Jew holding Israeli flag in land of Israel
Jew holding Israeli flag in land of IsraelIsrael news photo: Flash 90

The State of Israel “remains the region’s only Free country,” according to the latest annual report by Freedom House, a democracy watchdog organization based in the United States.

The report,  “Freedom in the World 2013,” discussed the state of global freedom, including the impact of the Arab Spring uprisings on the Middle East and on other areas in a detailed executive summary on its home page.

Among the countries that fell under the title, “Worst of the Worst,” which included a list of 47 nations designated as “not free,” nine were given the survey’s lowest possible rating for both political rights and civil liberties. Among them were Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, and Syria.

Strikingly, there was nary a mention of the State of Israel in the section on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). But combing through the first section of the full report, one finds the blunt statement that “Israel remains the region’s only Free country.

“In recent years, controversies have surrounded proposed laws that threatened freedom of expression and the rights of civil society organizations,” continued the report. “In most cases, however, these measures have either been quashed by the government or parliament, or struck down by the Supreme Court. Israeli politics have also been roiled by an escalating controversy over the role of ultra-Orthodox Jews and their positions on issues such as military service and gender equality,” the report briefly noted, before summing up the section on the Middle East.

A total of 90 countries in the world were deemed to be “Free” in 2012, representing 46 percent of the world’s 195 polities and some 3 billion people – 43 (23 percent) percent of the global population. There were 58 nations listed as Partly Free, and 47 (24 percent) countries were labeled Not Free.    The number of electoral democracies stood at 117.

Tunisia was praised as having maintained “dramatic improvements” from last year, but “Syria suffered by far the worst repercussions from the Arab Spring,” and “declines were also seen in Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.”

Libya and Egypt were both moved from the Not Free to Partly Free categories. 

The report cited “a serious decline in civil liberties in Turkey; and among the Persian Gulf states, a steady and disturbing decline in democratic institutions and an increase in repressive policies.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin was seen has having ushered in a “new period of accelerated repression,” setting the tone for Eurasia to rival the Middle East as “one of the most repressive areas on the globe.” The report referred to laws enacted by Putin designed to “squelch a burgeoning societal opposition” that imposed “severe new penalties” on unauthorized demonstrations while restricting the Internet and limiting the ability of civic groups to raise funds to support their work.

No major gains or declines were noted in Western Europe or North America, although both “continue to grapple with the impact of the financial crisis and, in Europe, an increase in nationalist sentiment in response to an influx of immigrants...”