Slouching Toward Democracy
by Vanessa Tucker
Director for Analysis
Last week's outpouring of anti-Americanism -- touched off by an obscure film that denigrates Islam -- brought questions about Middle East democracy into sharper focus and prompted a number of commentators to write their Arab Spring obituaries. Some interpreted the riots spreading across the Muslim world as proof positive that the Middle East is inherently hostile territory for freedom of expression and other democratic rights. Others questioned the wisdom of continuing American aid. But before we give up on the popular uprisings that toppled four of the region's most intransigent autocrats, we should take a closer look at the actual state of democracy in these countries.
Countries at the Crossroads, Freedom House's annual survey of democratic governance, does exactly that. Released this week, Crossroads analyzes the performance of 35 states in four critical spheres: government accountability and public voice, civil liberties, rule of law, and anticorruption and transparency. The study, based on the analysis of individual country experts and panels of regional advisers, offers in-depth narratives and numerical scores that outline progress and deterioration in democratic governance. In this year's edition, declines far exceeded improvements in the 35 states covered, but there were still some glimmers of hope -- including in the Middle East.
The Crossroads findings show that the initial democratic gains in countries that experienced uprisings in 2011 have yet to be solidified with real institutional reform. However, this does not mean the countries in question should be written off as undemocratic basket cases. Instead, it indicates that democratization will require a sustained effort to overhaul the dysfunctional and repressive institutions produced by decades of authoritarian misrule. The enormity of the task will require an almost endless supply of political will. Rather than turning away from political transitions that seem to have produced very little to date, Americans should renew their support for the development of democratic institutions in the region, and encourage their leaders to do the same.
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