2011 was an impressive year for democratic developments across the world. Protests rocked countries such as Chile, Russia, China and Bahrain, and demonstrators toppled regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. The revolutions that shook the Arab world brought about change worldwide.
Each year, Freedom House conducts a survey of political rights and civil liberties in countries around the world. This year's Freedom House Index concludes that if there is a single overarching message for 2012, it is one of hope.
Freedom House's 2012 report categorizes countries and territories as 'Free,' 'Partly Free,' or 'Not Free.' According to the study, Tunisia showed the largest improvement a country has ever made in a single year, jumping categories from 'Not Free' to 'Partly Free.' The country transitioned from being one of the most repressive in the world under former president Ben Ali to an electoral democracy.
In Egypt, the end of 30 years of authoritarian rule under Hosni Mubarak gave way to the country's first free and democratic elections. Yet the report also notes that Egypt still has a long way to go. The country's military is reluctant to give up power. Reports of jailed bloggers, abuses of female protesters, torture and campaigns against human rights organizations have raised questions about just how much the country's record has improved.
Overall, the number of countries with declining freedoms in 2012 slightly outweighed those showing improvements.
The report reads:
Unfortunately, the gains that were recorded in Tunisia, and to a considerably lesser extend in Egypt and Libya, wer offset by more dubious trends elsewhere in the region. Indeed, the overthrow of autocrats in these countries provoked determined and often violent responses in many others, most notably in Syria where by year's end the Assad dictatorship had killed over 5,000 people in its effort to crush widespread antigovernment protests. Similar if less bloody crackdowns took place in Bahrain and Yemen.
Similarly, the report calls attention to worsening sectarian relations in Iraq. Aggressive attacks against Shiites in the country have left hundreds dead in the past weeks, while represailles against Sunni targets killed dozens.
Myanmar, on the other hand, has made impressive progress in the past months. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was able to register with her political party for the next elections. Press censorship was eased and hundreds of political prisoners have been released.
Check out the top ten countries with the biggest changes in freedoms last year. Do any of these surprise you?