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Anxious Dictators, Wavering Democracies, Freedom of the World 2016

Categories: Articles:Human Rights | Published: 11/03/2016 | Views: 1294
The world was battered in 2015 by overlapping crises that fuelled xenophobic sentiment in democratic countries, undermined the economies of states dependent on the sale of natural resources, and led authoritarian regimes to crack down harder on dissent. These unsettling developments contributed to the 10th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.

The number of countries showing a decline in freedom for the year—72—was the largest since the 10-year slide began. Just 43 countries made gains. Over the past 10 years, 105 countries have seen a net decline, and only 61 have experienced a net improvement.  Ratings for the Middle East and North Africa region were the worst in the world in 2015, followed closely by Eurasia.  Over the last decade, the most significant global reversals have been in freedom of expression and the rule of law.

Front and center was the democratic world’s inability to present a unified and credible strategy to end the murderous war in Syria and deal with the refugee crisis triggered by the conflict. Having failed to support the moderate opposition to authoritarian president Bashar al-Assad in the conflict’s early stages, the United States and Europe are now confronted with a crisis of global proportions. With its bewildering interplay of regional powers, proxy forces, jihadist groups, and urgent humanitarian priorities, Syria represents the most complex challenge to peace and stability in years, and thus far the leaders of the free world have fallen short even as fundamental democratic principles come under threat in their own countries.

The democracies of Europe and the United States struggled to cope with the Syrian civil war and other unresolved regional conflicts. In addition to compounding the misery and driving up the death toll of civilians in the affected territories, the fighting generated unprecedented numbers of refugees and incubated terrorist groups that inspired or organized attacks on targets abroad. In democratic countries, these stresses led to populist, often bigoted reactions as well as new security measures, both of which threaten the core values of an open society.

The year also featured the slowdown of China’s economy and a related plunge in commodity prices, which hit profligate, export-dependent authoritarian regimes especially hard. Anticipating popular unrest, dictators redoubled political repression at home and lashed out at perceived foreign enemies.

However, in several important countries, elections offered a peaceful way out of failed policies and mismanagement. Voters in places including Nigeria, Venezuela, and Myanmar rejected incumbents and gave new leaders or parliaments an opportunity to tackle corruption, economic decay, and corrosive security problems. These fresh starts suggest that democratic systems may ultimately prove more resilient than their brittle authoritarian counterparts.       Read more: Freedom House, 09/03/2016

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