Middle East Matters: The Ten Most Significant Developments of 2011 – Council on Foreign Relations

Thousands of Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on February 11, 2011

Here it is: the first annual “Middle East Matters” year-end roundup listing the ten most significant Middle East developments of the year. As 2011 was such a tumultuous year in the region, almost any one of these items could have been deemed the most significant development in a “normal” year. So identifying significant developments is relatively easy. The hard part is winnowing down the events to just ten. Consistent with the blog’s theme of focusing on the interplay between U.S. foreign policy and the region, these were the items that were most significant from a U.S. foreign policy perspective. So in roughly chronological order are MEM’s top ten developments of 2011:


Iran Threatens to Block Oil Shipments, as U.S. Prepares Sanctions – The New York Times

An Iranian naval warship in the Strait of Hormuz as Iran began a massive 10 days military exercise which would simulate closing of the Strait, a vital artery for the world's energy flow. Around one-third of the world's oil passes through this narrow channel between Iran and Oman - the Strait of Hormuz..

WASHINGTON — A senior Iranian official on Tuesday delivered a sharp threat in response to economic sanctions being readied by the United States, saying his country would retaliate against any crackdown by blocking all oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz, a vital artery for transporting about one-fifth of the world’s oil supply.

The declaration by Iran’s first vice president, Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, came as President Obama prepares to sign legislation that, if fully implemented, could substantially reduce Iran’s oil revenue in a bid to deter it from pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

Prior to the latest move, the administration had been laying the groundwork to attempt to cut off Iran from global energy markets without raising the price of gasoline or alienating some of Washington’s closest allies.

Apparently fearful of the expanded sanctions’ possible impact on the already-stressed economy of Iran, the world’s third-largest energy exporter, Mr. Rahimi said, “If they impose sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz,” according to Iran’s official news agency. Iran just began a 10-day naval exercise in the area.


Killing Fields to Healing Fields : On rehabilitation of landmine victims in Cambodia – National Geographic

Chhin Boreak, 19, lost his right arm to a land mine at the age of 10. One of 12 children in his family, he came to live at the relief center in northwest Cambodia founded by mine removal expert Aki Ra for kids and young adults whose families can't care for them.

Delicately brushing away the soil with his fingers, Aki Ra uncovers a dark green land mine buried two inches beneath the overgrown dirt road. The size of a large soup can, the mine was planted by the Khmer Rouge about 15 years ago on this ox track in northwestern Cambodia—the most densely mined region of one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.

“This is the type 69 Bouncing Betty made in China,” says Aki Ra, his breath fogging the blastproof visor of his helmet. Bouncing Betty is the American nickname for a bounding fragmentation land mine. The pressure of a footstep causes it to leap out of the ground and then explode, spraying shrapnel in every direction. It can shred the legs of an entire squad.

Land mines once crippled a war-ravaged Cambodia. Today the nation is a model for how to recover from this scourge.


Kashmiris’ Pain Over Unmarked Graves – BBC

Thousands of unmarked graves have been discovered in remote areas of Indian-administered Kashmir, a legacy of decades of conflict in the region. Now a government human rights body is calling on the Indian authorities to investigate the graves – to identify the dead and find out who killed them.

Khurram Parvez works for the Coalition of Civil Society, a human rights organisation which first drew attention to the unmarked graves and is demanding a full, impartial investigation.


iPads and Kindles force newspapers further away from print – The Guardian UK

A million iPads and Kindles may have been unwrapped on Sunday – according to tentative analyst estimates – an influx of portable technology that is expected to hasten a decline in the already faltering sales of printed newspapers, adding pressure on traditional business models that have traditionally supported so many titles around the country.

Fifty years ago two national dailies – the Daily Mirror and the Daily Express – sold more than 4m copies each; today the bestselling Sun sells 2.6m. In the last year alone, printed sales declined by 10% for daily broadsheets and by 5% for daily tabloids – and when the News of the World stopped printing last July 600,000 copy sales simply disappeared.

The knock-on impact of the decline has been a push for digital readers that have seen newspapers like the Daily Mail win 5m unique visitors a day – compared with its printed sale of 2m – but struggle to generate revenues to match. The Mail generated £16m from its website last year, out of £608m overall.