When Yoani Sánchez launched her blog, Generation Y, in 2007, the Havana-born computer programmer turned journalist was a virtual unknown. Four years later, she's a dissident voice of such prominence that the Cuban government has ordered her detained and beaten. A blurb from Barack Obama even graces her recently published book, Havana Real.
Sánchez's rise owes at least as much to her literary gifts as to the power of Web 2.0. Approaching her country's ills with both hopefulness and a gimlet eye, where most Cuba commentators are didactic and ideologically entrenched, her posts -- on everything from Raúl Castro's latest pronouncements to the taste of mangoes -- have over the years painted an unusually vivid portrait of a society in limbo. The very fact of their existence stands as a rebuke to a government that still sharply limits its citizens' access to the Internet. (For years, Sánchez had to sneak into hotels pretending to be a German tourist in order to publish them.) "We have taken back what belongs to us," Sánchez wrote in February. "These virtual places are ours, and they will have to learn to live with what they can no longer deny."
Muse The freedom brought by the new technologies.
Stimulus or austerity? Stimulate investment and apply austerity to public spending.
America or China? America.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Spring.
Reading list Mundo Twitter, by José Luis Orihuela; El hombre que amaba a los perros, by Leonardo Padura; El sueño del celta, by Mario Vargas Llosa.
Best idea The Internet is a universal human right.
Worst idea The people love their dictators.
The indefatigable techno-optimist Clay Shirky's predictions about social media–enabled revolution haven't always come true. "This is it," he said in 2009 of Iran's ill-fated Green Revolution. "The big one." But credit is due: This year the New York University professor also got things very right. His January/February Foreign Affairs essay, "The Political Power of Social Media," had barely hit newsstands before Tunisia's and Egypt's dictators were ousted after mass protests organized and coordinated via Web 2.0. Hosni Mubarak seems to have agreed with Shirky on the revolutionary potential of social media: The autocrat shut down Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, YouTube, and finally the whole Internet in a doomed bid to save his presidency.
But what Shirky grasps -- and Mubarak did not -- is that social media tools, rather than making revolution in and of themselves, are more a new and effective means of bringing about the offline activity that has always established and strengthened personal freedom. "[I]t is a strong civil society -- one in which citizens have freedom of assembly -- rather than access to Google or YouTube," he wrote, "that does the most to force governments to serve their citizens."
The U.S. State Department's headquarters in Foggy Bottom is a musty, World War II–era building that famously commands a corps of Foreign Service officers only as large as the Pentagon's marching bands. Jared Cohen and Alec Ross, however, have begun to imagine a new future for diplomacy, one that would harness the power of new technology and social media to ensure that the department punches far above its increasingly anemic budgetary weight.
The two have relentlessly pushed the idea that international events are no longer determined by world leaders sitting at the top of mammoth bureaucracies, but by networks largely outside governments' control -- a fact driven home this year by the Arab Spring. And they set about the difficult job of moving Foggy Bottom beyond the archaic world of diplomatic cables, elevating Internet freedom as a U.S. priority and encouraging diplomats to use social media like Facebook -- a technique that paid dividends this year when U.S. envoy to Damascus Robert Ford used these tools to go over the Syrian regime's head and express outrage at President Bashar al-Assad's brutal crackdown on his own people.
Cohen, author of a prescient book on Middle Eastern youth movements, recently brought his ideas to the private sector, launching a "think/do tank" at Google. Its first project brought together a motley crew of former Islamists, neo-Nazis, and gang members in Dublin to discuss the factors that contribute to radicalization and violence. "I believe the greater one's network, the more change one can effect," he told an interviewer. "It is amazing what you can get, who you can meet with, if you just ask."
Muse A would-be bipartisan commission chaired by FDR and Reagan.
Stimulus or austerity? Stimulus.
America or China? America.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Arab Winter.
Reading list Ghost Wars, by Steve Coll; On China, by Henry Kissinger; Start-Up Nation, by Dan Senor and Saul Singer.
Best idea To tackle corruption by moving salary disbursements of civil servants and law enforcement to mobile payments to remove the middlemen.
Worst idea The Iranian regime plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.
Muse Theodore Roosevelt.
Stimulus or austerity? Neither. Cut to the bone in certain areas and invest significantly in others.
America or China? America.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Arab Spring.
Reading list Empire of the Mind, by Jared Cohen and Eric Schmidt (spring 2012); The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein; The Master Switch, by Tim Wu.
Best idea Launch a global campaign for clean cookstoves.
Worst idea Require the equivalent of a driver's license to use the Internet.
Decades of terrorist attacks may have cemented the Palestinian cause in the world's consciousness, but they never delivered the Palestinians' national dream -- a state of their own. More than anyone else, politician and human rights activist Mustafa Barghouti has pioneered an alternative path that emphasizes nonviolent tactics to delegitimize the Israeli occupation and demands that the Palestinian national movement live up to its ideals. He was the only political figure to contest Yasir Arafat's anointed successor, Mahmoud Abbas, in the 2005 Palestinian presidential election, and he won a seat in the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006 on a platform that promoted an alternative to Arafat's Fatah and the militant group Hamas.
Barghouti has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Palestinians' bid this year for member-state status at the United Nations, framing the move as part of the "diplomatic resistance" to Israel. At the same time, he has pressed the Palestinian Authority to revitalize its often-ignored democratic institutions and provide a transparent accounting of its budget, while urging Fatah and Hamas to set aside their deep differences. "Democracy was the first victim of the split," he told Foreign Policy. "That's wrong for internal life in Palestine, it's wrong for the future of our kids, and it's wrong for peace."
Muse The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.
Stimulus or austerity? Stimulus
America or China? Both
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Arab revolutions
Reading list Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, by John C. Maxwell; The Grand Design, by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow; Hell and Heaven, by Yahya Yakhlef.
Best idea "Nothing has really happened until it has been recorded." --Virginia Woolf
Worst idea "Right now, the peace talks are based on only one thing, only on peace talks." --Benjamin Netanyahu