Democratic Breakthroughs in the Balance
The emergence of popular movements for reform were the driving force behind major gains in the Middle East last year, according to Freedom in the World 2013, Freedom House’s annual report on the state of global freedom. However, a number of regions experienced setbacks due to a hardened and increasingly shrewd authoritarian response to these movements.
While the number of countries ranked as Free in 2012 was 90, a gain of 3 over the previous year, 27 countries showed significant declines, compared with 16 that showed notable gains. This is the seventh consecutive year that Freedom in the World has shown more declines than gains worldwide. Furthermore, the report data reflected a stepped-up campaign of persecution by dictators that specifically targeted civil society organizations and independent media.
Among the most striking gains for freedom was that of Libya, which advanced from Not Free to Partly Free and registered one of the most substantial one-year numerical improvements in the report’s nearly 40-year history. Burma and a number of African countries, including Côte d’ivoire, Guinea, Lesotho, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, also saw major advances. Noteworthy declines were recorded for Kazakhstan, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine.
The Middle East showed ambiguous results for the year. In addition to major gains for Libya, and Tunisia’s retention of sharp improvements from 2011, Egypt experienced relatively modest progress. The country held a flawed but competitive presidential election and direct military rule came to an end, yet the elected parliament was dissolved and President Morsi pushed through a new constitution under deeply problematic circumstances.
Moreover, the gains for the Arab Spring countries triggered a reaction, sometimes violent, by authoritarian leaders elsewhere in the Middle East, with resulting setbacks for freedom in Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates.
The report’s findings were especially grim for Eurasian countries. Russia took a decided turn for the worse after Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency. Having already marginalized the formal political opposition, he enacted a series of laws meant to squelch a burgeoning societal opposition. The measures imposed severe new penalties on unauthorized demonstrations, restricted the ability of civic groups to raise funds and conduct their work, and placed new controls on the internet.
Citing an accentuation of repression in a number of critical countries, the report urges the United States and other democracies to demonstrate leadership in the struggle for freedom. It criticizes both the Obama administration and the Republican opposition for a reluctance to provide that leadership… MORE