Seasons in a Turbulent Year

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Yuri Kozyrev / NOOR FOR TIME

The longest spring Egyptian protesters rally against the ruling military council on Nov. 23

"To every thing there is a season," proclaims the Book of Ecclesiastes. Using that biblical verse as a prism, 2011 achieves, if not quite a scriptural vision, then a poetic imperative. We have had the Arab Spring; the Summer of Europe's Indignation; Autumn was Occupied across the globe; and now, perhaps there is the onset of a long Russian Winter. Regime change swayed to the same rhythms as the seasons.

The meteorology of 2011 extended to an Indian Summer (the height of Anna Hazare's anticorruption campaign, which paralyzed New Delhi) and a yearlong Chinese deep freeze — though it's always icy weather when it comes to democracy in the People's Republic. The only real warming Beijing has had recently was way back in 1989, when it was Spring in Tiananmen Square.

These designations, of course, do not strictly follow equinox and solstice. The Arab Spring began at the tail end of the fall of 2010, with the self-immolation of the Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi on Dec. 17, four days before the official beginning of winter, a full season away from spring. The indignados first put their outrage on display in Spain on May 15, with Europe fully warming to their sentiments only later in the summer as tear gas wafted across central Athens and riots broke out in disparate districts of London. The beginning of the Occupy movement almost coincided with the start of the fall — but it was mostly evicted a month before the season ended. As for the Russian winter, well ... it's still technically autumn.

But there is resonance when we associate certain revolutions with specific seasons. Spring, for example, cast an optimistic light on the Arab revolts. Indeed, the Arab Spring is known in its own region as the Arab Awakening. But is that not what spring is — an awakening, a rebirth? And does not the word uprising, almost pictographically, bring to the mind's eye a germinating seed? Spring is hoping that the best is yet to come.

As bright as it is, summer is ambivalent, with an abundance of both light and fire. Perhaps it was the right time of year for Europe's down-and-out youth to see things for what they were, leading to boiling-hot outrage and indignation. Summer is the season of torpor in the continent. But the heat can kill.

The cooling down that comes with autumn signals transition and suited the fate of the Occupy movement, at least in its first manifestation. While there were moments of peppery confrontation over territory, the Occupiers from Wall Street to Oakland, Calif., and from Los Angeles to London seemed impermanent. Even as many fretted about the rigors of January in the parks and squares they occupied, their lack of philosophical cohesion contributed to their melting away weeks before the arrival of winter.

As for winter, it is the knee-jerk metaphor for anything Russian. But in this case, perhaps reflecting the cycle that began with the Arab Awakening, an omen of hope can be detected. For spring must follow winter, even in the Russia of Vladimir Putin.

But hold on. These are animistic projections, born of our pathetic fallacy that somehow the cosmos reflects and echoes what humanity feels. Definitions meld into one another when they shouldn't. Reality, however, quickly disabuses us of these notions — and not just through equinoctial calculations. Occupy has transformed not transitioned away with the fall. And the Arab Spring is now the Arab Year. It has outlasted its schedule by many months. Libya's internal brawl extended it into the summer and fall; and Syria is dragging it into a bloody winter. Meanwhile, Egypt has realized that its revolution is incomplete. The awakening has lost its spring. In 2012, we will need a clutch of fresh metaphors.

Perhaps the significance of the seasons of 2011 will be gnawed away by think tanks and historians. But, right now, as it comes to an end, 2011 continues to resound like an epic. It was a year in which the cataclysms were more than political, with tsunamis and floods and earthquakes. But when men and women decide that it is time to brave revolution, are they not manifesting some cosmic imperative as powerful as those acts of God? Their deeds should be commemorated for all seasons.