The List

FP Favorites: The Stories That Mattered in March 2011

In March's installment of FP's most popular stories of the month, events in Libya and Japan had us glued to our screens, while March Madness was one place where democracy triumphed over dictatorship.

Keeping Up with the Qaddafis, March 17

In this photo essay, FP took a closer look at Libya's ruling family. Muammar al-Qaddafi and his eight children have always been a little crazy. From plagiarized LSE theses to Porsches speeding the wrong way down the Champs Élysées, the Qaddafis prove that the family that fights together stays together.

Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

 

Pax Romana, March 4

Italy's failed African adventure might figure most prominently today in its unfortunate alliance with Qaddafi in Libya. This photo essay takes us to the early twentieth century version of the Roman Empire: Italy's short-lived North African colonies.  In Libya, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, Italian influence, in culture, architecture, and political identity, is still unmistakable.

Getty Images

 

The Big One, March 11

Japan's trifecta of disasters has stunned the world and forever changed the way of life for the Japanese northern coast, which was hit by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, and a subsequent nuclear disaster. These photos show us the devastation as it unfolded over the course of the month.

YOMIURI SHIMBUN/AFP/Getty Images

European governments "completely puzzled" about U.S. position on Libya, March 16

In the days leading up to the U.N. Security Council's authorization of intervention in Libya's unfolding crisis, the position of the Barack Obama's administration was far from obvious. Josh Rogin reported in The Cable that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's meetings with G8 foreign ministers in Paris left her European colleagues with more questions than answers on the Obama administration's stance. Of course, as we soon found out, the United States decided not only to back involvement in Libya's war, but to lead it.

Getty Images


Land of Disaster, March 14

Deputy managing editor Britt Peterson looks into Japan's culture of disaster, where art, literature, and Godzilla flicks all reveal a society long accustomed to calamity. This photo essay traces centuries of artistic interpretation of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, nuclear tragedies, and tsunamis in an attempt to understand why Japan's cultural response to its history of disaster is so fantastical.

Wikimedia Commons


Revolt in the Desert, March 7

As the world's newest war unfolded this month, the United States and its allies cautiously threw their support behind a group known simply as "the rebels." Accused by Qaddafi of being members of al Qaeda, the rebels achieved global recognition in photographs depicting them riding in pick-up trucks and flashing the "V" for victory. This slide show shows their long road to Tripoli.

John Moore/Getty Images


China's Big Dam Problem, March 8

As Peter Bosshard wrote this month for FP, "Chinese rulers have always seen controlling water as part of their heavenly mandate." This photo essay shows us how the Chinese government has tried to generate power for the country's growing energy needs by controlling their country's massive rivers, including the Yangtze. But the dams depicted in this photo essay are also the source of some of China's thorniest environmental problems. Will the Chinese government be overwhelmed by the backlash?

Getty Images


Inside classified Hill briefing, administration spells out war plan for Libya, March 17

Another post on The Cable made FP's Top 10 this month, with Josh Rogin taking us inside one of the Obama administration's key meetings on outlining a strategy in Libya. The classified briefing left senators convinced that Obama was ready to attack Libya, but "wondering if it isn't too late to help the rebels there."


WikiLosers, March 25

Earlier this month, Carlos Pascal, stepped down from his post as U.S. ambassador to Mexico after WikiLeaks published a series of cables in which he criticized Mexico's drug war and President Felipe Calderón's handling of it. He wasn't the only WikiLoser. Julian Assange promised that his radical transparency project would change the world. As this list by FP Associate Editor Charles Homans illustrates, it certainly changed these people's lives forever.

ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images


March Madness: Democrats vs. Dictators, March 17

FP's first ever tournament of champions riffed off the popular U.S. college basketball championships, inviting readers to bet on match-ups between and among the world's democrats -- including Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, and Ban Ki-Moon -- and its dictators -- featuring FP favorites like Qaddafi, Kim Jong Il, and Vladimir Putin. The last featured Obama and Putin duking it out for world domination in"the traditional tie-breaker: a knife-fight on the edge of an active volcano."

The List

The YouTube Revolutions

Twitter and Facebook have received all the attention, but it's the popular video uploading site that provides the best window into what's happening on the Arab street.

 

Location: Homs, Syria

Description: The number one rule for autocrats clamping down on an uprising, whether you're talking about Tehran in 2009 or Philadelphia in 1776, has always been the same: Muffle the press. The upheaval across the Middle East in recent months has provided some particularly vivid and disturbing examples of this phenomenon: Egypt's "day of hunting journalists," the arrest of Syrian bloggers, or the four New York Times journalists' harrowing tale of being captured by Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's soldiers. Understanding the visceral power of images to shape emotions and opinions in distant countries, the dictators have been particularly attentive to television stations: During Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's final days in office, while government thugs battled with protesters in the streets of Cairo, the state TV station blared the national anthem and picturesque images of the Nile River.

Into the void has stepped an unlikely hero: YouTube. Over the last three months, the video posting site has turned into an aggregator for homemade videos of revolution. Revolutionaries all across the Middle East, filming with the video recorders in their phones or other rudimentary technology while dodging bullets or racing through angry crowds, have created an online visual archive of the uprisings: urgent, jittery videos, punctuated by gunshots, shouts, and moments of breathtaking horror. Unfortunately, they're not easy to find -- nobody is in charge with organizing this massive amount of information, and the videos tagged solely in Arabic can be hard for English-speakers to track down. Once seen, however, they are difficult to forget -- exactly what the dictators feared.

Here, a protester in the western city of Homs tears down a poster of Hafez al-Assad, the father of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The writing on the gate establishes that this video was taken in Homs, but many other videos do not possess such obvious landmarks. In those cases, viewers have to take the uploader at their word that the video was shot where and when they say it was.

 

Location: Latakia, Syria

The video: At least 12 people were killed in the northwestern city of Latakia over the weekend after anti-government protests broke out in the port city. This grainy video purportedly shows Syrian citizens dragging some of the victims to safety. Another video, not for the faint of heart, shows a more graphic illustration of the Syrian crackdown in Latakia on March 30 following Assad's speech, in which he blamed the unrest on foreign "conspirators" and presented no timetable for long-promised reforms to Syria's political system.

Location: Cairo, Egypt

The video: A wave of protesters pushes back Egyptian security forces on the Kasr al-Nile bridge in this Jan. 28 video. The security forces respond by shooting tear gas into the crowd -- an ineffective response that foreshadowed Mubarak's eventual fall.

Location: Cairo, Egypt

The video: In another Jan. 28 video, a white van drives through a group of angry protesters, accelerating as it flattens dozens of people.

Location: Misurata, Libya

The video: Despite the international intervention in Libya, the western city of Misrata remains a warzone, with 18 people killed on March 30 in fighting between rebel and government forces. This video provides a dramatic, firsthand view of the urban warfare. Rallying cries of "God is great" accompany the passage of the rebels' ubiquitous pick-up trucks-cum-anti-aircraft missile launchers, and the sound of small arms fire echoing across the shell-littered city.

 

Location: Libya

The video: Not all of the videos are documentary. This cartoon, made by the Jordan-based cartoon collective Kharabeesh, begins with a "Loony Tunes" opening to parody Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's more rambling speeches. In the video, cartoon Qaddafi recites some of his infamous lines -- calling his people "rats" and asserting that he cannot resign because he holds no official position ("I'm a legend ... I'm a dinosaur!") -- before being tossed in a straitjacket by doctors in white jackets.

Location: Tunis, Tunisia

The video: Activists have found relatively simple, but effective ways of using YouTube to convey their message. This video juxtaposes Tunisian TV footage from the first birthday party of former Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's son with the song "Arabian Nights" from the Disney movie Aladdin (including the infamous line, "It's barbaric, but hey, it's home!"). The video paints a picture of excess: A clown in a rainbow wig juggles for the assembled children then is pirouetted by another clown on stilts in a lavishly decorated ballroom. In a country where unemployment runs in the double digit and much of the population lives hand to mouth, who can watch this without feeling a twinge of resentment?

 

Location: A plane off the coast of Tunisia

The video: Other videos trade moral outrage for ridicule. This cartoon, also a Kharabeesh production, imagines the awkward conversations Ben Ali must have had with formerly friendly world leaders following his hasty departure from Tunis. He is brushed off by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (who is unable to come to the phone because he is receiving a "pornographic delegation"), U.S. President Barack Obama, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Finally, and just as he is about to run out of phone credit, Saudi King Abdullah offers refuge to the deposed autocrat -- under the condition that he'll play on the country's soccer team.

 

Location: Bahrain

The video: In this scene, from the unrest in Bahrain, masked youths set fire to a police car. The uploader blames the Shia for the act of vandalism -- a sign of the rampant sectarianism that has pitted the country's majority Shia population against the Sunni monarchy.

 

Location: Manama, Bahrain

The video: This video, which was uploaded on Feb. 18, indicated the lengths that Bahrain's ruling al-Khalifa family would go to in order to retain their grip on power. As Bahraini protesters peacefully march down one of the capital's main thoroughfares, the crackle of automatic weapons fire suddenly breaks out. The cameraman seeks refuge behind a tree, and there is a brief flash of him clutching prayer beads. When the video swings back to the protesters, some are laying on the ground, blood streaming onto the street.