Despite threats posed by international terrorism, respect for political rights and civil liberties continues to increase around the world. That is the conclusion of Freedom House, the New York-based group that has been surveying progress toward freedom for three decades.
In its report for 2002, Freedom House says that gains were registered by twenty-nine countries, compared to sixteen in 2001. Four countries -- Brazil, Lesotho, Senegal, and Yugoslavia -- moved up to the “free” category, according to Freedom House. Eighty-nine countries are now ranked as free -- more than double the number in 1972.
On the negative side, the survey shows that sixteen countries registered setbacks, including Ivory Coast, which dropped into the “not free” category. Freedom House now rates forty-seven countries as not free -- far fewer than the sixty-nine in 1972. Another fifty-six countries are rated as “partly free” -- compared to thirty-eight three decades ago.
Freedom House says the proportion of the world’s people living in free countries has climbed from thirty-five percent in 1972 to forty-four percent today. The proportion living in countries rated not free has dropped from forty-seven percent to thirty-five percent. Progress has been most dramatic in Latin America, the Asia-Pacific region, and central and Eastern Europe. Modest progress has been made in Africa.
But as Freedom House points out, “The Middle East and many majority Islamic countries have seen stagnation in terms of overall levels of freedom in the last three decades.” This conclusion is in line with the 2002 Arab Human Development Report written by leading Arab scholars and issued by the United Nations. The U-N report said, “The wave of democracy that has transformed governance in most of the world has barely reached the Arab states. The freedom deficit undermines human development.”
Freedom House says that six of the nine most repressive countries in the world are in the Middle East or are predominantly Muslim. They are Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Turkmenistan. The other three are Burma, Cuba, and North Korea. But Freedom House stresses that the majority of the world’s Muslims “live under democratically elected governments, in countries like Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and Turkey.” Moreover, there has been some progress toward political reform in the Middle East, especially in such countries as Bahrain, Qatar, and Morocco.
Despite the obvious need for more progress, as Secretary of State Colin Powell has said, Americans “reject the condescending notion that freedom will not grow in the Middle East, or that there is any region of the world that cannot support democracy.”