The New Old Year

NEW YORK – Any look back at 2012 would necessarily focus on three parts of the world: the eurozone, with its seemingly endless financial uncertainties; the Middle East, with its many upheavals, including, but hardly limited to, the Muslim Brotherhood’s accession to power in Egypt and Syria’s savage civil war, which has already claimed more than 60,000 lives; and the Asia-Pacific region, with its rising nationalism and political tensions after decades of being defined almost exclusively by extraordinary economic growth amid considerable political calm.

But which issues will dominate 2013? In no small part, as the French are fond of saying, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Thus, we can safely predict ongoing difficulty throughout Europe, as the countries of the south, in particular, struggle to reduce public spending in order to align their fiscal policies with actual economic capacity.

What might be different this year is that France, rather than Greece and Spain, could well be at the center of the storm. This would pose fundamental, even existential questions for Germany, the other half of a tandem that has been at the heart of the European project since World War II. The likelihood that Europe as a whole will experience little, if any, economic growth will make matters all the more difficult for officials in governments, banks, and regional institutions.

Likewise, the Middle East remains in the early phase of a revolutionary transition. In a year, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi will almost certainly still be in power, but it is not so clear how he will use that power – and what Egypt will look like politically and economically as a result. Recent disagreements over the drafting of a new constitution reveal a deeply divided society and a government that appears to equate (and confuse) majority rule with democracy.