Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Freedom in the World 2013: Middle East gains provoke intensified repression

Democracy in the world has declined for the seventh year running. 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.

“Our findings point to the growing sophistication of modern authoritarians,” said Arch Puddington, Freedom House vice president for research. “They are flexible; they distort and abuse the legal framework; they are adept at the techniques of modern propaganda,” he added. “But especially since the Arab Spring, they are nervous, which accounts for their intensified persecution of popular movements for change.”

While the number of countries ranked as Free for 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 organisations 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 marginalised the formal political opposition, he enacted a series of laws meant to squelch a burgeoning societal opposition. The measures imposed severe new penalties on unauthorised 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 criticises both the Obama administration and the Republican opposition for a reluctance to provide that leadership.

“Right now there are societies where freedom is in the balance, yet the democracies have beaten a retreat,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. “What we’ve learned over the years is that gains for freedom usually take place with the active participation of democracies like the United States and those in Europe. And where they have opted out of the struggle, the result is usually a defeat for freedom.”

Key global findings:

The number of electoral democracies stood at 117, the same as for 2011. Two countries, Georgia and Libya, achieved electoral democracy status, while two were dropped from the category, Mali and the Maldives.

Four countries moved from Partly Free to Free: Lesotho, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Tonga. Three countries rose from Not Free to Partly Free: Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, and Libya. Mali fell two tiers, from Free to Not Free, and Guinea-Bissau dropped from Partly Free to Not Free.

Some notable trends highlighted in the report include increased Muslim-on-Muslim violence, which reaching horrifying levels in Pakistan and remained a serious problem in Iraq and elsewhere; a serious decline in civil liberties in Turkey; and among the Persian Gulf states, a steady and disturbing decline in democratic institutions and an increase in repressive policies.

Worst of the Worst:

Of the 47 countries designated as Not Free, nine have been given the survey’s lowest possible rating of 7 for both political rights and civil liberties: Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Two territories, Tibet and Western Sahara, were also ranked among the worst of the worst.

An additional 5 countries and 1 territory received scores that were slightly above those of the worst-ranked countries, with ratings of 6,7 or 7,6 for political rights and civil liberties: Belarus, Chad, China, Cuba, Laos, and South Ossetia.

Key regional findings:

Middle East and North Africa

In a region notable for sectarian polarisation, civil strife, and repressive autocracies, freedom scored some grudging but nonetheless impressive gains in 2012. Gains: Tunisia maintained dramatic improvements from the previous year, and Libya and Egypt both moved from Not Free to Partly Free. Declines: Syria suffered by far the worst repercussions from the Arab Spring. Declines were also seen in Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.

Sub-Saharan Africa

In recent years, sub-Saharan Africa has ranked as the world’s most politically volatile region, with major democratic breakthroughs in some countries, and coups, civil strife, and authoritarian crackdowns in others. While the region saw several significant gains, especially in West Africa, civil conflicts and the emergence of violent Islamist groups prevented an overall upgrade for political freedom. Gains: Three countries moved from Partly Free to Free: Lesotho, Sierra Leone, and Senegal. Côte d’Ivoire moved from Not Free to Partly Free. Guinea and Malawi also showed gains. Declines: Mali suffered one of the greatest single-year declines in the history of Freedom in the World, dropping precipitously from Free to Not Free, and Guinea-Bissau’s status declined from Partly Free to Not Free. Declines were also seen in the Central African Republic, The Gambia, Kenya, Nigeria, Madagascar, South Africa, and Uganda.

Central and Eastern Europe/Eurasia

The return of Vladimir Putin to the Russian presidency ushered in a new period of accelerated repression. With Russia setting the tone, Eurasia (consisting of the countries of the former Soviet Union minus the Baltic states) now rivals the Middle East as one of the most repressive areas on the globe. Indeed, Eurasia is in many respects the world’s least free subregion, given the entrenchment of autocrats in most of its 12 countries. Gains: Improvements were seen in Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Georgia, as well as in the disputed territories of Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh, the latter of which moved from Not Free to Partly Free. Declines: Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Ukraine all had notable declines.


For years ranked among the world’s most repressive regimes, Burma continued to push ahead with a process of democratic reform that was launched in 2010. While it remains a Not Free country, it registered improvements that brought it ahead of China in both its political rights and civil liberties ratings. Gains: Improvements were seen in Burma, Bhutan, Indian Kashmir, Mongolia, and Tonga. Declines: The most serious declines in the Asia-Pacific region for 2012 took place in the Maldives and Sri Lanka.


As the year ended, Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez was in a Cuban hospital attempting to recover from surgery for an undisclosed form of cancer. For over a decade, Chávez has been a significant figure in regional politics and has aspired, with less success, to a leading role on the global stage. His reelection in 2012 was ensured by the massive abuse of state resources. Gains: The region of the Americas saw no substantial improvements. Declines: Ecuador, Paraguay, and Suriname suffered notable declines.

Western Europe and North America

Although Western Europe and North America continue to grapple with the impact of the financial crisis and, in Europe, an increase in nationalist sentiment in response to an influx of immigrants, they have managed to weather these challenges without a serious weakening of their traditionally high level of respect for democratic standards and civil liberties. There were no major gains or declines in this region.

To view the complete findings, click HERE.

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organisation that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.


Blogger Dreadnaught said...

Democracy depends upon one thing above all others, which is the ability of voters to accept being governed by those with whom they profoundly disagree. Religion is no foundation for democracy, and we should be thankful that European history has made nationality available to us, since that is what made democracy possible. That we should celebrate the overthrow of dictators and oppressive regimes is all well and good, but it does not automatically guarantee that European style democracy will take their place.

The real threat to democracy that is now posed, by the steady capture of social territory by the Islamists, for whom national loyalty, which tells us to tolerate religious difference, is an offence against their God.

Our political culture is a culture of the home and the homeland, rather than the faith and faithful.

16 January 2013 at 11:16  
Blogger Pcm979 said...

Free in Europe? I felt far freer, both spiritually and politically, when I lived in Hong Kong. Take that however you wish.

16 January 2013 at 12:51  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find "European style democracy" dulling and oppressive. But one is not allowed to say that without being told that "well, at least it's better than..." or, " what would you suggest, then..."
But really, there is no choice when it's between what you have and more of the same; there is no choice when the individual will can only express itself by conforming to the collective will, and this latter is nothing but the inscrutable expression of anonymously constituted European court thingies or whatever. Representative democracy is a myth. No one is represented except the myth itself which each of us is obliged to represent, or else. what's there to choose between european style democracy and european style nihilism?

16 January 2013 at 13:23  
Blogger The Way of Dodo said...

Is 'freedom' only defined in terms of western style liberal, pluralistic democracies? Why?

16 January 2013 at 13:32  
Blogger graham wood said...

"Free in Europe? I felt far freer, both spiritually and politically, when I lived in Hong Kong. Take that however you wish."

Absolutely, and fully agree. Having visted HK many times, there is a complete sense of freedom there - no consciousness of the State or politicians constantly intruding.
What is more, one can walk about at any time of day or night there and feel totally secure.

16 January 2013 at 14:13  
Blogger Johnnyrvf said...

The way the Commisars of Brussels show contempt for democracy, there will soon be 27 less free countries, but who in the U.K. conservitive party cares, hey? as long as there is x factor and the local kebab shop for the sheeple and the last few nuggets to be forcibly torn from the citizens as a dentist pulls teeth for the so called elite who have sold out Britain for extorted pensions courtesy of the European taxpayer, why should they be concerned about the real price of freedom?

16 January 2013 at 14:33  
Blogger Galant said...


The principles of democracy are founded upon the notion of all men being created equal and having equal rights. That each individual has worth and their voice should count for something. Guess where that comes from?

16 January 2013 at 15:14  
Blogger Dreadnaught said...


Ancient Greece?

16 January 2013 at 16:21  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Nothing to be alarmed about. It all corresponds to the Inspector’s theories…

For some reason we associate the word freedom with democracy, yet you can be perfectly free in societies that have no democracy. All you have to do is tow the line and don’t expect too much from your masters. In other words you conform to the regimes wishes. The history of these very islands are a testament to that. The population here was not suffering under the burden of dictatorship before parliament asserted itself (…that monster Henry VIII aside…). Even then, in the beginning, it was a parliament of our masters, before the rest of us were invited to participate.

Non democratic countries are frequently well run. They are stable, though of course, not all. You know where you are with them. And that last point is precious to the West. We can plan ahead, and know what we see now will still be the same in decades to come.

Democracy can only work if the population are. First – Informed. Second – Of sufficient intellect to be discerning of whom to vote for. Third – Really free to vote as they wish and are not subject to bullying tactics from strong arm forces. The third point has been put to the test in post colonial African countries, where democracy has been tried out after absolute colonial rule. The population was put at risk by gangs torturing and cajoling them into voting the way they were told. Democracy was then the peoples curse, not saviour…

Gentlemen, weep not for countries that the liberals will tell you are not free. It is not always true, and the population are safe and secure.

16 January 2013 at 17:48  
Blogger Matt A said...

Inspector: I think your second "rule" is where the problem tends to lie.

16 January 2013 at 20:02  
Blogger Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh said...

"The English people believes itself to be free; it is gravely mistaken; it is free only during election of members of parliament; as soon as the members are elected, the people is enslaved; it is nothing. In the brief moment of its freedom, the English people makes such a use of that freedom that it deserves to lose it." (Jean Jacques Rousseau)

16 January 2013 at 21:40  
Blogger Galant said...


Half of it. Do you know where the ancient Greeks got their notion of human rights?

And from where, do you know, the other half of our modern conception of human rights derives?

16 January 2013 at 22:04  
Blogger Sean Baggaley said...

Democracy doesn't scale.

It works best at the local and regional levels. At national levels, it only works if the 'nation' itself is not too large. (E.g. Denmark, which has a total population of less than that of London. The Republic of Ireland is another example. And, of course, Hong Kong, which is basically one large island city-state enclave allowed to operate as a special case by the Chinese* government.)

The UK has "Democracy Lite".

Prior to the rise of the Labour Party in the 1920s, there were just two main parties and, by definition, the only way either one could win an election was with a majority of the popular vote. Today, a party can "win" despite being elected by just 40% or so of the electorate. The UK has therefore been subject to minority rule for generations now.

It is little wonder so many people feel apathetic about politics and voting when the views of as many as 60% of them are pretty much ignored. When a party seizes power with just 42% of the vote, that means 58% of the electorate did not want them in power. This is not a true democracy.

Switzerland has pretty much nailed it. The UK, and most other European nations, are merely paying it lip-service.

* (You can't turn a country of 1.6 billion people – most of them ill-educated and very poor – around in less than 2-3 generations. Even Japan needed around 40 years to turn itself into an industrial heavyweight. China gets a lot of stick for not flipping the big, red, "Democracy®" switch overnight, but then, that's what Russia tried to do and look how well that worked out.)

16 January 2013 at 23:46  
Blogger John Magee said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

17 January 2013 at 00:02  
Blogger John Magee said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

17 January 2013 at 00:04  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Come on Galant you tease, out with it man !

17 January 2013 at 17:57  

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