Speaking Thursday before the U.N. General Assembly, just one day after the latest massacre of civilians by government-affiliated forces, Kofi Annan warned that the crisis in Syria was on a disastrous course. “If things do not change, the future is likely to be one of brutal repression, massacres, sectarian violence and even all-out civil war,” he said. “All Syrians will lose.” Annan, of course, is not the first to evoke the term “civil war” in reference to the crisis in Syria, which has already resulted in more than 10,000 dead and 50,000 missing.
Before 2013 begins, catch up on the best of 2012. From now until the New Year, we will be re-posting some of The New Republic’s most thought-provoking pieces of the year. Enjoy. For any number of pundits, policymakers, and scholars, the new next hot thing, in countries developed and developing, is The City—or, more expansively and more precisely, the megalopolis and its little brother, the metropolis.
If you were to pinpoint one moment when it looked as if things just might work out for Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, it would probably be February 2, 2010. That day, Fayyad addressed the annual Herzliya Conference, a sort of Israeli version of Davos featuring high-powered policymakers and intellectuals. It is not a typical speaking venue for Palestinians; yet Fayyad was warmly received.
On a hot evening in March, with the temperature still over 100 degrees, I met a veteran journalist named Jacob Akol in South Sudan’s capital, Juba. South Sudan is the newest nation in the world, and it shows: Juba is expanding so quickly that it basically reinvents itself every month. Hotels and offices are constructed out of used shipping containers.
The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi By Peter Popham (The Experiment, 448 pp., $27.50) Aung San Suu Kyi mania is sweeping Rangoon. The paraphernalia for sale on the streets of Rangoon now includes the hitherto banned image of Aung San Suu Kyi on posters, stickers, key rings, and baseball caps.
When Barack Obama released a video message to Sudan and South Sudan last Sunday, he urged the people of both countries to reject armed conflict and return to negotiations. Obama gravely warned that “heated rhetoric on both sides has raised the risk of war.” With the two countries once again on the brink of a full-scale armed conflict, the President’s message was well-intentioned.
The only real surprise about the six-point peace plan for Syria put forward by United Nations envoy Kofi Annan is why it took until yesterday, the eve of its proposed ceasefire, for the world to declare it a failure. Reacting to the latest violence throughout Syria on Monday, U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Washington is “not hopeful” that Tuesday would see a cessation of hostilities. But any such hope was naïve to begin with. Among the things the past year has taught us is that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a master of diversion.
It should have raised red flags when both Syria and Russia approved of Kofi Annan’s February 23 appointment as the United Nations-Arab League Joint Special Envoy (JSE) to Syria. But after bickering world powers repeatedly failed to agree on an emissary to broker an end to the killing spree in which Bashar al-Assad has killed more than 9,000 people, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, was content to laud Annan as “an outstanding choice.” Certainly the Ghana-born Annan comes loaded with credentials: former U.N.
On a Monday in late February, I received a Facebook message from a Syrian activist notifying me that a demonstration was due to start in half an hour in a heavily guarded section of Damascus. The occasion was a funeral, and so the protest was likely to be large. “Two of the five martyrs are children, and funeral processions for children are always big,” the message explained. I took a cab to the Kafr Sousa district, an area that is home to many government buildings, and walked for 20 minutes, until I came upon about 75 casually dressed men toting machine guns.
Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide By Paul Marshall and Nina Shea (Oxford University Press, 448 pp., $35) I. In spite of its slightly agitated title, this book is mostly a cool and even-tempered human rights report, and its findings go a long way toward explaining one of the mysteries of our time, namely, the ever-expanding success of political movements with overtly Islamic doctrines and radical programs. Some people may suppose that Islam itself, the ancient religion, mandates theocracy.