Freedom at Issue: Insights on the global struggle for democracy | Freedom House

Freedom at Issue:

Insights on the global struggle for democracy

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has gone to great lengths to market itself to the world as a cosmopolitan oasis and regional hub for education, culture, and finance. Substantial donations to New York University and the Sorbonne have lured these prestigious institutions to open satellite campuses in Abu Dhabi. The Guggenheim and Louvre have also expanded their collections to satellite museums in the Emirati capital. However, as the UAE authorities escalate their repression of civil society, the cracks in the country’s veneer of relative tolerance are becoming more apparent.


Today, as on March 8 every year since 1911, men and women around the globe celebrate the contributions women make to humankind. Although both egregious abuses and subtle discrimination persist worldwide, real progress toward gender equality, which means progress for humanity as a whole, appears to be gaining momentum.

My husband, Gao Zhisheng, is a lawyer who has always fought for the rights of the vulnerable social groups in China including working pro bono for poor people.  In China, the abused party is usually vulnerable social groups and the abusing party is usually the one with power.  In this context, lawyers defending the abused party come under huge pressure and face threats from the powerful.  Gao Zhisheng doesn’t fear the powerful. He spreads righteousness and human rights by taking advantage of his capacity as a lawyer.  His familiarity with the law and his eloquence have allowed him to win justice for many victims.  Because of his work, he has also won his reputation and the love of the people.  He was even praised by the official media and has won numerous prizes.

Even as Egypt prepares to elect a new People’s Assembly to replace the chamber that was dissolved by court order in early 2012, the Islamist government is ushering crucial new laws on civil society organizations (CSOs) through the upper house of parliament, the Shura Council. Far from easing the already problematic restrictions of the Mubarak era, the proposed measures would expose CSOs to criminal penalties and arbitrary closure for a range of vaguely defined infractions.

The start of President Obama’s second term is an excellent time to reinvigorate and reimagine America’s foreign policy agenda in the area of human rights and economic development. We need a new approach, and we need to do a better job of explaining to the American people the critical importance of an activist and engaged foreign policy.

 

Next Monday, Kenyans will go to the polls for what are regarded as the most important general elections in the country’s history. But these voters face a less than inspiring choice. Regardless of whom they elect, it is doubtful that the process will result in a much-needed transformation of the dominant political culture, which is characterized by ethnic favoritism, widespread corruption, and impunity for human rights violations.

This Sunday, Ecuadorians will go to the polls to choose a president in what is expected to be a landslide reelection victory for President Rafael Correa. Pollsters predict that Correa will win by as many as 40-50% over the leading opposition candidate, Guillermo Lasso, the former head of the Ecuadorian bank, Banco de Guayaquil. Correa’s PAIS party is also likely to win an overwhelming majority of the 137 National Assembly seats, which will be contested on the same day. While Correa’s victory will serve to reinforce the global perception that he is an immensely popular president, there is a far darker reality:  Correa has managed one of Latin America’s largest democratic declines in recent decades.

A thick skin is a necessary prerequisite for every successful politician, at least in democratic societies. Love them or hate them, political satirists like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are symbols of the deep-seated respect for freedom of opinion in the United States (as well as Americans’ love of a public roasting). In nondemocratic parts of the world, however, politicians are much less willing to become the butt of the joke.

The Egyptian public and the international community were shocked last week by televised images of civilian Hamada Saber being dragged, stripped, and brutally beaten by police officers amid ongoing clashes between police and protesters in Cairo.

Gérard Depardieu’s bombastic personality and distinguished acting career have made him a cultural icon in France. However, he recently earned international notoriety by embracing Russian president Vladimir Putin and announcing that he would give up his French passport in favor of a Russian one.

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