And thus 2011 comes to an end, like every year before it. The year came with its own surprises and controversies, tragedies and headlines. And, with the closing of the year, we find the need to put the year into some kind of historical perspective. We are chronological creatures, and the span of year is enough to require some accounting.

Here, without strict ranking by priority, are the biggest news stories of 2011 as I have seen them.

1. The Arab Spring

In just a matter of months, the political map of the Arab world has been reshaped. It started with student protests in Tunisia and Egypt, and then swept through much of the Arab world, especially in North Africa. Regimes in Egypt and Tunisia fell first, followed by foment and revolutionary fervor elsewhere in the region. The collapse of the Mubarak regime in Egypt was followed by initial euphoria, but that was severely dampened in the following weeks as it became clear that the Egyptian military was very much in control. Of even greater concern was the rise of Islamist groups to power and influence throughout the region. The greatest trophy of the Arab Spring was the toppling of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, with Libyan insurgents assisted by NATO backing. Meanwhile, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad held ruthlessly to power. At the end of the year, the future shape of the Arab world is anything but clear. One fact remains of interest: No Arab regime fueled by large oil deposits ( such as the Gulf States) has yet been reshaped to any serious degree by the Arab Spring.

2. Tsunami and Earthquake Kill Thousands in Japan

Americans will forever remember 9/11. For the Japanese, it will be 3/11 — the March 11 tsunami and earthquake combination that wiped several coastal cities and villages off the map, killing as many as 20,000 people….

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