History Repeats Itself In 2012


2012. Was that really just another year? Or are we — as the conspiracy theorists have been insisting all year — enjoying our final days on earth?

If you believe the fruit loops, we are in the "final countdown", wrote the philosopher Thomas Macho in Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung over the weekend. The Mayan calendar gave the world just more 18 days on 2 December, Macho reminds us.

That’s because, on 21 December, "the sun will be in alignment with the Milky Way", the German philosopher continues. So the earth ought to terminate then.

Yet even the conspiracy theorists appear to be wearying of our impending end. "The countdown seems to be getting gradually slower, most videos [predicting the end]have been turned off or deleted," Macho discovered.

Now, it may be that this particular apocalypse has been a victim of its own media hype. We have all known since May 2011 that 2012 would mark the end of civilisation; the first Mayan prognostications went online then. But now, with the day almost here, "the collective agitation and fascination" is long gone, Macho writes. Even the end of the world provokes apathy these days.

But allow me to make another prediction. The world will end in almost exactly one year from now. The Mayan calendar was right, but 2012 hasn’t arrived yet: this year history has been a replay of 2011.

The protestors are back in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. For the past few weeks, the centre of the Egyptian capital has been full of the tumult of protests, clashes and institutional drama.

The players — the army, the judges, the politicians and the people — are as fissured as last year. And the disputes have only shifted slightly. Secularists claim that, this time, it is Mohammed Morsi who wants to become the new pharaoh, the new Mubarak. Over the weekend, Morsi announced apparent concessions. He took back the emergency decree that opponents charge put him above the law.

But the Egyptian President is continuing to press for a new constitution that opponents charge will push Egypt towards a theocracy. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood wants Egyptians to vote on a draft constitution this week. However, many abroad are questioning whether Egyptians understand what they could end up voting for on 15 December if Morsi has his way.

"Hurried along by history, 80 million Egyptians, the majority of whom cannot even read or write, are expected to decide on the base of a new state, one that has been prepared to the taste of the Muslim Brotherhood," wrote German weekly Der Spiegel over the weekend.

Meanwhile, in the centre of Cairo, tanks are crowded around Morsi’s presidential palace. France’s Le Figaro described the scene there on Saturday:

"The Egyptian security forces have reinforced the checkpoints in the avenues leading to the presidential palace. A rampart blocks off Margani Avenue; it is made of containers welded together under the cover of darkness. [And] behind those fortifications, Republican Guard tanks and soldiers have been lined up like Lego."

So very little, it seems, can prevent further blood on the streets of the Arab world’s most populous nation. Year’s end will be anything but restful in North Africa.

In fact, many in the Francophone media have been predicting a new revolution in Tunisia in recent weeks. "Just like during the revolution of 2011, it is in the interior areas of the country … where conflicts are crystallising," wrote Algerian paper El Watan last week.

"Every week brings with it its share of strikes, demonstrations, and fierce clashes. Tunisia is gradually becoming a social powder-keg," writes the Algerian paper. 

Crisis and political turmoil have had a habit of spreading north across the Mediterranean for the past couple of years. Here, though, the emphasis has been less on what the street wants, and more on struggles within the markets and the political class.

Again, Italy has pitched the continent into political unease and provoked fears of new speculative pressure on Southern European bonds.

And — like a lewd Ghost of Christmas Past — it is Silvio Berlusconi who has again returned to haunt the continent. Last week, Berlusconi’s party withdrew its support from Mario Monti’s technocratic government. Now, the Italian prime minister has left office. Elections anticipated for March at the earliest will be brought forward, and Berlusconi intends to retake his old job.

In recent months, il Cavaliere has gone public with long-held private views on the European economy. The master jester has signalled an Italian exit from the euro is not unthinkable.

"I don’t believe an exit from the euro would be blasphemy; then you could consider proceeding to a competitive devaluation and returning to your own currency," L’Unita quoted the ex-PM as saying.

Berlusconi’s views on inflation are heresy here in Berlin. Germany’s low-paying employers rely on stable prices to keep wages under control. But Berlusconi mused in L’Unita back in June that "in the 1980s we had double-digit inflation but consumption was increasing and unemployment was low".

Angela Merkel would rather choke on her turkey than see that happen in Europe. Italy’s neighbours in Southern Europe are also livid at Berlusconi for collapsing Monti’s government — a decision taken to maximise his party’s showing at the February poll. And Berlusconi’s economic views are a market mover, say economists.

"Italy has been receiving loans at more reasonable rates, which has helped it to urge its debt burden. But the effects of Berlusconi’s grotesque remarks has been to hike those rates," wrote Spain’s El Pais on the weekend.

So, a fresh market panic may ensue to end the year, even though Berlusconi’s party has been polling badly; it’s yet another reprise for the European debt crisis.

We’ll probably all hear yet more doomsday talk from economists. But as bad as it seems to many in Europe, at least the sovereign debt crisis still isn’t Armageddon.

And Europeans still aren’t the Mayans — though their leaders do seem awfully similar. Thomas Macho’s essay ends by explaining why the Mayan civilisation went under. Historians have apparently found that:

"[Towards the end, the kings and Mayan elites] were entirely focused on making money quickly, wars, building monuments, competing with one another and taking as many of the farmer’s crops as they could."

Plus ça change, then — happy 2012!

ABOUT BEST OF THE REST: It’s a big world out there and plenty of commentators and journalists are writing about it — but not always in English. And not surprisingly, ideas about big events of the day shift when you move away from the Anglosphere. Best of the Rest is a fortnightly NM feature by Berlin-based journalist Charles McPhedran. Charles reads the news in French, German, Spanish and Portuguese and reports on what the rest of the world is saying about the big stories.

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