Democratic Freedoms Are Under Siege

Wall Street Journal

by David J. Kramer,
President of Freedom House
and
Arch Puddington,
Vice President for Research at Freedom House

In 2005, President George W. Bush famously declared that "freedom is on the march," inspired by examples of progress in the Middle East, especially Lebanon and post-Saddam Iraq. In the eight years since the speech, though, freedom has been in steady retreat. That's the finding of Freedom House's new "Freedom in the World" report, which annually measures the condition of political rights and civil liberties around the globe.

The past year continued the dispiriting trend, with 54 countries registering declines in political rights and civil liberties compared with only 40 countries registering gains. A disturbing 35% of the world's population lives in societies without fair elections, the rule of law, freedom of speech or minority rights. Our survey of developments of the past year points to three significant reasons for the decline of democratic liberties.

First is a relentless campaign to undo the gains of the Arab Spring. Yes, democratic forces in the Middle East made significant mistakes, in particular by treating protest as a substitute for politics. But reformists operate in an environment in which powerful forces are committed to democracy's failure.

Religious extremists, the military, monarchies, entrenched despots—all have a stake in creating an image of democracy as a pathway to chaos and extremism. There is also the insidious role of outside powers—authoritarians who regard democracy's gain anywhere as a threat to their own rule. Thus we see a coalition of repressive states—Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela—mobilizing to sustain Bashar Assad's domination in Syria.

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

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