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The year gone by

As another frantic year comes to an end, I want to know who pushed the fast-forward button. Why is it that life seems to speed up as you get older? 2012 seems to have come and gone in the blink of an eye as months, weeks and days whizzed by at the speed of light. The more I want the world to slow down, the faster it gets.

It’s probably a mix of globalisation, the 24/7 news cycle, the spell cast by Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and a mix of other things that has turned us into eternally alert, over-informed and overworked people.

We are wired up, plugged in, connected all the time. We multi-task, multi-media and have multiple careers. We travel more than ever, eat more than ever — and talk more than ever. We text endlessly. We take pictures, use Skype, send a stream of e-mails to millions of people. Our children are the same. Small wonder then that we are also sleep-deprived and very tired.

Our emotions are all jumbled up. We watch the violence around us with horror, shocked by pictures of children dying in Gaza, Syria, Pakistan and in schools in the US. We grieve for the parents. Luckily once in a while, we also laugh at life’s funny side.

While waiting for 2013 to surprise us, I’ve been looking back at the events that made me sit up and take notice — as well cry and laugh. First there were the elections.

Just this week, it was the poll victory of South Korea’s Conservative Saenuri (New Frontier) Party candidate Park Geun-hye who made history by becoming the country’s first female president-elect after defeating liberal rival Moon Jae-in. Park, the daughter of a former dictator, has said she will “open an era of peoples’ happiness in which everyone can enjoy some simple pleasures and their dreams can come true”. North Korea may spoil the party, however. Park is faced with widening income disparity amid a slowing economy, soaring welfare costs for an aging population and a rekindling territorial dispute with Japan.

While South Korea broke new ground, Japanese voters decided to take comfort by re-electing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader, Shinzo Abe, who was Japanese premier from 2006-2007. Critics are hoping Abe will redress the embattled Japanese economy. But there are fears that as a hawk, he could worsen already difficult relations with China. Such a turn of events would be very bad news. Because China — like it or hate it — is Asia’s ‘Big Power’.

In November, Barack Obama was re-elected as US president. But the really momentous development was the official nomination of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang as China’s next president and premier respectively. Both men and their colleagues in the Standing Committee face the daunting challenge of running the world’s most populous nation while trying to rev up the economy and meet demands for political reform.

Perhaps equally important was the election in June of the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Morsi as Egyptian president. Morsi was the victor in Egypt’s first democratic elections in more than a generation — but his six months in power have been marked by a deep polarisation of the country.

Many of the men and women who drove Hosni Mubarak from power lament the fact that Egypt is now run not only by members of the Muslim Brotherhood but also the much more conservative Salafists. I confess, I am disappointed at Morsi’s unwillingness to reach out to the whole of Egyptian society, not just his supporters.

The year was also marked by violence — horrible massacres, suicide bombings, killings and murders of innocent people by governments, armies, rebels, terrorists, drug lords and others.

The fighting was particularly horrifying in Syria as Bashar al-Assad clung on to power and his army systematically killed rebel fighters but also massacred thousands of civilians. In Gaza, the Israeli army assault led to the killing of hundreds of civilians including dozens of children. Ten days before Christmas, a gunman went on the rampage in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 26 people including 20 children. As Americans mourned the senseless loss of lives, President Obama finally charged Vice President Joe Biden to draw up a plan to tackle gun violence in the US.

As the so-called Arab Spring turned to a terrible Arab ‘winter’, the European Union struggled to contain the eurozone crisis.

After several false starts, EU leaders, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the forefront, managed to put the worst of the crisis behind them. But the wounds left by the crisis went deep, with many fearing not only a Greek exit from the eurozone but also a British departure from the EU.

But the year was not all sad and serious, it was also about fun and games. On July 27, London officially kicked off the Olympics, the world’s biggest sporting event with a star-studded opening ceremony that spotlighted Britain’s multicultural credentials and showcased the country’s ability to put up a great spectacle despite myriad warnings that the vast, densely populated city would not be able to cope with the Games. Fun also came in the shape of South Korean Rap sensation Psy’s Gangnam Style video has which topped YouTube’s 2012 most watched list — with nearly one billion views.

So what should we expect from 2013? Hopefully, Assad will finally depart from the scene and the anger and acrimony in the Middle East will subside. Perhaps Israel and the Palestinians will take a few steps towards peace? There will be elections in Pakistan and hopefully they will be free and fair. I could of course wish for much, much more. But 2013 will probably whiz past very quickly as well. In the blink of an eye.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels.

Shada Islam, "The year gone by," Dawn. 2012-12-22.

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