While we celebrate the advances made by the civil rights movement in our country during Black History Month, worldwide civil liberties are on the decline. Independent watchdog group, Freedom House, stated in its Freedom in the World 2014 report that the state of freedom around the globe has declined for the eighth consecutive year. The erosion of civil liberties has been fueled by events that include the military coup in Egypt, the growth of authoritarianism in Venezuela and oppression in Russia.
The failed Arab Spring
The pro-democratic protests that began in Cairo, Egypt in 2011 gave the world hope that reform had finally come. Yet, as the months passed, a military coup followed in July 2013 that deposed democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood.
After his election in June 2012, Morsi’s approval ratings continued to decline due to dissatisfaction with his inability to revive Egypt’s economy. Chaos and disorder filled the streets driving away tourism and investment. The opposition was fueled by Morsi’s move to grant himself extra-judicial powers.
On Thursday, January 30, 2014, more than 60 people were killed in Egypt during clashes related to the third anniversary of the uprising that lead to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. While presidential elections are due to be held soon, the influence of the military is still strong. The increase in violence is being met with increased oppression, including the persecution and imprisonment of journalists.
In an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous explained the current situation.
“So, really, it’s a dark time, I think, for many of the young revolutionaries and activists, who had very high hopes three years ago and have continued in the struggle, and many of whom are in prison now. And it looks like the repressive security state is in ascendancy,” Kouddous said.
The challenge of diversity
Diversity that makes a country strong is also at the heart of what challenges the existence of a democracy. The success of the Arab Spring came from the rising of the masses as one people. But as time went on, the differences in religion and ideology began to tear at the fabric of what had been created with such hope.
In his book, “Sharing Democracy,” Michaele L. Ferguson explored the challenges of forging a democracy with citizens from diverse populations.
What typically happens is that one group begins to fear that another has gained too much power and that the result will be less freedom and privilege for the underrepresented.
Ferguson observed, “This fear of fragmentation is not unique to the Arab world. It shows up regularly in comparatively stable, established democracies in the West. Arthur Schlesinger Jr., for example, famously expressed the concern that identity politics in the United States risked tearing the country apart.”
For a democracy to succeed, its citizens must see themselves as having one commonality as a people. This sense of commonality must be stronger than their individual beliefs and subcultures.
“Finally, commonality must be able to confer legitimacy on democratic institutions and decisions. It must be able to make us more willing to accept rule by those who differ from or disagree with us, because we know that at the end of the day, we still share something important in common,” Ferguson added.
The best and worst of 2013
There wasn’t all bad news in 2013. In a gallery article for FreedomHouse.org titled, “The Best and Worst Human Rights Developments of 2013,” Sarah Trister showcased human rights events from around the world. Her list included:
Worst human rights developments
- Syria: increased number of refugees as the death toll exceeds 100,000 due to fighting between the government and splinter groups.
- China: an expansion of the criminalization of online speech.
- Russia: legislation made it illegal for anyone to advocate for the rights of LGBTI people.
Best human rights developments
- Pakistan: The triumph of Malala Yousafzai, who became a symbol of female empowerment after surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban for advocating for girls’ right to an education.
- Cuba: a lifting of restrictions on exit visas has allowed citizens to travel freely for the first time in 50 years.
- U.S.: The Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) giving same-sex couples the right to marry and receive the same benefits allowed to married couples under federal law.
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