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Home >Opinion >Online-views >2013 | Reversing gears

There are some years in history that stand out. One such year was 1947, so were 1971 and 1991. These years mark important milestones—India won independence, Bangladesh emerged as a new nation, and the Soviet Union collapsed.

2013 is not on that list.

It was like many years when confusion prevailed and one trend was negated by another counter-trend. Does it then mean that there were no developments of historical significance? The answer is an unequivocal no.

The essays in this edition capture the medley of the moods seen in the year that ends tomorrow. Five years after the onset of the global economic and financial crisis and two years after the start of the Arab Spring, some trends are clear.

Economically, the world is a much less open place than it was in 2008, as Pascal Lamy, the former director general of the World Trade Organization, argues. At the same time, the crisis has not ended if economist Joseph Stiglitz is to be believed. Niall Ferguson, a war and finance historian, shares this pessimism and asks some hard questions.

Now consider the positive counter-currents. Japan has turned the corner as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe so firmly believes. Britain, after a round of savage spending cuts and some bitter economic medicine, too, has joined Japan. George Osborne, the dispenser of all that, is probably the most confident chancellor of the exchequer the UK have seen for a while.

Politically, the picture is more interesting, if somewhat dark. The Arab Spring has not lived up to its promise. Egypt is back under the military’s boot and the civil war continues to bleed Syria. Turkey is in turmoil. The one clear winner is Iran, as President Hassan Rouhani says in his essay. American and European leaders feel that they finally have a deal that will placate Iran. In turn, Iran’s leaders feel the West has at last acknowledged their country’s importance. This clarity is unnerving for its neighbours. Turki bin Faisal Al-Saud, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence tsar for long, fears the worst in the West’s promotion of Iran. His country, often considered the fulcrum of the Middle East, and its leaders, remain confused as Mai Yamani argues. Israel, another rival of the Persian nation, remains jittery.

Does this amount to one big pool of confusion?

The human mind searches for simplicity; history abhors it. In each major trend seen during the year, a counter-eddy is readily visible. That is the normal course of events anywhere, until they reach a tipping point. That mark was not reached in 2013, politically or economically. That does not mean the year was not interesting. The distinguished writers in today’s edition provide abundant clues to where the world is headed.

We hope you will enjoy these essays as much as we have.

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