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

Freedom at Issue:

Insights on the global struggle for democracy

As Senegal prepares for a pivotal presidential election on February 26, some citizens and outside observers are weighing the possibility of a popular uprising akin to last year’s Arab Spring revolts, with large numbers of Senegalese taking to the streets in defense of their political rights. Another, even more troubling scenario would entail a violent postelection standoff between the entrenched incumbent and forces loyal to his would-be successor, as occurred a year ago in Côte d’Ivoire. The fact that such outcomes are even being discussed illustrates how far Senegal has fallen under the stewardship of President Abdoulaye Wade, who is seeking a third term in office.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet today with Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev to sign a strategic agreements focused on energy and raw materials. Merkel, whose country has been cultivating access to Kazakhstan’s natural resources for some time, is not likely to devote much of the discussion to her guest’s domestic troubles. Nazarbayev prefers to present Kazakhstan as an eager business partner, committed to its international obligations and open to gradual reforms, and foreign governments and companies often have an economic interest in accepting this image at face value. However, recent events suggest that popular frustration with the country’s authoritarian system is becoming more difficult to ignore.

Since its foundation in 1923, the Republic of Turkey has endured three military coups against democratically elected governments, in 1960, 1971, and 1980. A fourth military intervention—in the form of an ultimatum—brought down a coalition government led by the Islamist Refah Partisi (Welfare Party) in 1997. Since 2002, however, the Adelet ve Kalkına Partisi (Justice and Development Party, or AKP) has consolidated power, offering a platform of political conservatism with an Islamic bent and neoliberal economic development that has garnered unprecedented popular support.

The progress that sub-Saharan Africa has achieved in building democracy over the past generation is coming undone. After two decades of significant gains, the continent has experienced a steady decline in democracy over the last several years.

Writing on the revolutions of Central Europe in the New York Review of Books two decades ago, scholar Timothy Garton Ash made the observation that “the crucial medium was television. In Europe, at the end of the twentieth century all revolutions are telerevolutions.”                                                                                                          
Today, one could argue that all revolutions, at least in their nascent stages, are social media revolutions. However, this does not mean that television has been tossed onto the ash heap of history. In fact, in settings where the state retains dominance over television, it is in many ways functioning as a counterrevolutionary medium.

The offices of Freedom House, along with those of 10 other organizations, were raided and closed by Egyptian police on December 29th. Since then, the assault on Egyptian civil society has intensified, and pressure on U.S. democracy organizations in Egypt has grown. In an attempt to justify its actions, the Egyptian government has engaged in an aggressive campaign of misinformation about what is taking place. In response, we offer the following fact sheet.

 

To mark the first anniversary of Egypt’s January 25 revolution—which resulted in the fall of long-time president Hosni Mubarak just 18 days later—a coalition of more than 80 revolutionary groups issued  a statement underscoring just how unfinished the revolution really is.

Last week, Freedom House released the 2012 edition of Freedom in the World, its annual survey of political rights and civil liberties. According to the report, Egypt remains in the Not Free category, but with a number of score improvements and an upward trend arrow to reflect progress since the ouster of long-standing president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. Some might argue that this assessment does not give sufficient credit to the achievements of the uprising, while others will insist that the improvements registered in the report are not justified in light of ongoing repression.

In an op-ed published in the New York Times last April, we took a cautiously optimistic view on the possibility of a breakthrough for media freedom in post-Mubarak Egypt.  We argued that if state-controlled media, especially television, underwent serious reform, it would tip the balance toward an open information landscape, particularly when combined with the revolution in online social media in the country.

Now, one year since the January 25, 2011, onset of the uprising in Egypt, we are far more cautious than optimistic.

As we mark the first anniversary of the events that led to the Arab Spring, it is worth highlighting the uprisings’ far-reaching repercussions for freedom, both in the region and beyond. Freedom in the World, the report on global freedom issued annually by Freedom House, found more declines than gains worldwide for 2011, but we believe that the overarching message for the year is one of hope and not reversal.

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