The world enters 2011 with a full plate of challenges

Peace and stability will remain the focus in many parts of the world as the new year begins. Middle East peace talks and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon are high on the watch list, while the West focuses on its economic mess and a renewed fight against militancy.

A Palestinian youth is arrested by Israeli soldiers for throwing stones during a protest in Karmi Tsour in October last year. The Middle East's most intractable conflict is poised for another year of acrimony, petty squabbles and irresolution.
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Peace and stability will remain the focus in many parts of the world as the new year begins. Middle East peace talks and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon are high on the watch list, while the West focuses on its economic mess and a renewed fight against militancy.
 
GCC
Regional security, domestic politics, football and opera could well be the focus of attention across parts of the Gulf over the next 12 months. Saudi Arabia is due to host the annual Gulf Co-operation Council summit, which is likely to pick up on last year's theme of regional security.
Kuwait is facing a political crisis, amid allegations of clampdowns on political freedoms. The early new year could see parliament dissolved or the government resign, amid opposition efforts to oust the prime minister. Meanwhile, ongoing tension between the government and the opposition could spark further unrest in Bahrain.
The event may still be more than a decade away, but this year the spotlight is likely to fall on Qatar's winning bid to host the 2022 World Cup, as planning gets underway for innovations including carbon-neutral outdoor, air-conditioned football stadiums. The region will also get its first dedicated opera venue, when the Royal Opera House is officially opened in the Omani capital Muscat in October.
* Zoi Constantine
 
Lebanon
Lebanon is bracing for the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon to issue indictments for the 2005 assassination of the former prime minister Rafiq Hariri. In the lead-up to the indictments, Lebanon is likely to remain consumed by some of the key issues surrounding the court's investigation: are some of those who testified before the tribunal "false witnesses"? Will Hizbollah members be implicated? Will the country slide back into sectarian strife or will a Saudi-Syrian initiative - or a Lebanese resolution - help to pull the country back from the brink? This year will be shaped by the tribunal's impending indictments - expected to be released in the coming months.
* Zoi Constantine
 
Palestinian Territories and Israel
Coming off the heels of direct negotiations that ended faster than most could have predicted, the Middle East's most intractable conflict is poised for another year of acrimony, petty squabbles and irresolution. Dividing Israel from the Palestinians are a number of familiar but stubborn issues, including settlements, refugees, Jerusalem, control over water and borders.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, also have difficult years in store for them domestically.
* Hugh Naylor
 
Iran
Iran will face the challenge of nuclear talks with the 5+1 group - the US, Russia, China, France, the UK and Germany - in Istanbul this month.
Further UN and other sanctions may be on the cards this year if the talks fail, while the possibility of US and/or Israeli strikes on the country's nuclear facilities, or other military action, remains a threat. On the domestic front, the Iranian people are expecting a period of economic austerity as the government continues to push ahead with economic reforms. Elimination of one fifth of the US$100 billion (Dh367bn) annual subsidies for energy, food and services in December has so far been smooth but government critics say the move will lead to a steep rise in inflation.
* Maryam Sinaiee
 
Iraq
Iraq's squabbling politicians just about managed to form a new government before the start of this year, although the new year begins with a still incomplete Cabinet running the country. The prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, in charge for a second term of office, now wields unprecedented power. It remains to be seen if he will be the democratic moderniser, finally delivering peace and oil-fuelled prosperity. Either way, he faces the major challenges of holding together a fragile coalition government and suppressing a still-powerful insurgency. With US troops scheduled for complete withdrawal at the end of the year, hopes that the next 12 months will be peaceful seem slim. Expect to see more violence, more corruption and more poverty - unless the oil really starts flowing - plus much jockeying for position in the post-US Iraq of 2012.
* Nizar Latif
 
Jordan
The biggest concern for Jordanians is how to deal with price hikes in the coming year as oil prices have crept up internationally. For the government, the list of challenges includes reducing a budget deficit estimated at 1.06bn Jordanian dinars (Dh5.5bn), or five per cent of the GDP, as well as lowering the public debt of 12bn dinars, or 57 per cent of the GDP. It is unlikely that the government will clash with the newly elected parliament.
* Suha Philip Ma'ayeh
 
Yemen
With crushing poverty fuelling violence in the north and south, Yemen faces another year of security challenges. The ruling party said it would go ahead with parliamentary elections without the opposition - which could lead to a spike in violence.
Also, it is expected that there will be more clashes between government troops and al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula, which claimed responsibility for several attacks last year. The continued instability means international investment will be low in a country desperately in need of an economic boost. Unemployment is near 30 per cent and more than 40 per cent of Yemen's 23 million people live on less than Dh8 a day.
* Mohammed al Qadhi
 
Syria
Damascus has a cat-like knack of falling on its feet, and it will take all of that agility to ensure that remains true this year. The Hariri tribunal threatens to plunge Lebanon - Syria's backyard - into civil war. Inexorably mixed up with that is the ongoing conflict with Israel, and Damascus is more expectant of renewed conflict with Israel than it is of signing treaties. There is the matter of nuclear inspections, with the UN likely to start pushing harder over an alleged secret reactor programme. And then there is the weather; after years of crippling drought, fingers are crossed for rain. There are some positives to look out for: the economy should continue robust growth and Syria can look to a widening club of international friends.
* Phil Sands
 
Afghanistan
With 2010 the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since the ousting of the Taliban government in 2001, the fears are that the scale of the bloodshed will continue this year. The drawdown of US troops is scheduled to begin in July, but whether this is just symbolic or will be the beginning of a full transfer of security powers to the Afghans is yet to be seen. While the suffering of Afghans will continue, much depends on the tempestuous relationship between President Hamid Karzai and Washington.
* The National
 
Pakistan
Pakistan moves into 2011 with little hope of respite from the traumas it faced last year. The daily threat of terrorist attacks and ethnic violence continues and the country is still recovering from devastating floods.
Washington's military goals in the region depend heavily on success in Pakistan's tribal belt on the Afghan border. The increased rate of missile strikes from drone aircraft is likely to continue against militants.
This month, Pakistan's cricket-lovers will watch three of its players appear in Doha before the International Cricket Council tribunal, currently probing spot-fixing betting allegations.
Shah Mahmmod Qureshi, the country's foreign minister, is expected to visit India early this year to try and breathe new life into the India-Pakistan dialogue process, stalled since the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
* Anuj Chopra
 
India
On the economic front, 2011 will be similar to last year, if not better: a year of high-octane growth, vertigo-inducing stock market rallies and the spread of unbridled consumerism. Last year, world leaders, with ministers and business delegations in tow, visited India eager to strike multibillion-dollar deals.
The government might survive corruption scandals this year, but it might not survive the fury over an unusual issue - the soaring price of onions. High food-price inflation threatens to impede economic growth, but for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, taming onion prices will be a do-or-die battle to save his own job.
* Anuj Chopra
 
United States
Barack Obama, the US president, is in for a difficult year. Domestically, he faces an uncertain Congress where Republicans, having seized control of the House of Representatives, take several months to decide whether to oppose the president at every turn or work with him on some issues.
Meanwhile, a sluggish economy continues its slow recovery, pleasing no one.
There will probably be little change on foreign policy. Iraq continues to be two steps forward and one back, while Afghanistan (and Pakistan) is one step forward and two back. Iran sticks with its waiting game.
* Omar Karmi
 
United Kingdom
Different sorts of unions will dominate the political and social landscape in Britain throughout the year. There will be royal unions, such as the marriage of Prince William, second in line to the throne, to Kate Middleton in April. More uncomfortably, there will be the political union between the Conservative and Liberal Democrats, who formed the first post-war coalition government after May's election. That arrangement looked decidedly rocky at year's end and will face even sterner tests in the coming year, not least when the public delivers its verdict in local elections in May. Finally, there are the trade unions, which could make life uncomfortable for pretty much everyone with threatened strikes over the government's public sector spending cuts.
* David Sapsted
 
Europe
It looks like being a case of "plus ça change, plus c'est la même euro" in Europe in the coming year. The financial crisis that has already seen Greece and Ireland slide inelegantly into receivership may yet claim Spain and Portugal as victims, further calling in doubt the future of the 16-nation currency zone, which became 17 today after Estonia joined the club. If that were not bad enough, the European Union is preparing itself for some vicious internecine warfare in June over the size of Brussels' spending in the second half of the decade. But it is not all gloom on the economic front. Booming Turkey promises to emerge as a real European, even global, force during the year.
* David Sapsted
 
Asia
After becoming the world's second-largest economy, and following two decades of double-digit defence spending increases, China was willing to flex its muscles last year, picking a diplomatic fight with Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea. More regional tensions involving an increasingly assertive Beijing and its neighbours over the East China Sea and South China Sea, which China insists it has "indisputable sovereignty" over, would be no surprise this year. Domestically, Beijing will grapple with an economy that continues to grow impressively, but shows signs of overheating, including rampant inflation that is cited as a potential source of social discontent.
Following a fraught 2010, this year might see a de-escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, with Seoul having said it was willing to re-enter six-party talks over North Korea's nuclear programme.
* Daniel Bardsley
 
Africa
Sudan is due to hold a referendum on independence for its south on January 9. The referendum already faces legal challenges and could be postponed - although that could spark a furious reaction from southerners who would see it as a northern plot to keep control of their oil, and could lead to conflict. Ivory Coast also looks to be teetering on the brink of conflict after disputed November elections.
* The National