In light of the recent uprisings in the Middle East, I thought I'd examine the concept of freedom in that region. Freedom House was founded in 1941 by Americans that were concerned about the mounting threats to world peace and democracy, a threat that despite their efforts still exists today. Freedom House is "an independent watchdog organization that supports the expansion of freedom around the world..." and acts to oppose tyranny throughout the world by promoting United States policymakers to adopt and advocate policies that advance human rights.
Freedom House releases an annual report that assesses the world's political rights and civil liberties by country. Each country is scored on a scale of 1 to 7 for each of political rights and civil liberties with the following characteristics for each level as taken from the Freedom House website:
Rating of 1 – Countries and territories with a rating of 1 enjoy a wide range of political rights, including free and fair elections. Candidates who are elected actually rule, political parties are competitive, the opposition plays an important role and enjoys real power, and minority groups have reasonable self-government or can participate in the government through informal consensus.
Rating of 2 – Countries and territories with a rating of 2 have slightly weaker political rights than those with a rating of 1 because of such factors as some political corruption, limits on the functioning of political parties and opposition groups, and foreign or military influence on politics.
Ratings of 3, 4, 5 – Countries and territories with a rating of 3, 4, or 5 include those that moderately protect almost all political rights to those that more strongly protect some political rights while less strongly protecting others. The same factors that undermine freedom in countries with a rating of 2 may also weaken political rights in those with a rating of 3, 4, or 5, but to an increasingly greater extent at each successive rating.
Rating of 6 – Countries and territories with a rating of 6 have very restricted political rights. They are ruled by one-party or military dictatorships, religious hierarchies, or autocrats. They may allow a few political rights, such as some representation or autonomy for minority groups, and a few are traditional monarchies that tolerate political discussion and accept public petitions.
Rating of 7 – Countries and territories with a rating of 7 have few or no political rights because of severe government oppression, sometimes in combination with civil war. They may also lack an authoritative and functioning central government and suffer from extreme violence or warlord rule that dominates political power.
Rating of 1 – Countries and territories with a rating of 1 enjoy a wide range of civil liberties, including freedom of expression, assembly, association, education, and religion. They have an established and generally fair system of the rule of law (including an independent judiciary), allow free economic activity, and tend to strive for equality of opportunity for everyone, including women and minority groups.
Rating of 2 – Countries and territories with a rating of 2 have slightly weaker civil liberties than those with a rating of 1 because of such factors as some limits on media independence, restrictions on trade union activities, and discrimination against minority groups and women.
Ratings of 3, 4, 5 – Countries and territories with a rating of 3, 4, or 5 include those that moderately protect almost all civil liberties to those that more strongly protect some civil liberties while less strongly protecting others. The same factors that undermine freedom in countries with a rating of 2 may also weaken civil liberties in those with a rating of 3, 4, or 5, but to an increasingly greater extent at each successive rating.
Rating of 6 – Countries and territories with a rating of 6 have very restricted civil liberties. They strongly limit the rights of expression and association and frequently hold political prisoners. They may allow a few civil liberties, such as some religious and social freedoms, some highly restricted private business activity, and some open and free private discussion.
Rating of 7 – Countries and territories with a rating of 7 have few or no civil liberties. They allow virtually no freedom of expression or association, do not protect the rights of detainees and prisoners, and often control or dominate most economic activity."
Each country is then categorized by their overall rating. Ratings of 1.0 to 2.5 are considered free, 3.0 to 5.0 are partly free and 5.5 to 7.0 are considered not free.
Let's take a look at Freedom House' assessment of overall freedom in the Middle East in their Freedom in the World 2011 Survey Release. Please note that the 2011 Survey reflects results from the previous year, 2010. On an entire area basis, 78 percent of Middle East countries are considered not free and by total population, 88 percent of Middle East countries' citizens are considered not free. Here is a graph showing the results for the Middle East:
Let's compare this to Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, a region that was in large part considered not free in the past. On an entire area basis, 24 percent of Central and Eastern European countries are considered not free and by total population, 54 percent of Central and Eastern European countries' citizens are considered not free. Here is a graph showing the results for the Central and Eastern European countries:
Even Sub-Saharan Africa fares better than the Middle East. On an entire area basis, 35 percent of Sub-Saharan countries are considered not free and by total population, 37 percent of Sub-Saharan countries citizens are considered not free. Here is a graph showing the results for the Sub-Saharan countries:
Now let's summarize the freedom scoring for the Middle East countries that have been in the news lately. Please note that for comparison's sake, I've added the scores for Myanmar and China, two nations that are not widely considered to be free.
Here's a screen capture of the Freedom House world map showing the Middle East region; the purple colour highlights the nations that are not free, the yellow colour highlights the partly free nations and green colour highlights the nations that are free. As we sense, there certainly are not many nations with anything approaching even partial freedom in the Middle East:
In their 2001 report, Freedom House makes the following statement:
"Freedom House concludes that there is a dramatic, expanding gap in the levels of freedom and democracy between Islamic countries and the rest of the world. Freedom in the World 2001-2002 finds that a non-Islamic country is more than three times likely to be democratic than an Islamic state.
"This freedom and democracy divide exists not only between Islamic countries and the prosperous West," said Adrian Karatnycky, Freedom House president and coordinator of the survey. "There is a growing chasm between the Islamic community and the rest of world. While most Western and non-western countries are moving towards greater levels of freedom, the Islamic world is lagging behind."
"In the wake of the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, it is imperative that policymakers around the globe give serious attention to the democracy gap in the Islamic world," said Freedom House chairman Bill Richardson."
Apparently, those involved in the uprisings of the past few weeks are growing rather tired of high levels of unemployment and associated poverty accompanied by a lack of freedom in countries where they are so obviously ruled by those who lack for nothing and control everything. Perhaps it is time for policy makers in democratic nations to step up to the plate and do the right thing for those who so badly need assistance, without attempting to gain yet another form of colonial control over those who are so vulnerable.