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State of the world: Mideast boosts global democratic progress

Part 3 of the surprisingly upbeat state of the world: Mideast change boosts striking global democratic progress.

(Page 2 of 2)



Libya is still recovering from the warfare that toppled and killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Syria continues to try to brutally repress its restive population. Yemen has been in turmoil through much of 2011, although President Ali Ab­dul­lah Saleh on Nov. 23 finally agreed to transfer power to his vice president, effectively ending his 33 years of authoritarian rule.

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Whichever direction these revolutions take, the region's yearning for freedom is something that has drifted on the winds to other parts of the world.

"You can see repercussions in sub-Saharan Africa, for instance," says Calingaert. "You see popular movements pushing for more openness in Uganda, Malawi, and elsewhere."

Opportunities for democracy presented by the Arab awakening come at a time when the progress of freedom worldwide has slowed after a rapid, decades-long climb.

In 1990, 41 percent of the world's nations were electoral democracies, according to Freedom House. But in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, tyrannies toppled throughout Europe and Asia. In 2006 the spread of democracy peaked, with 64 percent of the world's nations rating democratic status.

Since then, there has been some backsliding. Today, democracies account for 115 of the world's 194 nations, or 59 percent, according to Freedom House's annual report "Freedom in the World."

"The multiyear spate of backsliding is the longest of its kind since 'Freedom in the World' was first published in 1972, and threatens gains dating to the post-Cold War era in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the former Soviet bloc," writes Arch Paddington, Freedom House vice president for research, in the organization's 2011 annual report.

In Latin America, for instance, the scourge of organized drug-related violence pushed Mexico from the category of "free" down to "partly free" in Freedom House's 2011 ratings. A similar slide occurred in Venezuela as a result of President Hugo Chávez's pushing through limitations on the rights of the press and independent political activity. But both Brazil and Colombia became freer as the former held a free and fair presidential election and bitter political polarization continued to fade in the latter.

Africa showed similar conflicting trends of decline and improvement. Ethiopia continued a slow slide downward toward oppression, for example, while Guinea held a free election as it emerged from a military dictatorship.

Overall, Freedom House finds a number of reasons for optimism about democracy's future – among them, that the global economic downturn has not triggered a reversal of democratic institutions in vulnerable countries.

"The past decade began at a high point for freedom and concluded with freedom under duress. The next decade could witness a new wave of democratic development if democracy's champions remember that freedom is more powerful – both as an idea and as the basis for practical governance – than anything its adversaries have to offer," concluded the Freedom House 2011 report.

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