Countries at the Crossroads

Countries at the Crossroads 2012


Nearly two years after it began, the wave of popular uprisings that has shaken the Middle East and North Africa continues to hold the world’s attention. In the most consequential bout of political change in almost two decades, new leaders are emerging through generally free and fair elections, and citizens are demanding rights and accountability from their governments. These are promising signs of democratic progress in a region long dominated by brutal authoritarian regimes. But does this dramatic breakthrough reflect a wider trend toward democracy and good governance around the world?

The findings of Countries at the Crossroads 2012, Freedom House’s comprehensive assessment of democratic governance in a select group of 35 states, suggest that it does not. Crossroads analyzes each country’s performance in four spheres: government accountability and public voice, civil liberties, rule of law, and anticorruption and transparency. Declines far exceeded improvements in the states covered in this year’s edition, in both number and scale. Large drops in government accountability have corresponded in some cases with declines in the primacy of the rule of law in civil and criminal matters, indicating that legal protections for individual citizens are eroding in tandem with the political leadership’s consolidation of power. Meanwhile, only the scores for free and fair electoral laws and elections—a subsection of accountability and public voice, and arguably one of the simpler areas of governance to improve—showed significant increases. The overall deterioration reflected in this year’s scores is cause for alarm among advocates of democracy, particularly given the prevailing impression that prodemocracy movements are gaining ground.Indeed, even within the Middle East and North Africa, the 2011 uprisings have had a wide variety of outcomes to date. It is clear from this diversity that the region’s transformation will not happen overnight, and that its success must not be left to chance.