1 The year the earth moved (Khaleej Times) The year that we just lived through has seen old political schisms re-emerging and new fundamentalisms taking root — these are more than likely to alter the geo-political landscape for the next five years in ways that are still being understood. One of these has been the price of crude oil, whose precipitous plunge in the latter half of 2014 was scarcely on the strategists’ radar early in 2014. Oil and the health of economies (both oil producers and consumers) are tied together and so the oil price plunge has benefited some and hurt others, and such harm has a distinct political cast to it.
European countries struggled through 2014 with the imposition of ‘austerity’, by which is meant less public funds for social sector, health and education spending but at the same time financial handouts to banks, the transfer of the tax burden from corporations onto workers, and real declines in wages caused by the rise of informal — and therefore insecure — labour. This came to be called the European malaise in 2014, and fostered calls for the break-up of the European Union while strengthening independence movements, notably in Scotland and Catalonia.
East of Eurasia, events portended the continuing shift in the fortunes of the world to Asia, even though China, according to the official data, began to see the much-heralded slowing down of its economic growth, a growth that had turned the factory of the world (in capitalist-speak) into a vast environmental emergency. But China is to east Asia what India is to south Asia and the two economic heavyweights are steadily returning the world to the trade-weighted balance of the 17th century, when the world survived at the pleasure of the great Asian empires.
It is not a world that the former superpower, the US, wants and so American foreign policy continued its unidimensional and violent rush. The grotesque worldwide surveillance state (which became known through the efforts of whistle-blowers such as Snowden and Wikileaks) has been confronted in the streets and online.
The dominant medium of the world, and especially of young people, the internet, has been reclaimed over and over as the democratic platform of the new generation. Through this change, politics local and regional has been transformed, and the now familiar mask used by members of the Anonymous movement has become the symbol of a watchful citizenry. The new year will bring more such change and more such resistance to any dismantling of old orders. This is the method of history, none of it is comfortable, and a good deal is unsettling. After all, the times we live in are only ever interesting.
2 Syria war ‘killed 76,000’ in 2014 (BBC) The year 2014 was the deadliest year yet in Syria’s four-year conflict, with over 76,000 killed, activists say. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 17,790 of the dead were civilians, including 3,501 children. More than 15,000 died in conflicts in Iraq in 2014, making it that country’s worst year since 2007.
Much of the violence comes as a result of advances by Islamic State and other militants groups in the two countries. US-led air strikes against Islamic State (IS) militants, fighting between government troops and rebels in Syria, and sectarian violence in Iraq have also accounted for large numbers of deaths.
Syrian Observatory said a total of 76,021 had died, slightly up on 2013’s toll of 73,447 and bringing the total number of deaths since the conflict began in 2011 to more than 200,000. At least 22,627 were government soldiers or members of pro-government militias. Almost 17,000 were militants from groups including IS and al-Nusra Front. More than 15,000 were from moderate rebel groups and Islamist factions. Civilians made up 17,790 of the dead.
3 Dubai is busier than Heathrow (Terry Macalister in The Guardian) Heathrow has lost its crown as the busiest airport in the world for international passenger traffic. The oil-rich Gulf city of Dubai has knocked London off the top spot, figures from the Airports Council International show.
A total of 68.9 million passengers had passed through Dubai International compared with 67.8 million at Heathrow as of December 22, despite a late slowdown in traffic with one important destination, trouble-hit Russia. The rise in passenger numbers at Dubai this year came despite only a single runway being usable for 80 days because of a refurbishment scheme, which caused a temporary decline in flights.
“Given the traffic achieved in the first 11 months, together with some of the busiest days on record in December, we are confident of ending the year above the 70 million mark and confirming our position as the world’s busiest international airport,” said Paul Griffiths, the British-born chief executive of Dubai Airports. He added: “Looking forward to 2015, the prospects remain exceedingly bright, and we expect to maintain the growth achieved this year in the next 12 months.”