AMANPOUR (voice-over): Dictators dissembling for all the world to see. His neighbor, King Abdullah of Jordan told me in May there was no doubt who was running the show in Syria.
ABDULLAH II OF JORDAN: ... here he is in charge, yes, and he is calling the shots. I think Bashar needs to reach out to the people and get people around the table.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Assad ignored that advice, and the violence in his country has escalated to the brink of civil war.
What does all this upheaval mean for the region and for the United States? The big fear has always been that well-organized Islamist , like Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, would emerge as the strongest and turn the Arab world towards Islamic fundamentalism. With the first elections now taking place, grassroots experience is paying off.
In Tunisia, a moderate Islamist party won the most votes in the elections in October, and they're at pains to insist that their Islam is not at odds with democracy.
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood did win the biggest block in this month's parliamentary elections, and lately has been seen as more moderate and politically flexible, although a more radical Islamist party came in a strong second. The real tension in Egypt now is over the role of the military, how long will it stay in power?
The headlines said it all. Osama bin Laden, the most notorious terrorist in history, shot and killed by American forces. The discovery that he'd been hiding in plain sight in a military garrison town in Pakistan was an important milestone in the fight against terrorism. But the Arab Spring had shown that the Al Qaida ideology was already a spent force in the Muslim world, relegated to remote corners like Yemen and Somalia.
It's the worst drought the region has seen in 60 years, and it's left more than 10 million people in desperate and dire straits. Where this summer we were the first American network to report on the looming disaster there. A dying child, a mother grieving, a father helpless -- they are the victims of what aid officials are calling the worst humanitarian crisis on earth.
Drought combined with a deadly insurgency by Al-Shabaab, an Al Qaida-linked rebel group, led to the first famine of the 21st century, tens of thousands perished, and there are predictions that another quarter million Somalians still might die.
As my team and I crossed Japan to find almost biblical scenes of destruction, fears of a nuclear meltdown.
In March, we were in Japan covering a different kind of disaster, a devastating earthquake that triggered a terrible tsunami. It killed more than 15,000 people and unleashed a nuclear calamity. Huge swaths of land along the coast remain underwater.
We fly past this massive plume of black smoke, billowing 3,000 feet into the air. The petrochemical plant below has been burning since the earthquake structure, and oil is spilling into the water. And as the disaster in Japan shook the global economy, financial tremors were rumbling throughout the world.
Greece teeters perilously on the edge of default. Europeans took to the streets, protesting austerity measures to combat their debt- ridden countries. The international financial system was imperiled throughout the year by the euro debt crisis.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Greece started as an infection in the toe, and was allowed to spread. And now Europe has three distinct problems. It has a debt problem, it has a banking crisis and it has a growth problem.