Max Fisher reports: The societies of the Middle East and North Africa are not much freer than they were one year ago, according to the new annual report by Freedom House on global trends in freedom. The 2012 Freedom in the World report, out today, finds that political rights and civil liberties in the region were pulled back almost as much as they were advanced. It seems that, although the popular democracy movements of the Arab Spring ejected three dictators and altered the region, perhaps forever, Middle Eastern autocrats and monarchs are fighting back, nearly to a draw.
The people of the Middle East and North Africa are still the least free in the world, according to Freedom House’s authoritative data. Their annual report characterizes 85 percent of Middle Easterners as “not free,” 13 percent as “partly free,” and only 2 percent as “free.” (By comparison, 39 percent of Sub-Saharan Africans — half the rate of the Middle East — are considered “not free.”) That didn’t really change this year. Middle Easterners may be organizing, protesting, fighting, and often dying for freedom, but they have by and large still not gotten it.
Freedom House describes a country’s freedom on a one-to-seven scale, with seven as the least free, for political rights and for civil liberties. For example, the U.S. receives a “one” for both political rights and civil liberties, while North Korea has a “seven” for each. According to this metric, political rights changed in only one of the region’s 21 countries and territories: Tunisia, where peaceful revolution brought the score down from a Stalinist seven to an Eastern European-style three. Civil liberties actually got worse in the aggregate. Revolution and reform brought one-point drops in Tunisia, Libya, and Lebanon; but fearful dictators and bloody crackdowns saw the scores rise by a point each in six countries: Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and the Western Sahara.