After Earlier Growth, Decline in Freedom Seen in Middle East in 2007 | Freedom House

After Earlier Growth, Decline in Freedom Seen in Middle East in 2007

Washington, D.C.

Freedom in the Middle East took a step backwards in 2007, Freedom House reported in a worldwide survey of freedom released yesterday.

According to the report, Freedom in the World 2008, the period of modest gains that had marked the political landscape of the Middle East in the post-9/11 period came to an end in 2007. Backward movement was registered in three important countries of the Arab Middle East: Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria. Major declines were also noted in both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli-Occupied Territories. Tunisia, long one of the region’s most repressive states, also experienced a further decline in political rights in 2007.

Survey results reflect global events during 2007. A package of charts and graphs and an explanatory essay are available online.

“The Middle East is still the most repressive region in the world,” said Arch Puddington, director of research at Freedom House. “While it seemed in prior years that the region was slowly advancing, the political chaos and repression of independent voices that occurred in 2007 has crushed the hopes of Middle Eastern citizens that they might finally catch up with the rest of the world.”

Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and the Palestinian Authority had all made progress on the Freedom House index in recent years—in the case of the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon, considerable progress. In 2007, however, negative developments were significant:
  • Egypt showed a decline for several reasons: repression of journalists; suppression of the political opposition, including both democratic parties and those aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood; and further restrictions on the independence of the judiciary.
  • Lebanon’s decline was due to a deadlock over the selection of the president and continued violence directed at officials and journalists who have opposed Syrian domination of the country’s political life.
  • The Palestinian Authority experienced a change in status, from Partly Free to Not Free, due to the collapse of a unified government precipitated by the takeover of Gaza by Hamas, and the inability of elected representatives to govern in either Gaza or the West Bank. In the Israeli-Occupied Territories, Israeli military incursions and violent dispersals of protests led to a decline in the rating for civil liberties.
  • In Syria, freedom moved in a negative direction because of a renewed crackdown on members of the democratic opposition.
  • Tunisia, long one of the region’s most repressive states, experienced a decline in political rights due to credible reports of rampant corruption involving the family of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.
“The reasons for the region’s political stagnation are many, and range from the influence of repressive neighbors to the presence of radical Islam,” said Mr. Puddington. “By far, however, the problem lies in the unwillingness of the region’s aging dictators to share power and in the absence of meaningful opposition groups that can pressure the dictators to do so.” 

Declines in freedom worldwide were reported by Freedom in the World 2008. Reversals were seen in one-fifth of the world’s countries, particularly those in South Asia and the former Soviet Union, as well as the Middle East. A substantial number of politically important countries whose declines have broad regional and global implications—including Russia, Pakistan, Kenya, Nigeria, and Venezuela—were affected.

Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom around the world, has monitored political rights and civil liberties around the world since 1972. 

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