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Democracy in Retreat

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia
November 6, 2013


Originally published in German on Die Zeit:

Over the past three years, the world's attention has been captured by previously unimaginable changes throughout parts of the Arab world, Africa, and Asia, political openings in some of the most repressive societies on earth. In Myanmar, where only five years ago a thuggish junta ordered the shooting of red-robed monks in the streets, the past two years have seen a formal transition to a civilian government. In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and potentially Syria, longtime autocrats were toppled by popular revolutions, and soon citizens in these states seemed to be becoming accustomed to the trappings of freedom.

Yet these events are a smokescreen. In reality democracy is actually going into reverse worldwide. While some nations in Africa, the Arab world, and Asia have opened slightly in the past two years, in other countries once held up as examples of political change, democratic meltdowns have become depressingly common. In its most recent annual international survey, Freedom House, which uses a range of data to assess freedoms in each nation, found that global freedom dropped in 2012 for the sixth year in a row. The same is likely to hold for 2013. At the same time, most authoritarian nations have become more repressive. The decline, Freedom House has noted, was most pronounced among what it called the "middle ground" of nations, primarily in the developing world –nations that have begun democratizing but are not solid democracies. This truculence actually was only made stronger by the Arab Spring, which has led autocratic regimes like China to crack down harder on their own populations, and resulted in rollbacks in Arab countries themselves, such as Egypt.

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