1. Will Syria's Assad fall?
Nearly two years after the start of the conflict in Syria, the regime of president Bashar Assad stands more isolated than ever. Opposition forces have made considerable gains in the past weeks and defections haunt the ranks of the Syrian army. Yet Syria’s embattled leader shows no signs of giving up, and as the Associated Press explains, the regime has more than a few moves left. Assad can count on thousands of loyal troops and has a monopoly on air power. Many worry about the motivations of foreign fighters who joined the ranks of the rebels, and while ally Russia has tuned down its support of the Alawite regime, Moscow has not completely given up on Assad – yet. “Assad will not go,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Dec. 29. Will 2013 prove him wrong?
2. Will Egypt’s divided factions reunite?
As 2012 came to a close, Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Morsi outraged his opponents by issuing a set of decrees that gave him far-reaching powers and pushing a national referendum on an Islamist-drafted constitution. The referendum passed but opposition leaders accused the president of acting like an "autocratic pharaoh." Will Egypt's clashing factions be able to work together in 2013, implement the new constitution and build a post-Mubarak Egypt together? Or is the country headed for greater discord?
3. Will North Korea play more power games?
North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong Un ended his first year in power with a show of force, test-launching a long-range missile. "The surprising success of the launch may have earned Kim global condemnation, but at home the gamble paid off, at least in the short term," the Associated Press wrote after the launch. Will North Korea continue its collision course with the West in 2013 or will it seek international cooperation -- and much-needed aid to feed its impoverished population?
4. Will Afghanistan get better, or worse?
With a drawdown scheduled for 2014, 2013 will be the last year in Afghanistan for a majority of international troops. While overall violence in the country fell in 2012, insider attacks by Afghan forces against their colleagues and foreign allies increased dramatically. Afghanistan's economy is in shambles, and international observers raise doubts about the readiness of Afghan forces to take over in 2014. Kabul and its international partners face another challenging year to prep the war-torn country to stand on its own.
5. Will Mexico continue its war on drugs?
Six years into a war against drugs launched by former president Felipe Calderon, Mexico has seen more than 60,000 people lose their lives in drug-related violence and an estimated 20,000 remain missing. Despite the staggering death toll, newly elected president Enrique Peña Nieto has vowed to continue the war against drugs. What remains to be seen: whether Peña Nieto and his traditionally powerful PRI political party stay the course with Calderon's policies, or if the new president will offer a different tack against drugs and the blood-soaked cartels who control them.