In year of cataclysms, a few faces stand out

By Christopher Sullivan

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Dec. 23 2011 9:55 a.m. MST

A photo of Steve Jobs is shown under notes written from supporters outside of an Apple store in Palo Alto, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011. Apple closed a number of its stores for a memorial service for co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs.

Jeff Chiu, Associated Press

Seismic jolts shook 2011 — uprisings that set a whole region afire, natural disasters of historic destructiveness, the demise of icons. But again and again amid these world-changing convulsions, the mirror of a single face, or two or three, joyous, tormented, panicked or hopeful, brought the larger-than-life moments back to human scale.

There were the taut, staring faces in the White House situation room as America's leaders strained to take in reports of the raid that was, right then, killing Osama Bin Laden.

Youthful faces filled Cairo's Tahrir Square, triumphant and forward-looking in spring, angry and masked against tear gas in fall.

Tears streaked faces in the ruins of tornadoes that scoured towns in Missouri and Alabama.

Behind a hazmat faceshield, scared eyes scanned Japan's quake-crippled Fukushima nuclear plant; in a final portrait, Steve Jobs stared, intense as ever but so thin; through a car window, Joe Paterno frowned distractedly.

It's not hard — and it may be almost necessary — to recall such images as we try to make sense of the relentless buffeting we've all been through in this extraordinary year.

Not all the faces are downcast. Seven months after she survived a would-be assassin's shots in January, beaming looks and happy tears greeted Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on her return to Congress for a vote to avert a government shutdown.

And as well-wishers thronged London streets for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, Britain's capital was almost one great grin. Almost, but not quite. As the royal newlyweds kissed on a Buckingham Palace balcony, eyes quickly shifted to the corner of the frame — and the head-in-hands grimace of a little worn-out flowergirl.

Think of an unforgettable event in 2011, and you conjure a signature face.

"Arab Spring" was the term coined for one of the year's most profound developments, but it was still winter when a street vendor in Tunisia, Mohamed Bouazizi, tragically protested officials' humiliating harassment by setting himself on fire. Demonstrators carrying poster-size photos of his youthful face surged in thousands to the seat of power in Tunis, eventually driving out the longtime ruler.

It was the first crack in the stone wall of autocracy in nations across the Middle East — and the Arab Spring became a year-long struggle to reshape the region.

Tahrir Square's crowds pushed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from office in February and later into a courtroom to answer charges; the crowds returned to the square amid the uncertainty surrounding November's elections. Yemen's pressured leader agreed to step aside, and other governments were forced to respond to demands for change. In Syria, deadly suppression of a determined uprising continues. In ravaged Libya, the capture and shooting of Moammar Gadhafi provided one of the year's most searing images: his corpse, face bloated, laid out on a bare mattress for queues of spectators to gawk at.

Near year's end, queues of a different kind formed in Egypt and Tunisia — as millions of voters cast ballots.

On the other side of the world, in the United States, long lines of people told another story of 2011. In cities from Atlanta to Los Angeles, job fairs lured throngs of unemployed Americans who snaked forward, single-file, to present their resumes as the jobless rate hovered around 9 percent. Lines of tents filled Occupy Wall Street's encampment in lower Manhattan, which spread its message of economic disenfranchisement — "we are the 99 percent" — to cities around the nation and the world.

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