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The Quest for Freedom Remains Unchecked

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 20, 2005 11:47 am    Post subject: The Quest for Freedom Remains Unchecked Reply with quote

The Quest for Freedom Remains Unchecked

December 20, 2005
The Wall Street Journal
George Melloan

Freedom House in New York yesterday released its annual report on how many people live in free societies. The news was once again good, with 27 countries and one territory showing gains and only nine showing setbacks. "The past year was one of the most successful for freedom since Freedom House began measuring world freedom in 1972," the report said.

Arch Puddington, the organization's director of research, found it "impressive" that freedom could thrive despite "terrorist violence, ethnic cleansing, civil conflict, catastrophic natural disasters and geopolitical polarization." But it did. Nearly 3 billion souls (46% of the world's population) now live in countries that have "open political competition, a climate of respect for civil liberties, significant independent civil life and independent media." A further 1.2 billion are "partly free," meaning that they have limited rights that are tainted by such defects as rampant corruption or entrenched one-party rule.

The remaining 2.3 billion (35%) are denied basic civil liberties and political rights. China accounts for half the "not free" numbers, and Russia seems be relapsing into a repeat of the Soviet past. Both rate better, however, than the eight worst hellholes: North Korea, Cuba, Burma, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The spread of electoral democracy feeds the trend. Today, 122 countries, 65% of the world total, have democratic elections -- three more than last year. Obviously, this is reflected in greater political rights, most of the gains coming in countries moving to "partly free" from "not free."

Freedom House is cautious about expansive claims for Afghanistan and Iraq, no doubt in part because both still depend on foreign military forces for security. But there could hardly have been a better demonstration of the human yearning for political rights than the election in Iraq last week. Something like 70% of the registered electorate turned out to vote for a new parliament, despite death threats from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terrorist gangs. While politicians safe inside the Beltway preach cut-and-run, Iraqis and the American soldiers and civilians on the ground in Iraq are getting on with the task of building a democratic state.

The idea that there is something in Islam or in the Arab character that militates against freedom and democracy is one of the favorite laments of defeatist politicians and media pundits in the U.S. But Thomas O. Melia, acting head of Freedom House, observed that measurable improvement this year in several key Arab countries "reminds us that men and women in this region share the universal desire to live in free societies." As for predominantly Islamic countries as a whole, both Indonesia and Malaysia are making important democratic advances.

In Iraq, the new legitimacy awarded to politicians by the voters last Thursday already seems to be engendering greater seriousness. On Saturday, Adnan al-Dulaimi, an academic who heads a Sunni group that will likely have some power in the new 275-seat parliament, said he would be willing to form a coalition government with the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance.

Sunnis and Shiites together, after years of being pitted against each other by Arab despots? Why not? Would it be so much different from the grand coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats in Germany? The bedfellows of political convenience sometimes aren't as strange as one might think. Maybe the Iraqis are gearing up for the kind of political compromises routine in parliamentary democracies.

The big electoral turnout of the Sunni minority could be a signal that their leaders have decided to accept a role in democratic governance, abandoning the hope of regaining their former dominant position through violence. If so, they have made a wise choice, consistent with the wishes of the Iraqi people. That's bad news for the former Saddam Hussein Sunni henchmen allied with foreign jihadists in terrorist attacks. Whatever support they ever had from Sunnis is waning.

Democracy is not easy, as was made plain on these pages Saturday in an interview with Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko by my colleague Matthew Kaminski. Last year's "orange revolution" catapulted Mr. Yushchenko to power and made Ukraine the poster child of this year's upbeat Freedom House report. But now that the tumult and shouting has subsided, Mr. Yushchenko must deal with all the knotty problems of governance, such as rooting out ingrained corruption.

However, running a well-established democratic government is no piece of cake either, as George Bush learns every time his natural enemies -- and occasionally his natural friends -- whip up some new issue. But that's the whole point of democracy, to keep powerful leaders humble with the daily realization that they are accountable to the voters and the opposition.

If the Iraqis and Afghans pull through under far more serious and lethal pressures and establish reasonably stable governments and economic bases, Mr. Bush will have won his big gamble in taking the war on terror to the places where terrorism is hatched. There will still be Iran and Syria to deal with, but the tide will have turned in the U.S. favor. The people of the Middle East will have won as well, gaining the promise of a better future.

That kind of future is being sought, particularly by young people, in benighted places all around the world. In such diverse societies as Belarus, Cuba and China -- as well as Iran -- there is ferment below the surface. New generations are becoming more politically conscious and increasingly aware that they are being denied their human dignity and individuality. Access to modern means of communication allows them to see how the other half of the world lives, not only in a material sense but in freedom from the fear of violence and abuse practiced by ruling thugs. It is not easy to overthrow police states, but it isn't easy either for politicians to rule people who resent brutal dominance.

The message of the Freedom House report is that while there still many horrors in many places, political rights and civil liberties are gaining ascendancy in many places as well. For the world's more fortunate, aiding that process is a high calling worthy of reflection in this holiday season.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 20, 2005 12:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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Arab Middle East Shows Improvement, Despite Continued Repression
Major Gains in Ukraine, Indonesia; Decline Noted in Philippines
Notable Gains in Worldwide Freedom

NEW YORK, December 19, 2005 -- The people of the Arab Middle East experienced a modest but potentially significant increase in political rights and civil liberties in 2005, Freedom House announced in a major survey of global freedom released today.

The global survey, "Freedom in the World," shows that although the Middle East continues to lag behind other regions, a measurable improvement can be seen in freedom in several key Arab countries, as well as the Palestinian Authority. In another key finding, the number of countries rated by Freedom House as Not Free declined from 49 in 2004 to 45 for the year 2005, the lowest number of Not Free societies identified by the survey in over a decade. In noteworthy country developments, Ukraine and Indonesia saw their status improve from Partly Free to Free; Afghanistan moved from Not Free to Partly Free; and the Philippines saw its status decline from Free to Partly Free.

According to Thomas O. Melia, acting executive director of Freedom House, "The modest but heartening advances in the Arab Middle East result from activism by citizen groups and reforms by governments in about equal measures. This emerging trend reminds us that men and women in this region share the universal desire to live in free societies."

"As we welcome the stirrings of change in the Middle East," said Mr. Melia, "it is equally important that we focus on the follow-through in other regions and appreciate the importance of the continuing consolidation of democracy in Indonesia, Ukraine, and other nations."

Complete survey results, including a package of charts and graphs, and an explanatory essay are available online. The Ratings reflect global events from December 1, 2004 through November 30, 2005. Country narratives will be released in book form in summer 2006.

On the whole, the state of freedom showed substantial improvement worldwide, with 27 countries and one territory registering gains and only 9 countries showing setbacks. The global picture thus suggests that the past year was one of the most successful for freedom since Freedom House began measuring world freedom in 1972.

"These global findings are encouraging," said Arch Puddington, director of research. "Among other things, the past year has been notable for terrorist violence, ethnic cleansing, civil conflict, catastrophic natural disasters, and geopolitical polarization. That freedom could thrive in this environment is impressive."

Although the countries of the Middle East lag behind other regions in areas such as adherence to democratic standards, independent media, the rights of women, and the rule of law, the past year witnessed modest positive trends. Lebanon experienced the most significant improvement; its status improved from Not Free to Partly Free due to major improvements in both political rights and civil liberties that followed the withdrawal of Syrian occupation forces. Elections exhibiting increased competition in Iraq, Egypt, and the Palestinian territories; the introduction of women's suffrage in Kuwait; and improvements in Saudi Arabia's media environment are among other encouraging signs in the region.

According to the survey, 89 countries are Free, the same as the previous year. These countries’ nearly 3 billion inhabitants (46 percent of the world's population) enjoy open political competition, a climate of respect for civil liberties, significant independent civic life, and independent media. Another 58 countries representing 1.2 billion people (18 percent) are considered Partly Free. Political rights and civil liberties are more limited in these countries, in which the norm may be corruption, weak rule of law, ethnic and religious strife, and a setting in which a single political party enjoys dominance. The survey finds that 45 counies are Not Free. The 2.3 billion inhabitants (35 percent) of these countries are widelytr and systematically denied basic civil liberties and basic political rights are absent.

Aside from the Middle East, countries in the former Soviet Union were most notable for improvements in freedom during 2005. In addition to Ukraine, improvements were noted in Kyrgyzstan, whose rating improved from Not Free to Partly Free, and Georgia. Positive change was also noted in Latvia and Lithuania, two states where democratic freedoms had already been consolidated.

Further gains in the region will likely depend on the development of the kind of mature and credible opposition that emerged in Ukraine and Georgia prior to their nonviolent revolutions. At the same time, authoritarian leaderships in Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, and, most importantly, Russia have adopted policies that will make it more difficult for the development of a genuine civil society and will impede the development of a democratic political opposition.

In Uzbekistan, state violence against demonstrators, the repression of civil society, and an overall decline in human rights conditions during the past year was sufficiently pronounced to warrant a decline in the country's Freedom in the World score to the lowest possible rating. Only eight countries worldwide earned a similar status as the worst of the worst, and two, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, are in Central Asia. In Russia-whose freedom status Freedom House lowered from Partly Free to Not Free one year ago-the Putin leadership's anti-democratic tendencies appeared, if anything, more pronounced in 2005.

Among the study's other findings:

The number of electoral democracies increased by three, from 119 to 122. This represents 64 percent of the world's countries-the highest number in the survey's 33-year history.
Of the four countries that registered an outright decline in status, the most significant was the Philippines. The decision to downgrade this country from Free to Partly Free was based on credible allegations of massive electoral fraud, corruption, and the government's intimidation of elements in the political opposition. The period since September 11, 2001, has witnessed steady progress in majority Muslim countries in regions beyond the Middle East.
The steady record of progress observed represents a powerful argument against the proposition that Islam is incompatible with democracy or is an impediment to the spread of freedom. Indeed, there has been a striking improvement in the level of freedom in majority Muslim countries over the past ten years. In 1995, 1 majority Muslim country was Free, 13 were Partly Free, and 32, or 70 percent, were Not Free. For 2005, the figures are 3 Free countries, 20 Partly Free, and 23 Not Free.
Regional Patterns

Democracy and freedom are the dominant trends in Western and East-Central Europe, in the Americas, and increasingly in the Asia-Pacific region. In the former Soviet Union, the picture remains mixed, while in Africa, Free societies and electoral democracies remain a minority despite recent progress. As noted above, the Middle East has experienced gains for freedom, though the region as a whole overwhelmingly consists of countries in the Partly Free and Not Free categories.

Of the 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, 11 are Free (23 percent), 23 are Partly Free (48 percent), and 14 are Not Free (29 percent). Of the African countries, 23 (48 percent) are electoral democracies.

In Asia, 16 of the region's 39 countries are Free (41 percent), 12 are Partly Free (31 percent), and 11 are Not Free (28 percent). A solid majority of the region's countries, 23, are in the ranks of electoral democracies.

In East-Central Europe and the former USSR, there is now evidence of a deepening chasm. In Central Europe and parts of Eastern Europe, including the Baltic states, democracy and freedom prevail; in the countries of the former Soviet Union, however, progress has been decidedly mixed. Overall, 17 of the 27 post-communist countries of East-Central Europe and the former Soviet Union are electoral democracies. In addition, 13 of the region's states are Free (48 percent), 7 are Partly Free (26 percent), and 7 are Not Free (26 percent). Meanwhile, of the 12 non-Baltic former Soviet republics, 1 country is free (8 percent), 4 are Partly Free (33 percent), and 7 are Not Free (58 percent).

Western Europe consists largely of Free countries and democracies, with 24 states Free, 1 country (Turkey) Partly Free, and all 25 ranking as electoral democracies.

Among the 35 countries in the Americas, 33 are electoral democracies. In all, 24 states are rated as Free (69 percent), 9 are Partly Free (26 percent), and 2-Cuba and Haiti-are Not Free (6 percent).

In the 18 Middle Eastern countries, only one, Israel, ranks as Free (Israel is also the only electoral democracy in the region). There are 6 Partly Free states (33 percent), and 11 countries that are Not Free (61 percent).

Worst of the Worst

There are 45 states that are rated as Not Free, in which a broad range of freedoms are systematically denied. Among the Not Free countries, 8 states have been given the survey's lowest rating of 7 for political rights and 7 for civil liberties. The eight worst-rated countries represent a narrow range of systems and cultures. Cuba and North Korea are one-party Marxist-Leninist regimes. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are Central Asian countries ruled by dictators with roots in the Soviet period. Libya and Syria are Arab countries under the sway of secular dictatorships, while Sudan is under a leadership that has elements both of radical Islamism and of the traditional military junta. The remaining worst rated state is Burma, a tightly controlled military dictatorship.

There are two worst-rated territories: Tibet (under Chinese jurisdiction) and Chechnya, where an indigenous Islamic population is engaged in a brutal guerrilla war for independence from Russia.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 20, 2005 12:12 pm    Post subject: Freedom House 2005 Iran Report Reply with quote

Freedom House 2005 Iran Report

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