Conflict & Justice

Top 11 people who rocked 2011


Ai Weiwei, one of China's most controversial artists, looks on during the 'So Sorry' exhibition opening at 'Haus der Kunst' on October 11, 2009 in Munich, Germany.


Miguel Villagran

BOSTON — 2011 was a big year, defined by the largest protest movement the Arab World has ever seen and shifting geopolitics around the euro-zone crisis. It wasn't all rosy news, but here are the people who made it happen. Below are GlobalPost's picks, in no particular order, for the 11 people who most rocked 2011. Let us know if we missed someone in the comments section below. Or Tweet us @globalpost #rocking2011.

1) Mohamed Bouazizi — When Bouazizi self-immolated in Tunis on Dec. 17, 2010, he unknowingly rocked the remainder of the year. It took 28 days from his extreme act of defiance, for the Tunisian protesters to drive President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali from power and into exile. Uprising in Egypt was next, followed by Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria weren't far behind. Bouazizi’s single act, prompted by the fact that he was slapped in the face publicly by a female police officer and had his fruit cart confiscated, proved that the fear barriers helping to prop up repressive regimes around the Arab world were collapsing.

2) Navy SEAL Team 6 — Since its heyday around Sept. 11, 2001, Al Qaeda had become more and more diffuse. But the death of its symbolic head, Osama bin Laden, certainly pushed the terrorist network more to the fringe. Bin Laden had evaded the most powerful country in the world for years, but on May 2, Navy SEAL Team 6 stormed his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, shooting him twice — once in the chest and once in the head. The fact that bin Laden was ultimately found in Pakistan, the US' supposed ally in the war on terror, has strained tensions between the two countries and perhaps done more to shift alliances than bin Laden's death itself.

3) Aung San Suu Kyi — After years of wilting under house arrest, the 66-year-old democracy icon is again ascendent, this time as a broker between the West and a new wave of army-backed leaders trumpeting reforms. While her full transition into politics remains to be seen, Aung San Suu Kyi has already succeeded in prompting the US to reconsider its Burma policy.

4) Warren Buffett — The multi-billionaire from Nebraska made it politically acceptable to reasonably ask for more from the 1 percent. In his New York Times editorial on Aug. 14, "Stop Coddling the Rich," Buffett made waves when he pointed out that while it seems like he pays a lot of taxes, he actually pays less of a percentage of his income than his secretary. In his characteristic, plain-spoken way, Buffett wrote: "My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice."

5) Kalle Lasn — You could say he planted the seed. Kalle Lasn, the longtime editor of the anticonsumerist magazine Adbusters, tapped into the festering anger of the American political left when he called for a small protest on Wall Street Sept. 17. He and his staff picked a hashtag to go with: #OccupyWallStreet. And before they knew it, the movement had a life of its own. Protests against corporate greed and corrup political systems have cropped up in dozens of cities and towns.

6) Nick Davies — As a reporter for The Guardian, Davies was responsible for uncovering the News of the World phone hacking affair, including the July 2011 revelations of hacking into the mobile phone voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. In addition to bringing down an established media giant in the UK, Davies reporting on the scandal brought to the fore ethical issues relating to online and print journalism.

7) Anna Hazare — Social activist Anna Hazare became the face of India's growing anti-corruption movement this year when he launched a "fast unto death." The  septuagenarian Gandhian demands that the government enact a powerful anti-corruption law. He's still at it.

8) The Predator drone — The Predator drone has been rocking the world (especially Northwest Pakistan) for a few years now. But in 2011, it became the most popular kid in the arsenal. The United States greatly expanded the use of the armed and unmanned aerial vehicle, unleashing it’s targeted power on Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Somalia to what the US military says has been great success, killing several high-level Al Qaeda operatives, including American-born Anwar al-Awlaki. The civilians in those countries, however, tend to disagree and some fear the United States has been too quick to embrace its new favorite weapon.

9) Angela Merkel — In 2011 Germany's chancellor earned a prominent place in the history books. Will she be viewed as a villain or visionary? As the year began, several of Europe's smaller economies found themselves in serious financial trouble. Germany's leader held sway over how to deal with the escalating crisis. Instead of putting out the fire, she deployed her leverage to force huge changes in Europe that, she argued, would address the causes. Critics see a massive German power grab. Meanwhile, as European leaders munch canapes and negotiate, the financial system continues to burn. The problem is, "if global investors say... 'we're out of here' then you have the prospect of large numbers of major banks failing across Europe," said Robert Shapiro, a former US Under Secretary of Commerce.

10) Ai Weiwei — The man who worked on one of China's most prominent symbols of modernity, the Olympic Birds Nest Stadium, himself became a symbol this year. After standing up to the Chinese government repeatedly online and with his art, dissident Ai Weiwei was thrown in jail in April. Later charged with tax evasion, he was eventually released on bail in June with strict orders not to speak out. But he continues to inspire people to take a stand against the government and its human rights record.

11) Dilma Rousseff — When Rousseff took office as Brazil's first female president, people were expecting an extension of her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, for whom she served as chief of staff. In her nearly one year in office, Rousseff has instead become her own woman. She has shown little tolerance for corruption within her ranks, firing six scandal-tainted cabinet members. She continues with austerity measures to control inflation at home, while helping Brazil build its economic influence on the world stage. In a display of how the tables have turned, Rousseff recently agreed to lend money to the IMF in the face of the euro-zone crisis.