THE Freedom House 2005 survey (for every country’s civil and political rights) grades each country (from a best of one to a worst of seven) and then simplifies these scores into a broader categorisation of “free”, “partly free” or “not free”. (For example, the US and Australia are “free”; Burma and Cuba are “not free”; Turkey and Nigeria are “partly free”.) Because countries usually evolve gradually, not many of the numeric scores change in any one year and even a rise or fall in a country’s score is usually insufficient to move it from one of the three categories to another.
This year, however, more countries than usual changed category. Eight countries plus the Palestinian Authority, not yet officially a country, moved up from “not free” to “partly free” or from “partly free” to “free”. Four countries moved down. In all, this made it a good year for freedom.
But here’s the really interesting part. Of the nine countries that improved their ratings, no fewer than six are Muslim countries. Indonesia moved from “partly free” to “free”, while Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Mauritania and the Palestinian Authority moved from “not free” to “partly free”. Of the four countries that became less free in 2005, none was a Muslim country.
Some of the credit for reversing this belongs to President George W. Bush’s strategy of promoting freedom and democracy, including by means of war in Iraq. Saad Edin Ibrahim, the dean of Egyptian dissidents and an opponent of the war in Iraq, said recently that it had “unfrozen the Middle East just as Napoleon’s 1798 expedition did”. There is still plenty to debate about the war. And success in Iraq remains far from assured. Despite progress, Freedom House still counts Iraq as “not free” as of the end of November.