yemen's fighting internal factions, have killed more than 1,500 Yemenis since. In June, Saleh was injured in a mortar attack and had to travel to Saudi Arabia for treatment. After returning to Yemen he signed an agreement in November promising to hand power to his deputy in return for legal immunity.
Libya brings NATO into the Arab Spring
Libya's entry into the Arab Spring brought with it the physical intervention of the West. Violent protests began in the east of the country, in Benghazi, just after the fall of Mubarak in Egypt. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's ruler for 42 years, threatened to kill the rebels in Benghazi "like rats". With Libyan tanks fast bearing down on the town the UN Security Council voted to authorise a no-fly zone over Libya, a mission undertaken by NATO. The Western alliance was now controversially involved in Arab affairs. With such air support, Libya's rebels were given a valuable helping hand in ousting Gaddafi, but not before a bloody civil war.
South Sudan is born
South Sudan became the United Nations' 193rd member on July 14, six months after its people voted overwhelmingly in a referendum for independence from Sudan. South Sudan had been an autonomous region since 2005 when an agreement was signed to end two decades of civil war. Led by ex-rebel leader Salva Kiir, the new country faces many challenges, including an 80 percent illiteracy rate.
Britain's tabloid hacking scandal
The British tabloid the News of the World issued its last ever edition on July 10 after being forced to close because of a scandal that rocked the media establishment. It emerged that journalists working for the 168-year-old newspaper had hacked the phones of celebrities but also, much more shockingly, a missing schoolgirl who was later found murdered. The NOTW was part of Rupert Murdoch's media empire NewsCorp and the scandal exposed a culture of complicity between the press, the police and politicians.
On July 22 Norway was stunned by a bombing and a shooting committed by one man in which 77 people lost their lives. 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik detonated a bomb near government offices in Oslo, killing eight people. He then travelled to the island of Utoeya where a summer camp for Labour Party youth members was being held and in the course of a shooting spree that lasted over an hour, shot dead 69 people, most of them children. Breivik admits carrying out the attack, claiming he was trying to defend Europe from 'an invasion of Muslims'. However, psychiatrists have assessed him as insane, meaning he may avoid prison after his trial in April.
For five successive nights between August 6 and 11, widespread rioting and looting spread through various cities in England, taking police and the government completely by surprise. Trouble first flared in north London after the fatal police shooting of a 29-year-old man. The violence left five people dead and caused hundreds of millions of euros worth of damage to houses and shops. More than 3,000 people have been arrested in connection with the riots and the debate continues in the UK as to the sociological problems that caused them.
The end of Gaddafi
In August, after five months of NATO air strikes on the Gaddafi regime's military and communications apparatus, Libyan rebels seize control of the capital, Tripoli. The conflict was nearing its end but for a line to be drawn under the violence and for the country to look to its future, Libya's new leaders believed Gaddafi needed to be caught. On October 20 he was. But instead of being brought to trial, either in Libya or in the Hague, he was killed. Television cameras recorded the last chaotic moments before his death.
The Strauss-Kahn case
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund and one of the most influential individuals on the planet, was the favourite to become France's next president. All that changed on May 14 when he was removed by police from a plane at JFK airport in New York and arrested, accused of sexually assaulting a hotel chambermaid just hours earlier. Video of a hand-cuffed Strauss-Kahn being led away by NYPD officers caused an outcry in France. They also probably ruined any presidential ambitions he may have held. However the charges were dropped amid serious doubts over his accuser's credibility. Strauss-Kahn, a married father of four, has since admitted to the "moral fault" of his sexual relations with the chambermaid but insists it was consensual.
The protests of 2011 have not been limited to the Arab world. Far from it. People have taken to the streets in large numbers on every continent and many of them have done so under the umbrella of the Occupy movement. Similar to the Indignados protests in the Hispanic world earlier in the year, Occupy directs its anger at economic and social inequality. With the effects of the financial crisis now being felt in the so-called 'real economy', austerity measures are hitting many people whose taxes went towards bailing out the banks that made the austerity necessary in the first place.
Syria has perhaps been the deadliest front of the Arab Spring. It is difficult to say for sure, as journalists have been banned from reporting from the country. According to the United Nations, the number of people killed in the Assad regime's crackdown on protesters has risen above 5,000. Unrest started in late January and a familiar pattern began to emerge: demonstrators voiced their anger only to be shot at by security forces. Then at the funerals of the dead, there would be new demonstrations and fresh gunfire. International pressure has gradually intensified and Syria agreed in December to allow Arab League monitors into the country.
Steve Jobs: 24.02.55 - 05.10.11
The death of Steve Jobs came as no real surprise to the IT generation - his poor health had been well documented. But it was a shock nonetheless. An iconic innovator, Jobs is considered one of the greatest CEOs of modern times and it was his vision that gave the world iPods, iPhones and iPads - products that would shape how we use digital content.
Euro in crisis
The euro currency should be celebrating its 10th birthday on January 1, 2012. Instead, there are serious doubts over whether it will even reach its 11th anniversary. Mountains of sovereign debt in several eurozone countries have meant entire national economies in Greece, Ireland and Portugal have had to be bailed out. Little of the solutions offered in Brussels or Frankfurt has been able to restore market confidence in the currency and the issue has proven divisive for the EU as a whole. The UK's decision to opt out of a new financial agreement has led many observers to speculate on a 'two-speed Europe'.
At the start of 2010, Yulia Tymoshenko was the prime minister of a new, democratic Ukraine. She will begin 2012 behind bars after being imprisoned for seven years in October for abuse of power. She and her supporters, including the EU which many Ukrainians have hopes of joining, insist the trial was politically motivated. The leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution has promised to clear her name.
2011 claims another dictator
After 17 years as North Korea's 'Supreme Leader', Kim Jong-il died on December 17. Kim ruled over perhaps the most secretive state on Earth but what little information has been gathered from the country paints a dark picture of repression and human rights abuses. According to Human Rights Watch, "Virtually every aspect of political, social, and economic life is controlled by the government." In the hours and days after his death, North Koreans were shown weeping almost hysterically, although the sincerity of their grief has been called into question.