New Year is traditionally a time for optimism and resolution, diets and abstinence. Slates are cleaned in time for the start of another 12 months. Predictably, however, the bitter conflicts that rage across the world care not what year it is. Whilst already established conflicts are simply ploughing on regardless, others are just about to get started. But what exactly did 2013 have in store for its successor?
The Civil War, fought for nearly two years between a secularist despot and an uncomfortable cluster of Liberal and Islamist militias, brimming with international fighters, has resulted in 130,000 deaths and risks plunging the rest of already volatile Middle East into anarchy.
The gruesome war has justifiably been a ubiquitous presence on TV screens filling living rooms with gory and heart wrenching images to a horrified global audience. Footage of suffocating children, their eyes burning and bulging from chemical exposure, as well as satanic scenes of cannibalism and execution have resulted in admonishing rhetoric and diplomatic bluster between the stakeholders.
Tentative international action has been limited to the destruction of chemical weapons and proposed, but in all likelihood doomed, peace talks. While the diplomatic titans that cautiously back the two sides can agree at least on the need for peace, the enhanced desperation and ferocity of the factions on the ground indicate escalation rather than reconciliation. Nevertheless, running up to the peace talks held in Geneva, prisoner exchanges and localised ceasefires are being discussed. So while the war is still the most deadly conflict on the planet, there has been at least a fairy step in a less violent direction.
Still as much of a dirty word for British officials as Dresden, Suez or Opium, Saddam’s old fiefdom will not allow itself to become etched from the national memory. With 8000 killed in 2013, more than any year since 2008, it is safe to say that two years after American troops left, it looks as though the ‘mission’ is anything but accomplished.
The Sunni-Shiite tension, the cornerstone of violence in Iraq since the fall of Saddam, is crippling the country once again. Shiite PM Nuri al-Maliki has undermined his own pleas for reconciliation and inclusion through brutal clampdowns on Sunni protests and the botched arrest of a senior Ramadi MP in December. This has allowed the western Anbar province to become fertile ground for rebellion and extremism.
Thus the gates were opened for discontented Sunni tribes and the notorious ISIS, famed for successes in neighboring Syria, to wrestle control from the meager state. Soon after, the coalition took the city of Fallujah - the site of major US assaults in 2004 - as well as provincial capital Ramadi. Whilst it is expected that the Iraqi military will retake the two cities the apparent ease of the initial assault illustrates not only how little authority the government exercises in Anbar, but also how popular and powerful the rebels are becoming.
Following a tumultuous birth and severed from its tyrannical Northern counterpart, the world’s youngest state is already scrambling to contain lethal internal power struggles using its nascent institutions. Having endured genocide, poverty, and savage cattle conflicts, disorder has emerged in a state ripe for civil war.
The conflict escalated quickly from a political tussle to an ethnic pogrom after President Salva Kiir from the ethnic Dinka community sacked his deputy Riek Machar, who is an ethnic Nuer. This aggravated a rift between the two communities, leading to a supposed coup attempt. Whilst it is less than clear whether a coup attempt actually occurred, rumors have been a sufficient spark to engulf the country in panic - the rebels speedily making gains in the oil-rich Unity State.
In a country beleaguered by a barbarous history, easy access to weapons has been key to the speed and startling spontaneity of the violence. With 1000 already rumored to have been slaughtered and 200,000 displaced, lumbering peace talks held in an Ethiopian nightclub offer scant hope of a quick solution.
(Ones to look out for)
The symbolic cradle of civilisation and the poisoned heart of the Arab Spring is, for now, relatively subdued. The colossal state authorities figureheaded by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi have comprehensively and brutally restored order. Compared to the still-revered Pharaohs due to the extensive state power he wields and the cult of personality that he has fostered, Sisi undoubtedly enjoys immense popularity. Currently considering a bid for the Presidency, the long time military strongman even won the TIME magazine person of the year award poll with votes almost entirely from the Egyptian public.
The Muslim Brotherhood, with its leadership incarcerated and support base beaten underground are adept at existing illegally and may, this time, have been pushed too far. Having long been unfairly characterised as terrorists, and having been ousted and persecuted without mercy or democratic protocol, the temptation to fight back might likely prove irresistible to many in the organisation.
While the historically treacherous Sinai region has seen “unprecedented clashes” since the removal of Islamist Mohamed Morsi from the Presidency, the possibility of this isolated insurgency evolving quickly into an “Algerian or Syrian” situation is unlikely to occur whilst the military maintain such power and indulge in the state budget how they see fit.
The protests threatening to shut down Bangkok are perhaps anathema to the ‘fourth wave of democracy’ ushered in by the Arab Spring as they are founded on the goal to rid the country of democracy at the highest level.
The protesters condemn the cronyism of the self-exiled former Prime Minister (and Manchester City owner) Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted by a military coup in 2006 and is alleged to rule through his younger sister and successor Yingluck. Thaksin’s continuing power in exile is shown, perhaps most strikingly, in the Pheu Thai party’s campaign slogan “Thaksin thinks, Pheu Thai acts”.
However, the Shinawatras’ position of power is sustained by near-universal electoral predominance in rural areas. The protesters, generally from the urban middle class, perceive this as a stumbling block of ridding the state of corruption. In their eyes then, the selection of candidates running for office should not be made by dubious elections but by the will of an unelected leadership council.
The protests, which have stifled transport and therefore business in the capital city, have resulted in a few deaths; the situation being described as “ tense, volatile and unpredictable" by Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific deputy director. Nevertheless, with a military capable of wresting power for themselves and a history of bloodless - if erratic - transfers of power, the likelihood of armed rebellion is minimal.