Freedom includes many things: freedom from autocracy and/or flogging. (The autocratic practices in Egypt, by, say, President Sisi, is what prompted us to coin the term “autocrasisi”. We are also a bit worried about the “blogger flogger” phenomena in Saudi Arabia… and how oil spoils many governments’ operating plans.) Freedom also means freedom from the state pre-determining a citizen’s destiny.
Two huge U.S.-based NGOs, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, released their reports on human rights and political rights, respectively, in the same week. According to the Freedom House report, only 19,206,000 of the 410,277,000 people in what they define as the MENA region, are able to politically and civically engage without getting thrown in jail or suffer bodily harm.
On a regional level:
- Only two MENA countries, Tunisia and Israel, received ‘Free’ rankings; 3 countries received ‘Partly Free’ and the remaining 13 countries received ‘Not Free’ — see PITA Bits section for listing of countries with comments.
- The average regional freedom score for MENA was 70.21, which teeters on ‘Partly Free’.
- Libya lost its ‘Partly Free’ status this year–joining Egypt, which fell to “Not Free” last year.
January 2015 could not wind down completely without taking stock on the impact of state actors upholding–or not upholding– its citizens’ rights… and highlighting ISIS as a semi-state actor in three countries (Syria, Iraq, Jordan). Human Rights Watch 2015 Report: http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2015/country-chapters/132018
At the same time, repressive practices by leaders did not go unnoticed. The HRW report revisited Egypt “brutal reign of the general-turned-president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi,” has led to “unprecedented repression”. Dare we say “autocraSisi” when he refused Human Rights Watch entry into Egypt to monitor human rights abuse claims.
In that vein, the #FreedomReport went one step further and linked how repressing political rights lead to conflict, which leads to huge economic costs by stating:
“Antidemocratic practices lead to civil and war and humanitarian crisis. They facilitate the growth of terrorist movements, whose effects inevitably spread beyond national borders. Corruption and poor governance fuel economic instability.”
Resource Curse: Rent a Citizen
On that note of economic instability, the “resource curse” made an appearance. Resource curse argues that countries’ government officials (who are both the political and economic elite) can use natural resource wealth to take care of its citizens in exchange for political legitimacy. These are known as “rentier economies” since the state collects rent from its major resource: oil, natural gas, or precious metals. Think “Rent a Citizen”.
The panelists specifically noted Saudi Arabia and Bahrain’s kingdom’s worry: falling oil prices for oil exporting countries will literally fuel internal political debates about political rights and freedom of expression according to Brookings Fellow, Tamara Coffman-Wittes.
Decline of oil prices & #ResourceCurse will affect democracy trajectory 2016 Freedom Report.-Wittes
However, the oil factor, and its related “resource curse” goes beyond the few Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Look at Algeria and Libya. Currently, Algeria is considered ‘Partly Free’, but they are already dealing with internal mumblings.
Whereas Human Rights Watch focuses on the legal rights and protections against violence, Freedom House digs deeper in 197 countries by measuring how free a country is: ‘Free’, ‘Partly Free’, or ‘Not Free’. How? FH assess each country’s citizens political rights and civil liberties by reviewing how civic organizations and media outlets’ are treated in country.
PITA Bits & Bites
The following three categories are Freedom House’s classification based on how countries treat its citizens legally and politically through civic organizations and media outlets.
- Israel – See report on Gaza.
- Tunisia (112)- First time since the 1970s an Arab country received a ‘Free’ ranking. That honor used to be held by Lebanon.
- Lebanon (112)
- Kuwait (127) – Government using repressive measures to quell political dissent, according to @HamadAlmatar
- Algeria (127)
- Turkey (134)
-President Erdogan told a delegation of press freedom advocates Turkey doesn’t need an independent media, according to Freedom House panel.
“Authoritarian drift undermines rights. Kurdish peace process threatened” according to the World Human Rights Watch Report 2015 (#WR2015)
- Libya (134)
- Qatar (152)
- Egypt (155)
- Morocco (147)
- Jordan (155)
- Iraq (157)
– its political rights score fell from ‘5’ to ‘6’ because of Isis of persecution of Christians, Shi’ite,Yazidis
-political rights received a downward trend score since ISIS situation raised a red flag
- Oman (161)
- Yemen (167)
- UAE (167)
- Sudan (176)
- West Bank/Gaza – Palestine (179)
- Saudi Arabia (181)
-Remember Raef Badawi in blogger flog incident? He called for a day of liberalism and campaigned for ending government dominance over public life using religion. The blogger received a 10 year prison sentence and 1,000 lashes.
-Had highest twitter penetration rate in 2013.
-Companies like Twitter and Google know that Saudi has largest market share in Arab world. Given that they mind big data, there is an element of market interest and corporate social responsibility for these information technology companies to get more involved with information sharing practices and human rights protection. In essence, we argue that these types of companies have a responsibility to their consumers in and around the GCC region.
- Bahrain (188) – How much does it cost to jail political prisoners?
رايت ووتش 2014 : قامت حكومة #الكويت باجراءات قمعية لإخماد المعارضة السياسي
لا زالت قوات الأمن في #البحرين تستخدم القوة المفرطة في فض المظاهرات دون محاسبة @NABEELRAJAB
-In 2014, 4 award-winning photographers were in or facing jail in #Bahrain.
- Syria (189)
- Iran (190)
Note: Afghanistan ranked as ‘Not Free’; Pakistan (147) ranked as ‘Partly Free’
In fairness, let’s look at the global picture…. Freedom has declined for 9 consecutive years, according to the 2015 #FreedomReport. Aside from the MENA region, each regional hub of –regardless of their perception of freedom–stands to improve. As noted by the panelist, and political scientists, Michael Caster commented on that no country has a monopoly on the best practices of freedom:
Absolutely, U.S. & western societies can continue to improve democratic institutions, despite “Free” ratings.