A year in review: The biggest news stories of 2011

As 2011 draws to a close and 2012 begins, Sean O’Grady looks back on the stand-out moments of the past year.

Arab SpringKnown by other names such as the Arab Awakening, this series of protests and demonstrations across the Arab world in 2011 was one of the most widely publicised events of the year. Sparked by a series of uprisings in Tunisia in December 2010, protests soon spread to Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Jordan. Numerous factors contributed to the civil unrest including a stand against dictatorship, political corruption and police brutality. Censorship in these areas had been particularly severe, with police clamping down on anyone whose views they deem too anti-government or “liberal”. Perhaps the most memorable event of the Arab Spring is the killing of overthrown dictator Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. While some view Gaddafi as a corrupt ego-maniac who took all of Libya’s wealth for himself, others viewed him as a godsend who improved literacy and gave the homeless a place to live. The results of the still on-going Arab Spring have proven to be positive. Governments have been overthrown, Prime Ministers have resigned and constitutions have been rewritten to suit the best interests of the people. While the future of many of the involved countries is still not certain, a new democratic era where citizens have more rights than in their previous oppressive systems means a more positive state of mind and sense of achievement across the Arab world.Death of Osama Bin LadenOn May 2nd, the world breathed a sigh of relief when American President Barack Obama delivered the news to the world that the Islamic terrorist Osama Bin Laden was dead. The leader of extremist organisation Al-Qaeda was killed at a compound in Pakistan he had been hiding in for a number of years. Immediately following the news of his death crowds gathered in front of the White House and Times Square to celebrate the death of the man behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Bin Laden’s demise, codenamed Operation Neptune Spear by the American military, marks the most significant event in combating the terrorism that has plagued the United States and the rest of the world for over a decade. Bin Laden, who has been called ‘The World’s Most Wanted Man’ was buried at sea within twenty-four hours of his death and Al-Qaeda confirmed his passing on their website, where they also vowed to take revenge. While this undoubtedly will provide a sense of closure to the family of victims of 9/11 and to anyone against terrorism, it begs the question “What happens next?” The high possibility of retaliation by Al-Qaeda was immediately recognised, but whether or not this will come to fruition remains to be seen. Until then, Bin Laden’s death will ultimately seen as a case of great retribution.Earthquake and Tsunami in JapanEven in a country where earthquakes are a common occurrence and as many as 1,500 can be recorded in a single year, the earthquake and following tsunami that struck Japan on March 11th was something no one could have prepared for. The earthquake measured 9.0 on the Richter scale and was the most powerful known earthquake ever to hit Japan, while the tsunami that followed had waves reaching forty metres high. The destruction of the Fukushima nuclear reactor was as a result of the quake and caused massive radiation. It proved to be disastrous for the country’s economy and cost the World Bank over 200 billion dollars, making it the most expensive natural disaster in history. Human consequences of the disaster were also massive, with a death toll of over 15,000 and another 3,000 people missing. Countless photographs of survivors being carried to safety, homes in ruins and boats and cars being tossed over houses will remain in our minds for some time to come. While almost a year on, most of the country has moved to new concerns, there is still an endless sea of rubble in Northern areas of the country; a constant reminder of the disaster.Riots in EnglandOriginally confined to boroughs of London, a series of riots that broke out on the 6th of August soon spread to other cities such as Bristol and Birmingham. The 4th of August saw the shooting of Mark Duggan by police, which was soon followed by a protest in North London by his friends and family who believed his innocence. Soon however, the protest became violent after allegations that police attacked a sixteen year old girl present at the protest. Within days, full blown rioting was widespread across London with rioters smashing and looting shops and burning out cars while taking pictures of the event and posting them to social networking sites. The disturbances brought members of government and Prime Minister David Cameron home from their holidays early in an attempt to deal with the situation that had upwards of 16,000 police on the streets in an attempt to handle the chaos. Over 300 people in London and over 100 in Birmingham were arrested and five people were killed. The theories behind the riots range from the disillusionment and boredom of city youths to racial tensions stemming from an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality that led to the violence. With the riots now over, hopefully the fact that they are still fresh in people’s minds will encourage an anti-riot mentality among the general population and the government, meaning safer cities for everyone.The Royal WeddingAlthough it may not have had as big an impact on the lives of us commoners as the other events on this list, the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton was certainly a noteworthy occasion, with over 300 million people tuning in to watch the ceremony live. Trying to avoid news of the wedding proved almost impossible, with sixty cameras present at Westminster Abbey covering every angle and almost every major station having live coverage throughout the day. The couple met while they were undergraduate students at the University of St. Andrews and since their relationship began they, and Kate in particular, have been subject to intense media scrutiny. The big day itself, which was the first royal wedding since Prince Charles and Diana in 1981, was watched by almost half the British population and reportedly cost upwards of £20 million. Although a royal wedding isn’t exactly a life changing event for most people, it certainly provided a certain amount of escapism from many of the more tragic events that took over the news this year.