• Fed – Up Follower of the Year: Malala Yousafzai
The more I read about her, the more I conclude that in the beginning she was only an arrow in her father’s quiver. He used her, even as a girl, to further his own activist agenda. Still, the impression from a distance is that over time, as she transitioned from childhood to adolescence, his agenda became hers. By the time the Taliban shot and gravely wounded Malala – on a school bus no less – she had come herself deeply to believe that Pakistani girls should have access to education as do Pakistani boys.
This is the cause that she has championed for years, though even now she is only 15. And this is the cause that nearly got her killed. But, the attempted assassination made her a martyr. She has become a worldwide symbol of daring to speak truth to power, of daring to stand up and be counted while most of the rest stay silent. Malala Yousafzai is a fed-up follower bold enough and brave enough to take on leaders too frightened or hide-bound themselves to create change. Without any obvious sources of power, authority, or influence, she has, notwithstanding her tender age, left an imprint that will long endure.
• Lame Leader of the Year: Bashar al-Assad
“Lame” does not quite capture the President of Syria – “lousy” or even “lethal” is better.
For many months now most of the experts have been predicting Assad’s imminent departure – or his immanent demise. It has been thought unlikely or even impossible that he could survive for any length of time the increasingly impassioned and widespread rebellion against his rule. Well, the experts were wrong. Thanks to, among others, his patron Putin, he remains in harness, clinging to power as his country collapses around him.
The effort to negotiate Assad’s exit continue (with Putin perhaps playing a more constructive role). But the costs of our collective helplessness and haplessness have been high. Since the rebellion, now a full-fledged civil war, started, tens of thousands have been killed and injured and hundreds of thousands more have fled into exile or been another way dislocated. Moreover given the suffering on all sides, while Assad’s own future is not in doubt (he will at some point go), Syria’s is fraught with peril.
I am among the many millions worldwide who have watched and waited for Assad to fall. But here he is still standing – nearly two years after the protests against him and his regime began in earnest. He is living testimony to one of humankind’s most dreadful dilemmas: how to respond when a bad leader is willing to do whatever it takes to hold on.