To begin on a happy note, the world didn't end this year. December 21 came and went without a sign of the Four Horsemen, leaving the Mayans (or rather their ancestors) with egg all over their faces. It just goes to show the perils of prediction — but why would we let that deter us? Nobody is keeping score.
So, instead of the usual trek through the events of the past year, why don't we use this year-ender to examine the entrails of recent events for portents of the future? Like, for example, the vicissitudes of the Arab revolutions in the past twelve months.
On one hand, there were the first truly free elections in modern Egyptian history. On the other hand, judges inherited from the old regime dismissed the lower house of parliament on a flimsy pretext, and then the Islamist president retaliated by ramming through a new constitution that entrenched conservative "Islamic" values against the will of more than a third of the population. Is this glass half full or half empty?
On one hand, Libyans managed to hold a free election even though the country is still overrun by various militias, and Yemen finally bid farewell to its dictator of thirty-odd years. On the other hand, Syria has fallen into a full-scale civil war, with government planes bombing city centres and 40,000 dead. Did the "Arab spring" succeed, or did it fail?
Well, both, of course. How could it have been otherwise, in a world of fallible human beings? But the mould has been broken, and already half of the world's Arabs live in countries that are basically democratic.
The political game is being played pretty roughly in some Arab countries, but that's quite normal in new democracies — and in some older ones, too. In the years to come the transformation will deepen, amidst much further turbulence, and most Arab countries will emerge from it as normal, highly imperfect democracies. Just like most of the world's other countries.
The European Union staggered through a year during which the common currency of the majority of its members, the euro, tottered permanently on the brink of collapse. The financial markets have been talking all year about "Grexit," the expected, almost inevitable withdrawal of Greece from the eurozone, and speculating on which country would leave next.
They thought it would be Spain for most of the year, but Silvio Berlusconi's decision to run for office again — "The Return of the Undead", one European paper called it — switched the spotlight to Italy in November. The possibility that the common currency might simply fall apart, and take the political unity of the European Union with it, could no longer be dismissed.
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