The 2010s was a decade that was shaped by political turmoil and international wars, many of which had been caused by the rippling effects of the September 11, 2001 attack on the Twin Towers. The most recent assassination of influential Iranian general by the United States military, which technically happened after the 2010s is likely to begin shaping the upcoming geo-political interactions among major powers.
Internet penetration and its increasing speed changed the digital frontier and how people conduct their day-to-day work through online platforms. In parallel, digital privacy and rights began to be discussed and debated, particularly in light of serious violations by state actors in association with the most dominant tech companies.
Climate change, although essentially inseparable from politics, is the other key issue that gained spotlight globally after long campaigns in the preceding decades. It finally gathered enough attention to get recognized as an emergency issue and managed to escape activist literature and enter everyday vernacular.
Noteworthy events that happened during the 2010s are innumerable, but these, in non-chronological order, stand out as some of the most defining and/or remarkable junctures in the decade’s history:
When the bubble burst: The global financial crisis
The global financial crisis that actually began at the end of the 2000s in the United States with the bursting of the “subprime bubble” in the home mortgage sector, soon inflated into a fully blown banking crisis across regions and spilled over into the 2010s. Banks and other financial institutions, more notably in the US, were bailed out — meaning governments gave the public’s money to the banks so they can be profitable again.
This was soon followed by the Great Recession, where Asian markets were impacted. It also gave rise to the European debt crisis, where countries such as Greece and Portugal fell into massive government-debt, causing third parties (other countries and international monetary organizations) to intervene. The crisis provoked massive anti-austerity protests and political tensions across the globe.
“We came, we saw, he died”: Western intervention in Libya
After the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-led military coalition began its offensive in response the Gaddafi government’s air strikes against rebel forces, it took only 8 months – from March to October 2011, to depose the Libyan dictator and in the process completely devastate the North African country. The intervention was seen as a continuation of Western imperialism by opponents of Western powers such as Iran and Russia.
American and British naval forces, along with French and Canadian air forces plummeted the country with heavy bombing, subsequently leading to the killing of Muammar Gaddafi by militants. Video of Gaddafi being tortured before death appeared in the media, showing the last moments of Libyan revolutionary leader. Before the news had broke, the United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was notoriously caught on tape giggling in reaction to Gaddafi’s killing, as she proclaimed: “We came, we saw, he died.”
‘Ash-shab yerid, asqat an-nazam’: The Arab Spring
A municipal inspector in Tunisia on December 17, 2010, caused a butterfly effect when he confiscated the carts and fruit of a street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, who resorted selling fruit, failing to find employment.
In protest Bouazizi set himself on fire. His death on January 4, 2011 sparked a revolution in Tunisia, where an aggrieved population rose up against high unemployment, food inflation, corruption, a lack of political freedoms and poor living conditions.
The uprising quickly spread like a wildfire to neighboring Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain, eventually toppling regimes, causing sustained protests, and even starting civil wars or insurgencies. It further spread to Morocco, Iraq, Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman and Sudan. One of the slogans used by demonstrators across the Arab world was “ash-shaʻb yurīd isqāṭ an-niẓām” (the people want to bring down the regime).
Although the wave of protests waned by mid-2012, the mass uprising gave rise to a series of events that came to dictate the political landscape in the Middle East, the most notable being the Syrian civil war, the Iraqi insurgency and civil war, the Egyptian crisis, coup, and subsequent unrest, the Libyan civil war, and the Yemeni civil war.
From Russia with annexation: Ukraine loses Crimea
Surrounded by NATO, the military coalition of its Western arch-enemies, the fidgety Russian Federation wasn’t going to tolerate the growing Western influence in neighboring Ukraine, threatening to further corner the former Superpower.
Triggered by the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement, which was meant to deeply integrate Ukraine into the European Union by way to free movements of citizens, among other significant economic relations, President Putin’s Russia decided to push-back against Western influence in what it saw as its backyard.
Banking on a majority Russian ethnic population in Crimea, Putin launched an intervention in February 2014, when he proclaimed that “We must start working on returning Crimea to Russia.”
On 27 February, masked Russian troops took over the Supreme Council of Crimea, leading to the installation of the pro-Russian Aksyonov government. A referendum followed and Crimea declared independence on March 16. Russia formally incorporated Crimea into the Russian Federation on March 18. The move was, unsurprisingly, condemned as an annexation and thus a violation of international law.
Public enemy no 1: War documents leaked by WikiLeaks
In 2010 the news leak organization WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of US classified documents related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Among these, the leak of a classified video of an airstrike in Baghdad by the United States military, which WikiLeaks titled ‘Collateral Murder’ received world-wide coverage and controversy. The video footage, recorded by helicopter camera(s) showed the crew launching machine gun fire on a group of men and then a rescue vehicle, killing two Reuters journalists and wounding two children, among other casualties.
After the video was released in April, “Wikileaks” became one of the most searched keywords on Google. The leak led to the arrest of US army intelligence officer Chelsea Manning (then Bradley Manning) who was accused of the vast leak, which is considered to be one of the largest leaks in US military history. The US has since launched efforts to detain WikiLeaks Julian Assange, which finally resulted in Assange’s asylum being withdrawn by Ecuador and he was subsequently arrested by the British Police form the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where Assange was in exile, practically imprisoned, since August 2012.
‘No Place To Hide’: Edward Snowden unveils the largest surveillance program in the history of the planet
The 2013 leak of highly classified information from the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) by a US intelligence operative Edward Snowden. The leak revealed a number of global surveillance programs by the NSA and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance (comprising of five anglophone countries Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States).
Leaked primarily through The Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras, the subsequent reporting on the leaked documents, most prominently by Greenwald revealed “the technical means used to intercept communications: the NSA’s tapping of Internet servers, satellites, underwater fibre-optic cables, local and foreign telephone systems, and person computers,” as Greenwald writes in his book ‘No Place to Hide.’
The leaks gave rise to a broad debate on privacy and entirely changed how people across the world view digital communications, making it one of the most significant events in contemporary world affairs.