Authoritarian rulers in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt last year asserted their interests in reckless ways that perpetuated long-running conflicts in Libya and Yemen and initiated a sudden attempt to blockade Qatar, a hub of international trade and transport, according to a new report released by the independent watchdog organisation, Freedom House.
The ‘Freedom in the World 2018’ report revealed that 71 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties, with only 35 registering gains. This marked the 12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom, the report noted.
According to Freedom House, which analysed data from 195 countries over the 2017 calendar year, 88 countries were rated ‘free’, 58 ‘partly free’ and 49 ‘not free’ in the report.
While a score of 1 denotes ‘most free’ in terms of political rights, civil liberties and freedom rating, countries with a score of 7 in any of these parameters is considered ‘least free’. For the aggregate score, 0 is ‘least free’ and 100 ‘most free’.
All three Gulf countries that have imposed the unjust siege on Qatar have got the worst possible score in terms of political rights – 7, while Egypt is right behind them at 6, the report’s findings show.
Among the 49 countries rated ‘not free’, Saudi Arabia featured among the 12 nations with the worst aggregate score – 7 out of 100, a drop from last year’s 10. Further, a break-up of the score shows that Saudi fared abysmally across different parameters – securing the lowest score in political rights (7), civil liberties (7) and freedom rating (7.0). The 2017 scores were the same across these parameters.
Meanwhile, the UAE – also on the ‘not free’ list of countries – recorded a lowest possible score of 7 in terms of political rights, which also represented a drop from last year’s score of 6. While the civil liberties score remained unchanged at a lowly 6, the country saw the freedom rating score fall from 6 last year to 6.5 this time.
Overall, the UAE’s aggregate score fell from 20 in the 2017 report to 17 in the latest one.
Bahrain, too, fared poorly with an aggregate score of 12, the same as last year, which ensured that the country featured on the ‘not free’ list. In terms of the different parameters, Bahrain scored 7 in political rights, 6 in civil liberties and 6.5 in freedom rating, the same as in the 2017 report.
While Egypt’s aggregate score remained unchanged at 26, its civil liberties score deteriorated from last year’s 5 to 6 this time. Also, it fared worse in terms of freedom rating – dropping from 5.5 in 2017 to 6 this year. The political rights score is the same at 6.
The report observed that “promises of reform from a powerful new crown prince in Saudi Arabia added an unexpected variable, though his nascent social and economic changes were accompanied by hundreds of arbitrary arrests and aggressive moves against potential rivals, and he showed no inclination to open the political system”.
On Egypt, it said “rather than reforming its abusive security services and enlisting support from all segments of Egyptian society, the regime continued its repression of dissent in 2017 and adopted a restrictive new law designed to choke off international funding for non-governmental organisations and provide legal cover for their arbitrary closure”.
The report also noted that Yemen’s civil war churned on despite a late-year rift in the rebel alliance, leaving some three-quarters of the population in need of humanitarian aid. Small groups of war-weary protesters in Sanaa repeatedly turned out to demand the release of political prisoners and an international response aimed at ending the violence, it added.
“The Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen’s ousted government continued its indiscriminate bombing campaign, while in Saudi Arabia itself, Mohamed bin Salman worked to consolidate power after replacing the previous crown prince in June. Among other rapid and opaque decisions during the year, he arbitrarily detained hundreds of princes, officials, and businessmen under the pretense of an anti-corruption campaign,” the report said.
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