Revolutions have turned into festering sicknesses, whether they bleed from all orifices as in Syria, or just show occasional, violently hued pustules, as in Libya. Even in countries which overthrew their dictators without resorting to civil war, like Tunisia and Egypt, the practice of democracy has concealed social divides that are yet to be healed.
However, just as the 2011 glass was never entirely full, nor is the 2012 one altogether empty. In everywhere but Syria, things could be worse: voters in Egypt still go to the polls, Libyans have an elected parliament and a government, and in Yemen territory is being regained from al-Qaeda for the first time for years.
Much space in the first half of 2012 was given to the question of whether what was happening in Syria counted as civil war. That seems quaintly academic now.
According to monitoring groups based abroad, more than 40,000 people have so far died in the uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad. According to anyone inside the country, that seems a wild underestimate. Battles have raged from Homs to Hama, and now in Damascus and Aleppo, following incursions in August into the two main regime strongholds.
The story has been one of slow but sure rebel advance: the Free Syrian Army, and Islamist militant allies, control much of Idlib and Aleppo provinces, and pockets of territory elsewhere, including in the Damascus suburbs.
What has caught the eye most often though is the astonishingly brutal force employed against civilians and captives. This began with the shelling of Homs and particularly the surrounded rebel stronghold of Baba Amr, where civilian women and children were trapped and killed by the regime's artillery; journalists too, with Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times the best-known victim.
In Homs there was the excuse that Free Syrian Army fighters were present. In Houla, there seemed little reason for the murder of more than 100 people, mostly Sunni women and children, at the hands of what the United Nations concluded were most likely gangs of Alawite Shabiha - militia - from neighbouring villages.
As the year progressed, there were more and more reports of brutalities on the other side, though on nothing like the same scale. The clearest rebel abuses were executions of prisoners, caught on amateur video, the war's principle medium.
The question remains as to how long Mr Assad can last. Unlike a year ago, his departure now seems to be a matter of when rather than if.
The year began as it ended - at the polling booth. In between, Egypt gave the impression of constant turmoil, but the bloodshed that accompanied and followed the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak was largely avoided.
The Muslim Brotherhood dominated the first post-Mubarak parliament, and with the more radical Salafi Al-Nour party coming second, liberals and secular parties were reduced to an overshadowed minority. An apparent fightback by the old regime, in the form of a judicial ruling abolishing parliament and keeping supreme power in the hands of the interim ruling military council, could do nothing to stop the Islamist surge.
The Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi won the presidential election - marginally - from the old regime's former prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq. He then reclaimed those supreme powers from the military, sacking its leaders and replacing them with his own.
But when he insisted on putting himself beyond judicial scrutiny in November, to force through a new constitution, he may have overplayed his hand. The biggest demonstrations since the February 2011 revolution took to the streets; and the constitutional referendum would seem to have only shown how evenly Egypt is divided about what sort of country it is - Islamist or just Islamic.
A year ago the talk was all of militias, and whether their power over a government lacking authority would plunge Libya into a new civil war. They did not, but they did not disappear either.
That was most dramatically shown by the killing on September 11 of the US ambassador, Chris Stevens, who died in the consulate in Benghazi along with another embassy official and two security guards.
An ensuing row in the United States about UN ambassador Susan Rice's erroneous description of events and initial rejection of the idea that this was the work of terrorists with possible links to Al-Qaeda overshadowed the question of what it showed about Libya itself. It turned out that members of known Islamist militias killed him, while other Islamist militias were supposed to be protecting him. Yet more militias were called in to help find those responsible.
None of this seemed very satisfactory, and there was little sign of anyone being brought to justice. Ms Rice's bid to become secretary of state was scuppered, however.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh (EPA)
In Yemen the long stand-off over the presidency, so long occupied by Ali Abdullah Saleh, was finally resolved when he finally gave way to his deputy, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, at the urging of just about everybody outside the country who cared: the Saudis, the rest of the Gulf, the United States, and the European Union.
Mr Hadi's position was confirmed by an election which turned into a referendum, as he stood unopposed. But this unpromising start developed into something rather surprising: Mr Hadi has swiftly moved to remove or marginalise members of the extended Saleh family in the military.
More importantly, for the West at least, he combined Mr Saleh's rhetoric of co-operation in the fight against Al-Qaeda into reality, taking the battle against the militants who had occupied a string of towns across the south of the country back to them.
Questions continue to be raised about the combined American-Yemeni use of missile attacks on presumed Al-Qaeda bases, with attendant civilian casualties, but for the first time in recent years the group is quieter at the end of the year than at the start.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (AFP/Reuters)
Separate from the Arab states but so close, Iran continues to be either the innocent victim of western imperialism in the Middle East or the black hand behind its most murderous doings, according to taste.
It has expressed unhesitating support for Mr Assad in Syria, backed up by boots on the ground, as its generals finally admitted. It sent rockets to Gaza - some of which were used in the brief outbreak of war between Israel and Gaza in November, in which more than 150 died in Israeli retaliatory attacks.
It has continued to enrich uranium - for a medical research reactor, it claims, but for a nuclear weapons capability, according to the West. Sanctions have damaged its economy, but not the programme, it would seem.Opposition at home and in Washington prevented Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, from acting on his instincts to send in the bombers. After an election Mr Netanyahu is likely to win in January, he may not feel so constrained.