2011 unveiled a radical shift in the arena of geopolitics. It all started when a Tunisian vegetable vendor, fed up with living in oppression at the hands of his town’s police department, lit himself on fire. That man’s action served as a spark that took the Arab World by storm. The Tunisians demonstrated and protested, and a revolution ensued, resulting in the ousting of a dictator.
Other Arab nations followed suit, from Egypt to Libya to Yemen and beyond. What is most puzzling about this is that for two generations the West has tried to convince many of these nations to embrace democracy, and now that the citizens of the nations seemingly want change, the United States and her allies have had little to do with it.
Occupy Wall Street was, and may continue to be, an urgent cry for change in America. Meanwhile as income inequality, a bad economy and crony capitalism oust more and more people from the middle class in Europe, not just financial companies, but entire states are collapsing due to insurmountable debt.
Russia’s strongman, resident tiger warrior and alligator wrestler, Vladimir Putin, was dealt an embarrassing election showing when the United Russia Party had to blatantly rig parliamentary voting to stay in power. Russian citizens took to the streets by the thousands in protest after the results were announced; it was the first real political action by Russian citizens since the mid 90s.
With these dramatic changes to entire societies all around the world occurring, one must wonder whether or not there is some kind of string that connects all these events together.
There could be any number of reasons as to why the geopolitical theater was littered with so many events last year. The Internet, for one, played a vital role in most of these incidents. People all around the world use it as a source of real time communication and information-sharing, thus effectively eliminating all obstacles that previously stood in the way of political discourse.
Also, the world’s economy is, to put it nicely, in the toilet, and the middle classes of nations around the globe are under siege, thus pushing people to be more active in their respective political processes. Both these factors played a huge role in the events that shaped 2011.
However, it must be noted that none of the aforementioned causes are the primary reason that the world is literally being transformed right in front of us. That reason is the rise of gerontocracy, a political system in which society is governed by the old. Our world leaders have grown out of touch, and they are governing an angrier, more educated, more disenfranchised and less optimistic generation than the previous one. The fact that these leaders are oblivious of this reality is what is making these events crop up.
For example, in the Arab world, dictators have ruled with an iron fist for decades. During all that time, these leaders have become more and more isolated and cut off from the rest of society. Their subjects, the entire public, have become disenchanted by their corrupt rule, and last year when oppression reached the inevitable critical mass, people stood up and took action.
It was the Starbucks Theory in action. The doctrine claims that once you introduce choice, labor contracts and free markets into command-driven, centralized economies, citizens are bound to eventually acquire a wealth of goods and services to choose from (think all the different kinds of coffee one can get at Starbucks). Eventually people will insist on having democracy and the ability to choose their leaders in the political arena as well. In short, people are starved for change, but politicians refuse to grant it to them.
2011 was a year filled with major geopolitical events, some of which might even go on to have unintended consequences on the very people who brought them about. However, there is a strong feeling among many that the past year will be overshadowed by the year ahead of us.
In 2012, China will find itself governed by a new leader, as its current Premier, Hu Jintao, is stepping down from power. Russia will go to the ballot booths and attempt to find their Putin alternative. France will also have elections, and its citizens will be faced with two starkly different choices: stick with the unpopular Nicolas Sarkozy, or replace him and run the risk of undermining his work during the Eurozone crisis. Iran will probably test their first nuclear bomb, officially starting an arms race in the Middle East. Also, the United States will be faced with their own decision: re-elect Barack Obama, albeit with no more Hope or Change to cling to, or consider a nominee from the Republican primaries, the first in almost four decades that will not involve a Bush or Dole.
Whatever the case, these events leave room for more discourse, more Occupying, more revolutions. For those of us who are level-headed watchers of the political process, this year will be more than intriguing. The cold winds of political winter are upon us, slowly but surely rising up into the atmosphere. Brace yourselves—here comes the most thrilling year yet.