Freedom at Issue:

Insights on the global struggle for democracy

December 2011

David J. Kramer
A months-long campaign against civil-society groups by Egypt’s military leadership came to a head Thursday when Egyptian security forces raided the Cairo offices of Freedom House and several other international and local nongovernmental organizations. These attacks were a major setback to the hopes that emerged this year with the revolution in Tahrir Square. If corrective measures are not taken, the attacks will severely damage Egypt’s long-term stability and prospects for a more democratic future.
Rachel Jacobs

As the waters of Thailand’s monsoon-swollen rivers are finally receding and this year’s unusually devastating floods are declared over across the country, the political landscape is still reeling from the disaster. The months-long crisis and the official response raised a number of questions about the weak points in Thai government institutions. Many reports have assigned blame to individuals or focused on structural factors like corruption and overdevelopment, but the most important issue highlighted by the floods may be the unresolved status of the armed forces. The ambiguity of the military’s constitutional role has enabled its long-standing entanglement in all aspects of political life, including at least 20 coups d’état in the last century.

International attention has turned to Eurasia in recent days, as Kazakhstan uses deadly violence and draconian information controls to crush widening labor unrest in its strategic oil region, and Russia faces the most serious popular challenge to its puppet-theater political system in many years. But long before the current shocks, when things were looking more placid in both countries, there was abundant evidence of trouble to come. Six months ago, Freedom House published a report that pointed to the glaring vulnerabilities of dead-end authoritarian regimes across the former Soviet Union. It noted that these entrenched authoritarian systems exhibited many of the same features that led to the collapse of their Middle Eastern counterparts in the Arab Spring.

There is never a dull moment for the media sphere in China, home to the most elaborate censorship apparatus in the world. Drawing on nearly 40 issues of the China Media Bulletin, Freedom House staff have identified the following as the year’s worst and weirdest developments surrounding press and internet freedom in China.

Thomas R. Lansner
At the end of November, a Kenyan High Court judge ruled that Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir should be arrested “should he ever set foot in Kenya.” The decision is a welcome sign that Kenya’s judiciary is emerging from its long subservience to the country’s powerful and often unaccountable executive branch, and that international law might soon be catching up with more alleged war criminals.

 

Sylvana Habdank-Kołaczkowska

On December 1, Kyrgyzstan inaugurated Almazbek Atambayev as its new president in the country’s first orderly transfer of power since independence. Atambayev won more than 60 percent of the ballots in an election that monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) characterized as peaceful, though suffering from significant irregularities, particularly in the vote tabulation process and the compiling of voter lists.

Mary McGuire

The year 2011 will be remembered as one of immense political and social change around the world, particularly the Middle East. On this International Human Rights Day, Freedom House looks back at a few of the best and worst developments of the year with respect to their long-term implications for the global state of human rights.

Arch Puddington

Perhaps the biggest story to emerge from Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Russia is the central role played by new media. To be sure, the failure of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party to obtain a solid majority in the State Duma, even while cheating, is significant. But the Kremlin-approved parties that profited from the antigovernment protest vote—the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party, the Communist Party, and the faux-opposition A Just Russia party—appear unlikely to stimulate reform. The election results thus reflected deep disillusionment with Putin, but utterly failed to provide a road map to future change.

Tyler Roylance

In a startling one-two punch, China’s Communist regime won accolades last week from high-profile representatives of U.S. business and labor writing in America’s leading national newspapers. In the Wall Street Journal on December 1, former service workers’ union president Andy Stern touted China’s “superior economic model,” and in the New York Times on December 2, prominent Wall Street potentate Steven Rattner offered his guarantee that China’s speeding economic locomotive would remain firmly on track.

Kellen McClure

In October, President Obama announced that he would be involving U.S. forces in yet another conflict on African soil. Just a month and a half after the fall of Tripoli, the president stated that 100 combat-equipped military advisers would be deployed to Central Africa to provide “information, advice, and assistance to select partner nation forces.” The ultimate goal of the mission is the “removal from the battlefield” of Ugandan rebel Joseph Kony and other senior leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

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