The Top 10 Trends in Global Freedom

Foreign Policy Magazine

One might expect, given last year's headlines across the Middle East -- as well as promising political developments in authoritarian countries from Myanmar to Cuba -- that 2011 was a banner year for freedom. The reality is more complicated. The year was indeed noteworthy for some significant and potentially even historic achievements, but many societies endured intensified repression.

Each year, Freedom House issues its Freedom in the World report, a comprehensive global tally of the gains and losses for freedom over the previous year, designating countries as free, not free, or partly free based on their performance on a series of numerically based indicators.

In raw numbers, the state of freedom at the end of 2011 looked like this: 87 free countries, 60 partly free countries, and 48 not-free countries. Out of 195 countries, 117 are electoral democracies, two more than the year previous, but still six fewer than in the high-water mark year of 2005.

Unfortunately, the number of countries exhibiting gains this past year, 12, was lower than the number of countries that declined, 26. Yes, several Arab countries improved, but even more launched retaliatory crackdowns on dissent. Serious declines were also noted in Central and Eastern Europe.

Just as important as the numbers, though, are the events and developments that drove the year's trends. Freedom House has called 2011 a potentially transformational year, much like 1989, because of the demands for freedom that were at the core of the Arab uprisings. To this end, we've identified the following as the year's 10 most significant developments.

Read the rest of this piece and see the photo slideshow here.

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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