Freedom in the World 2014

freedom

Green = free
Yellow = partly free
Blue = Not Free

The pro-democracy and human rights group Freedom House annually publishes what is probably now my most highly-awaited report, ‘Freedom in the World’.  Today they published their 2014 edition, containing reports compiled over 2013.  It’s been unveiled under the gloomy headline, “An Eighth Year of Decline in Political Rights and Civil Liberties,” which certainly is quite depressing.  Having had a quick nose through the report, however, I don’t believe there’s reason for complete despair just yet.  It’s a similar trend to which we saw last year, of progress and regression pushing against each other with little progress either way.  There’s a lot of good news in here too.

Countries which have made significant changes are:

Bhutan
Bhutan has for a while been hovering at the lower end of the ‘partly free’ spectrum as its recent experiment with democracy has continued.  These reforms have been entrenched by the country’s first democratic rotation of power in history, which has in turn improved the state of civil liberties.

Central African Republic
This poor, landlocked African country has more or less collapsed over the last year.  A coalition of rebels overthrew President Bozizé in March which has led to the rapid disintegration of law and order, characterised by horrific sectarian clashes between Christians and Muslims.  France has sent 1,600 troops to help restore order and prevent a decline into civil war, with further pledges of support from other European and African states.

Egypt
Egypt is a very depressing case right now.  I had so many hopes that it was on a path to democracy, albeit Islamist-tinted, but in July, following mass protests, President Morsi was deposed by the army.  There’s subsequently been heavy repression by the state against political opponents, with the Muslim Brotherhood named once again a terrorist organisation.  A constitutional referendum has recently passed which demands fresh elections to be held later this year but I’m not particularly optimistic about these.

Mali
After Mali’s dramatic decline last year, jumping straight from ‘free’ to ‘not free’ as a result of the northern rebellion and military coup, it’s refreshing to see some positive developments once again.  Following a French and African Union-backed campaign to rid the north of Islamist rebels, elections deemed mostly free and fair have been able to occur.  The country has a long way to go to recover it’s previous position but it seems to be on the right track.

Nicaragua
I confess to know very little about Nicaragua, but it’s seen improvements both to political rights and civil liberties ratings.  As far as I’m aware this is due to general attempts to create constitutional reforms and reduce corruption.

South Sudan
South Sudan has also been in the news recently due to increased political and ethnic violence.  It’s thought that as many as 500,000 people have been displaced, while several cities and territories have fallen under rebel control.  The government appears to be reasserting itself but there are real fears of a descent into civil war.  This has unsurprisingly caused a decline in the country’s civil liberty ratings (it’s political rating would probably have fallen too had it not already been pretty poor).

Tunisia
Tunisia’s performance is my favourite aspect of this report.  There were fears that hard-fought gains might be lost in a climate of political assassinations and disputes, but political parties and movements seem to have managed to work together to continue the country’s transition to democracy, helping cause an increase to the country’s civil liberties rating.  Tunisia may end up being the Arab Spring’s only success story.

Other Positive Changes
Other countries to see positive changes and trends are Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Iraq,* Italy, Japan, Madagascar, the Maldives, Pakistan, Rwanda, Senegal, Togo, Tonga and Zimbabwe.**

Other Negative Changes
Other countries to see negative changes and trends are Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, the Gambia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Sierra Leone, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tanzania, Uganda, Ukraine, Venezuela, Zambia and the Gaza Strip.

Worst of the Worst
All nine of last year’s worst-performing countries maintain the lowest possible score on political rights and civil liberties – Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.  The Central African Republic has this year been added to the group, while the unrecognised states of Tibet and Western Sahara also remain on it.

Conclusion
This may seem very bleak but there are a significant number of success stories which can serve as further inspiration for the continuingly oppressed peoples around the world.  Each year Freedom House additionally numbers the amount of ‘electoral democracies’ in the world – I’m not entirely sure what their criteria for this is – which actually saw an increase of 5 in this report, bringing the total amount of electoral democracies to 63.1%, the highest since 2007.  Here’s hoping these foundations can bring about an overall increase next year.

For the full report, see here.

*I’m quite surprised by this too, although Iraq is still firmly in the ‘not free’ category.
**I’m also rather surprised by this, but I imagine this is simply because less people died during last year’s elections than in 2008.

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Mohammed Morsi Removed From Power: Revolution 2.0?

Mohammed Morsi has become the second president of Egypt in as many years to have been forced out of power by popular protest.  Contradictory rumours have been flying about all day concerning the state of Egypt’s leadership but, just now, the army have announced Morsi’s removal and the suspension of his Islamic-tinted constitution.

Well, that’s twice now I’ve been wrong about Morsi.  It’s fair to say I did not see this coming.  But, in some ways, it should come as no surprise.  In the first round of the 2012 Presidential Election, only 24.78% of people voted for Morsi as their first choice.  It was only when he entered a run-off with former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, who served under Mubarak, that Morsi won the vote – and even then only with 51.73%.  While Morsi undoubtedly will have taken the Islamic vote in this election, I’m pretty certain he also relied on the liberal and secular vote to assure a victory.  It was Morsi’s hubris and his ignorance of this fact that led to his downfall.  By pursuing a broad Islamic agenda, despite declaring himself a moderate, he has alienated the section of society which got him into power.  That is how protests larger than those which deposed Mubarak rose up against him.

One thing that strikes me, as a statistics geek, is just how brief his leadership has been.  Egypt has a history of long-lasting strongmen – Nasser (1956 – 1970) served 14 years, Sadat (1970 – 1981) 11 years and Mubarak (1981 – 2011) a staggering 30 years.  Morsi’s solitary year is very feeble in comparison, making him certain to go down in history as one of Egypt’s most ineffectual presidents.  Well, alongside Muhammed Naguib – Egypt’s first President – who was kicked out by Nasser after a similar amount of time.

One issue being fiercely debated is whether this action by the army constitues a coup.  On one hand, the definition of ‘coup d’etat’ is: “A sudden and decisive action in politics, esp. one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force”.  This is most definitely sudden and decisive, and Morsi’s government has been changed by force.  Therefore, it is a coup.  But does it deserve to be counted as one?  Coups typically unfold as the army, for its own ends or for its misguided view of the national interest, force the acting government out of power.  In this case the army has responded to an overwhelming outpouring of public opinion.  I’ve read one comment where someone ironically stated that Egypt is one of the few countries where the public are actually in control.  Let’s have no misunderstandings, the army has little interest in democracy.  What the army wants is stability and influence; it merely sees encouraging democracy as the means to achieve these goals.  But, really, the army had few options.  The anti-Morsi camp is significantly larger than the pro-Morsi camp, and Morsi is characteristically unwilling to negotiate his way through anything.  They could have tried to set up a unity government but, to be realistic, that would have been a guaranteed failure.  Removing Morsi must have been seen as a cleaner, easier option.

So where does Egypt go from here?  New elections for both the president and the parliament are due to be held, perhaps in 2014 – three whole years after the initial revolution.  In the meantime, the head of Egypt’s Constitutional Court, Adly al-Mansour, will be the interim president.  Hopefully Morsi’s supporters will choose to voice their opinions in the election rather than take more immediate, drastic action.  I fear Paul Mason has it right: “For everyone belatedly discovering Arab Spring has parallels with 1848, please note it is now 1851.”  It’s being argued that the army stepping in to depose Morsi will set a precedent for the army, much as has become the case with Pakistan’s modern history.  However, I have faith that these new elections will at least attempt to be free and fair and.  So long as the new President is careful not to disgruntle the army to a great extent (though bear in mind it will be unwilling to stage another coup), they’re probably safe.  But then, I now have a track record of being wrong!  So has everyone, in fairness.  This situation is completely unpredictable.

I wonder how the election will go.  While I doubt this is the end of the Muslim Brotherhood as a political force, their popularity has been dealt a severe blow and I find it unlikely that they’d dominate these elections as they did 2012.  Could secular coalitions, who have now had the time they need to organise and mobilise, grab a victory?  A moderate liberal actually willing to listen to people would be my preferred option.  But, lurking in the shadows, a third possibility lies in wait.  Remnants of Mubarak’s regime, which came so close to grabbing victory in 2012, may yet play a significant role.  With the ancien régime’s obvious alternative ending in such failure, will the Egyptian people now sacrifice some ideals of the revolution for stability?  Considering the uncontrollable force which has been awoken, an influential youth movement accustomed to its new freedoms and willing to defend them – as we’ve seen time and time again – I find this unlikely, but it’s not impossible to imagine Egypt may now take a step back.

Well,  see you next time I find myself compelled to blog about Egypt.  This seems to be a regular occurrence.

Egypt Joke

Quote

Egypt’s current situation can be summed up by one jokey quote doing the rounds just now:

“Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak all tried to get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood. Only Morsi succeeded.”

UPDATE: Yesterday, the army gave President Morsi 48 hours to resolve the crisis before they would “take responsibility.”  They later denied this would amount to a coup, but it has been speculated that it would involve removing Morsi from power – perhaps replacing him with a technocratic government before holding new elections.  It’s a fair bet to say that the Muslim Brotherhood would find their popularity diminished in such hypothetical elections.  These protests have been seen as a setback for – and perhaps even a rejection of – political Islamism in the region. Either way, the next day will be crucial for determining the direction of Egypt’s future.

You can see a live stream of Tahrir Square, the focus point of Egypt’s protests, here.

Mohammed Morsi: One Year On

A year ago today, on the 30th June 2012, Mohammed Morsi* took office as the fifth President of Egypt.  This marked the rise of the once-banned Islamist Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt after former president Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign in the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.  Morsi himself served time in prison during Mubarak’s administration.  He is significant for being the first president in Egypt’s history – all 7,000 years of it – to have been elected in what was generally recognised as a free and fair election.  That’s great, right?!  Finally, a leader who respects democracy?  Well……

Morsi never fails to pay lip service to his democratic ideals – more often than not to safeguard his legitimacy – but is he really interested in promoting the ideals of the revolution?  I had a positive opinion of him upon his first election.  Small things, such as not wearing a bulletproof vest during his inauguration speech and refusing to have presidential portraits of himself hung like Mubarak had convinced me he was, at least, different to what had come before.  By no means indications of the route his leadership would take but a good start.

Unfortunately, as the months dragged on it began to look as though his rule was becoming ever more authoritarian.  I uneasily read reports of journalists and presenters who had been arrested or threatened by the government and, although Egypt is nowhere near the level of a police state it was under Mubarak, these are not things which happen in a democratic country.  Then came that November decree where Morsi announced ‘temporary’ powers over the judiciary, effectively granting him more powers than even Mubarak had wielded.  In response to the mass unrest which occurred afterwards he did rescind the decree, and has gone on record since of saying the move was a ‘mistake’.  So, pretty mixed.  Economically, Egypt has continued to stagnate, and while the unrest caused by Morsi’s divisive policies are one factor of this I don’t think he can be solely blamed.  Egypt’s economic problems will take longer than a year to fix.

Internationally, Morsi hasn’t taken any dramatic routes.  Egypt’s partnership with the USA and ‘The West’ has continued, if perhaps in a more limited fashion.  He has made tentative moves to improve Egypt’s relationship with Iran and also seems committed to maintaining the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.  I would say his general policy is to keep as many potential allies abroad as possible, although he has appeared heavy-handed at times.  The most prominent example of this is his fierce opposition to Assad’s government in Syria, calling for direct support to the rebels fighting Assad and the imposition of a No-Fly Zone over the country.  He has also recently attacked Ethiopia’s planned project to dam the Nile, giving a veiled threat of war, though this is unlikely to happen.

Today, on the anniversary of his acquisition of power, mass protests have yet again broken out across the country.  As many as hundreds of thousands could be out, right now, protesting in Cairo, Alexandria and most other cities.  Many are calling for a ‘second revolution’, claiming they will not leave until Morsi resigns.  There are conflicting reports of how the army views the situation, with some claiming that the army, still recovering from its brief stint in power and keen to avoid more unrest, might play a more significant role than we have previously seen.

As I’m not Egyptian I don’t really have a right to comment, but I’m not entirely convinced Morsi should resign.  I oppose most of his policies I’m aware of, but there is the strong argument that he was democratically elected.  There’s also the strong argument that it would be a bad precedent of Egyptian presidents backing down from power at the first hint of trouble.  Also, quite simply, Morsi could have been a lot worse.  He does still permit protests and realises that he does rely on public consent to rule – a fact I don’t think he is ever allowed to forget.  He hasn’t yet set up a fundamentalist Islamic autocracy, as some feared this time last year.

It’s not unprecedented for popular protest to remove a democratically elected government from power, as we saw earlier this year with Bulgaria, and if the protests reach such an extent that the country becomes ungovernable then I do think Morsi will have to go.  There is the option open to him to hold a snap election and, in the presence of foreign observers, allow the will of the country to be properly tested.  I think that would be preferable to a direct resignation.  But I suspect, for now, he is here to stay.

*There are so many variations on how to spell his name – I’ve gone with the one I see most often.

Freedom In The World 2013

Taken from Wikimedia Commons.


Green = Free 
Yellow = Partly Free 
Blue = Not Free

Yesterday, pro-democracy group FreedomHouse published their annual report, ‘Freedom in the World 2013’, which reports on the state of political and social freedom on a country-by-country basis during 2012.  I was very eager to see the results, as their reports have become something of an authority in how I view freedom in the world.  One of many sources, obviously, but by far my favourite.

As you can see from the map, when comparing it to one I wrote about a month ago, not a huge amount has changed.  Europe and the Americas are still almost completely free, Southeast Asia and central Africa not so much, etc.  However the small changes which have occurred are extremely significant.  I made some mental predictions before reading the report, which I can boast were mostly along the right lines although were at times too optimistic or pessimistic.  I’m pleased to see that Ukraine and Venezuela are still perceived to be somewhat free countries, even if only on the fringes, for instance.  Russia and most of the other former Soviet states, particularly in central Asia, have continued their descent into autocracy.  Here are the rest of the countries which made significant changes:

Egypt
For the first time, Egypt is considered a ‘Partly Free’ country, in the wake of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.  Amid fears that the revolution would be hijacked, first by the ruling military and then by the Muslim Brotherhood, it is comforting to know that Egypt has at least made marginal progress, even if its political freedom rating is precarious at best.

Libya
More reassuringly, Libya has made significant gains.  Although also only ‘Partly Free’, considering it was only recently scoring the worst possible scores a country can achieve during Colonel Gadaffi’s totalitarian rule, his ouster in the 2011 Libyan Civil War has paved the way for extraordinary political and social progress.

Tunisia
Tunisia’s rating has not changed from the ‘Partly Free’ it achieved in the 2012 Report.  While it’s comforting to see the gains made after the 2011 Tunisian Revolution have been maintained, I had hoped to see freedom extend further.  But I think I was naive to expect such fast progress.

Mali
Mali always was going to score badly after the 2012 coup and conflict though I never appreciated just how badly.  Falling down all the way from ‘Free’ to ‘Not Free’, one of Africa’s most stable democracies has, in the space of a year, completely collapsed.  Not good.

Burma
Burma has now, for the first time, been reported to be a freer state than neighbouring China.  While still marked as ‘Not Free’, it is now at the top of that range rather than at the very bottom, due to political and social reforms being passed by the ruling military.  A slow, tentative improvement, but very encouraging.

Ivory Coast
With the Second Ivorian Civil War over with and democracy cautiously restored, the country has leapt up to ‘Partly Free’, albeit at the lower end of the category.

Other Positive Changes
Other countries to see positive changes are: Lesotho, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tonga, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Mongolia and Bhutan.

Other Negative Changes
Other countries to see negative changes are: The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, Italy, Kenya, Kuwait, the Maldives, Rwanda, Tajikistan and Turkey.

Worst of the Worst
Countries titled ‘Worst of the Worst’, meaning they have achieved the worst possible score in both the political and social categories, are: Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Overall Trend
For the 7th year in a row, FreedomHouse has reported an overall decline in democratic standards across the world.  There is not reason to despair however, as for every decline in one country is, roughly, a gain in another.  The situation is not rapidly deteriorating – many of the declines are in fact a response in authoritarian countries to the rise of pro-democracy movements elsewhere.  Their fear is not without cause.