In 2012 we may have survived the Mayan apocalypse, but 2013 will likely bring doomsday for a handful of your favorite dysfunctional, oppressive, or downright reprehensible regimes around the world. Here are three regimes you may wax nostalgically about come next New Year's – and one survivor who will make it to 2014 no matter what the haters say.
1) Iraq: Better known to most Americans these days as "NotOurProblemAnymoreistan," Iraq is in for one rough year – which is really saying something. The federal system set up following the U.S. invasion is splitting apart at the country's regional and sectarian seams, and upcoming provincial elections in the spring will only exacerbate tensions.
In recent weeks, a national protest movement against the ineffective Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has spread, but frustration with the status quo is about the only unifying element among the Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish elements taking part. In 2013, expect the rift between the cash-strapped government in Baghdad and the oil-rich autonomous Kurdish region in the North to reach a breaking point. Also, while much is said of the Sunni-Shia divide, keep an eye on rifts within the Shia majority, which may not only cast out Maliki, but also topple the regime and send everyone back to the streets to “re-negotiate” the political order…
2) Central African Republic: This charming French-colonial fixer-upper is ideal for a young, disaffected officer corps looking to get their start – which is exactly how current President Francois Bozize originally came to power in 2003, and is also the threat he now faces from Seleka rebels. Insurgent forces, which have captured a string of major cities, are now parked just outside the capital, triggering a temporary pause as regional players try to mediate.
All eyes are now on France to bail out Bozize as it did in 2006 through a series of air strikes on rebel camps. But the Hollande Administration appears too preoccupied with trying to save Mali – a country that would also be on this list, if not for France's recent vague military commitments, which will successfully delay Mali's collapse to 2014 - so expect Bozize to fight, and fall, by himself.
3) Syria: The end of the Assad regime is coming in 2013, but the regime's ultimate demise may not come the way you might expect. The depth of the conflict is staggering, with over 60,000 dead, and thousands more to come from a long winter in refugee camps, or from the military's strategic bombardment of bakeries (yup). Rebel forces face a monumental task to take control of the situation, and they need help from the outside.
But in 2013 don't look to major power players to shape Syria's future. Instead look to regional players, particularly Qatar, an oil-rich Gulf kingdom trying to translate its vast wealth into serious regional political clout. The current Syrian opposition alliance has strong ties to Qatar, and if – and it's a big if – the U.S. or other heavy hitters decide to get serious about Syria, expect them to work through little guys like Qatar.
4) Iran: There's no denying that crippling international sanctions have wounded Iran. The price of chicken this summer was so high that one official proposed a ban on images of people eating it on TV to prevent attacks on the wealthy. But rather than turn Iranians against their government, these sanctions seem likely to ensure the regime's survival through a critical presidential election year.
The regime is terrified of a repeat of 2009's Green Movement (remember that one?) after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election. But sanctions have reinvigorated Iran's famous national pride, so this summer expect the mobilized masses to be split between standing up to the West and calling for reform.
The Islamic Republic also appears close to softening its nuclear stance, so let's all hope that come 2014, we will all be able to sit down to a nice proverbial chicken meal of peace, where we can figure out what the hell France just did to Mali – together.