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Jan. 16, 2012. Sharifa Ibrahim, a nurse at the Sharif Islamic Committee, a community center operated by the Muslim Brotherhood in the Shobra neighborhood of Cairo. The center offers free health and education services to underprivileged families. From "Brotherhood Rising," TIME Asia.Moises Saman—Magnum for TIME
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Image: President Obama unexpectedly runs into Michelle on her birthday, in the basement of the White House. Jan. 17, 2012.
Image: Newt and Callista Gingrich pose for photos during a rally at The Villages, Fla. Jan. 29, 2012.
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May 6, 2012. Hundreds were said to have been arrested and dozens injured as a protest on the eve of Vladimir Putin's presidential inauguration boiled into a battle with police in Moscow. In conjunction with "Inside Putin's Russia."
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Image: President Obama speaks in the rain during a campaign rally in Glen Allen, Va. July 14, 2012.
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Image: President Obama exits Air Force One upon arriving at the airport in Manchester, N.H. Aug. 18, 2012.
Image: After a long day, President Obama waits in a tent before a rally at the Rochester Commons in Rochester N.H. Aug. 18, 2012.
Image: President Obama waits in the hallway while being introduced at a rally at Windham High School in Windham, N.H. Aug. 18, 2012.
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Image: Mitt Romney, in a quiet moment, works on the plane heading towards events in New Orleans. Aug. 20, 2012.
Image: The final night of the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Aug. 30, 2012.
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Jan. 16, 2012. Sharifa Ibrahim, a nurse at the Sharif Islamic Committee, a community center operated by the Muslim Broth
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Moises Saman—Magnum for TIME
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TIME's Best Photojournalism of 2012

If 2011 was a year of simple, powerful narratives — of revolution and sweeping change — 2012 was when things got a lot more complicated.

The aftermath of the Arab Spring’s upheavals saw uneasy transitions toward democracy. The exhilaration of freedom dissolved in the face of new struggles and contests for power: in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, the streets are once again filled with protesters angry over the advent of religious radicalism, the return of authoritarianism and the unemployment and tough economic conditions that remain. In Syria, peaceful demonstrations in 2011 morphed into a bitter, bloody civil war that has claimed over 40,000 lives and rages on. Hostilities between Israel and its adversaries in the occupied territories were once more renewed as the peace process collapsed and the road map to a two-state solution looked to have been crumpled up and tossed away. And in the U.S., a seemingly endless, costly election cycle served only to restore the status quo: the re-elected President Obama faces many of the same challenges and obstacles he did before Nov. 6.

Throughout 2012, TIME’s unparalleled photojournalists were there. We stood within the tumult of Tahrir Square and shared moments of quiet with the world’s most powerful President. We documented both the ravages of war on Syria’s blasted cities and the devastation nature wrought on our own backyard in the Northeast. At a time when so much hangs in the balance, bearing witness can be the most essential act — and that’s what we do.

Ishaan Tharoor

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