This blog is now two years old, with not so much to show for it. It's sad how little has changed since the beginning of 2005. Yet there have been breakthroughs that even then would have seemed unimaginable. Anyway, last year ended with a year in review, so why not keep up the tradition? Without further ado, here once again (updated for 2006) is the good, the bad, and the just plain wacky.
BIGGEST OUTRAGE: Sudan Genocide
Some would argue the whole cartoon crisis was beyond outrageous (or the death sentence for a Muslim Afghani who dared convert to Christianity). But last year's "winning" outrage holds true again. Widespread government-sanctioned mass murder and ethnic cleansing - coupled with UN inaction and a near-deafening silence from people so quick to protest far lesser matters - sadly keeps Sudan in the pole position. But kudos to the 31 Middle Eastern NGOs who signed this statement.
FORGOTTEN OUTRAGE: Western Sahara
It's the Middle Eastern "occupation" long-forgotten by the international community, yet it features some inspiring nonviolent activists (like Aminatou Haider, the "Sahwari Ghandi" released from prison earlier this year) and begs for a robust solidarity movement, which has courageous Moroccan reformers to partner with.
MOST MUNDANE OUTRAGE: Banning Cats & Dogs in Jidda and Mecca; Breaking up Couples on Park Benches in Tehran (tie)
It will no longer be raining cats and dogs in two of Saudi's biggest cities, as these pets are a corrupting Western influence. And a Persian blogger captured a public morality inspector at work in one of Tehran's parks, separating a boyfriend and girlfriend cuddling on a bench.
DICTATOR OF THE YEAR: Qaddafi
First off, he's the "Dean of the Dictators," having served longer than any other regional despot. Second, he somehow managed to dominate the headlines (on this blog at least) by starting his own blog, promising to buy 1.2 million laptops, spewing nonsense at Columbia University, getting put in his place by Nigerian airport officials, and paying Lionel Ritchie to serenade his daughter's wedding. We're just mad we didn't get invited.
TURNING POINT: December 11
Last year had the February 21 protest in Lebanon. No equivalent seismic shift in 2006. By default, the award this year goes to the students who protested Ahmadinejad's talk earlier this month (and paid the price). Their daring act actually capped a series of protests in Iran (by Azeris, women's rights activists, students, bus drivers, and even female soccer fans banned from stadiums). May these nonviolent protests grow in strength and number.
MOST DARING MOMENT: Workers Striking in Dubai; Anti-Homophobia Day in Beirut; Wajeha Huwaider (3-way tie)
The UAE's disenfranchised majority - foreign workers with no legal rights whatsoever - made a show for themselves this spring, organizing taboo-breaking protests (1, 2, 3) over terrible work conditions despite the threat of immediate deportation. Speaking of tackling long-ignored issues, anti-homophobia activists in Beirut put on three days of events to mark IDAHO. And then there was Wajeha Huwaider's one-woman protest in Saudi Arabia.
MOST INFLUENTIAL AMERICAN ACTIVIST: George Clooney; the Boroumand Sisters (tie)
Clooney kept the Sudan genocide in the public spotlight all year, including leading a huge rally in DC and successfully pressuring Arnold Schwartzenegger to get California to divest from Sudan. On the other hand, Ladan and Roya Boroumand do not have celebrity status, but their piece-de-resistance was unveiled earlier this year: Omid, a massive online database of individuals murdered by the Iranian regime. (If this report of a March on Mecca were not a parody, these guys would have won hands down.)
OUTSTANDING REPORTING ON CIVIL RIGHTS: Jamal Amer
The muckracking Yemeni journalist had his life threatened by some thugs from the mukhabarat, but he hung in there and deservedly won a major international journalism award for his commitment to shining a spotlight on abuses.
BEST LOCAL BLOGGING ON CIVIL RIGHTS: Alaa Abd el-Fatah
When the dude gets arrested and then blogs from jail - and then continues to speak out after his release - he gets the award. His arrest also inspired a great grassroots response from bloggers and activists all over the world.
MOMENT OF LEVITY: Mafi Wasta
This underground workers' rights group in the UAE gets extra points for their self-depricating humor. Choice quote: "If success is to be measured on the difference we have made to the life of the average migrant worker, then we can probably make claim to have been the least successful pressure group in history."
NOTABLE PASSING: Akbar Mohammadi
One of the leaders of the July 1999 student uprising in Iran, Mohammadi died from complications due to a hunger strike he was leading in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison. But his death, at least, made ABC News. And his courage and conviction will not be forgotten.
HARROWING QUOTES OF THE YEAR: These statements echo across the region
- "I want our society to move forward, and I want to be part of that change. I don't want to be 40 and still struggling with the issues we're dealing with now." -Omran in Saudi Arabia
Why were Japanese women allowed into the stadium for a World Cup qualifying match in 2005, she asks. Because they're Japanese, he answers. "So my problem is I was born in Iran," she retorts. -outside a Tehran soccer stadium
"We cannot get passports. We cannot deal with banks. We cannot deal with traffic departments. We cannot put our children in schools and universities... We the Bahais are committed to the law regardless of the fact that administrative authorities reject us and force us to deny our creed." -an appeal by Egyptian Baha'is
ODD FIXATION: Techonology Will Set People Free
Last year, this award recognized a preponderance of sexuality-themed posts. We mostly cleaned up our act this year, instead sublimating that energy into weekly photo posts on Fridays. But if there was an underlying theme explored more than in the past, it has been the impact of new technology. This includes Bahrain blocking Google Earth, Tunisian activists using Google Earth to expose prison abuse, activists rallying online to free arrested bloggers, a videogame promoting nonviolent techniques, the Omid database of Iranian victims, and new-kid-on-the-block iToot.
2007 Risky Prediction: A "Jasmine Revolution" in Syria
We were WAY off last year, but maybe predicting it a second time will actually make it come true.
PHOTOS OF THE YEAR: Follow the Links
Happy new year! Let's hope it indeed brings more happiness and greater freedom.