It may not have been the best year. Still, 2011 was a year of superlatives, such as biggest, most and worst. It was also a year of firsts -- at least in a generation. The best hope of democracy swept across the Middle East; women broke new ground, and renewable energy investment reached new heights. At the same time, natural disasters took an unprecedented and tragic toll while a volatile U.S. stock market seesawed more swiftly than it ever had before. Here's hoping the year 2012 is among the happiest.Decades of autocratic rule swiftly crumbled in the most consequential revolutions since the fall of the Iron Curtain. The began in Tunisia, after a vegetable-stand operator harassed by police set himself on fire. It took a month for angry protesters to oust President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. In late January, crowds spurred on by social media took to Cairo's Tahrir Square and swept Hosni Mubarak from office. Libya's Muammar Qaddafi chose to fight NATO and rebels; he was finally hunted down on Oct. 20. Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh proved the most resilient. He bargained and battled until other Gulf states pressured him to agreed to turn over power on Nov. 23.