Freedoms took a hit in 2012

CNN Global Public Square

by Arch Puddington

As the year 2012 drew to a close, events in the Middle East dramatized two competing trends: demands for change pushed forward by popular democratic movements, and an authoritarian response that combines intransigence with strategic adaptability.

The ambiguous nature of these developments, combined with either instability or authoritarian retrenchment in other regions, had a significant impact on the state of global freedom. The findings of Freedom in the World 2013, the latest edition of Freedom House’s annual report on political rights and civil liberties, showed that more countries registered declines than exhibited gains over the course of 2012. This marks the seventh consecutive year in which countries with declines outnumbered those with improvements. At the same time, the number of countries ranked as Free increased by three, and now stands at 90, suggesting that the overall ferment includes a potential for progress as well as deterioration.

Developments in Egypt in particular encapsulated a pattern in which gains for freedom in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) were threatened by opposition from governments, security forces, ruling families, or religiously based political factions. In Egypt, the year was notable for a flawed but competitive presidential election, the withdrawal of the military from its self-appointed political supremacy, and a continued assertiveness by popular movements in the face of antidemocratic threats.

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