DC think tank ranks Israel 45th most free country in world
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Turkey loses its designation as an electoral democracy

DC think tank ranks Israel 45th most free country in world

Freedom House survey of 195 countries gives Israel 80 out of maximum of 100 points; West Bank scores 28, Gaza just 12

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Bezalel Academy of Art students protest against what they see as curbs on freedom of speech, December 14, 2016. (Screen capture, Bezalel Academy facebook page)
Bezalel Academy of Art students protest against what they see as curbs on freedom of speech, December 14, 2016. (Screen capture, Bezalel Academy facebook page)

Israel is ranked 45th most free of 195 countries and 14 territories in the latest freedom index published by Washington-based think tank Freedom House.

Freedom in the World 2017 evaluates the state of freedom during 2016. Each country and territory was assigned between zero and four points on a series of 25 indicators, for an aggregate score of up to 100. The researchers took into account state as well as non-state actors, including insurgents and other armed groups.

These scores were used to determine numerical ratings for political rights and civil liberties, with a rating of one representing the most free conditions and seven the least free. These ratings determined a country’s overall status as free, partly free, or not free.

Israel scored 80 points out of a “most-free” maximum of 100, placing just ahead of Brazil and behind Bulgaria.

And it scored one — the highest ranking possible — for freedom of political rights, and two for freedom of civil rights. The report does not detail how the think tank came to this conclusion

Israel’s scores are the same as it received in 2015.

By contrast, the West Bank, which is listed under “Related and Disputed Territories,” scored seven — the worst possible figure — for freedom of political rights and five for its record on civil liberties. Its aggregate score was 28 and it was listed as not free.

The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip — also categorized as not free — did better than the West Bank on political rights,scoring five, but worse on civil rights, getting six points. Its aggregate score was a lowly 12.

Syrians walk along a damaged street in Aleppo's Tareeq al-Bab neighbourhood on January 18, 2017, a month after government forces retook the northern Syrian city from rebel fighters. (AFP Photo/George Ourfalian)
Syrians walk along a damaged street in Aleppo’s Tareeq al-Bab neighbourhood on January 18, 2017, a month after government forces retook the northern Syrian city from rebel fighters. (AFP Photo/George Ourfalian)

Syria came bottom of the freedom ranking, with Saudi Arabia 10th from the bottom and Jordan and Turkey 56th and 55th from the bottom, respectively.

The Middle East and North Africa remained the world’s worst performing region in 2016, the research found.

“In 2016, it demonstrated the depths to which human freedom can fall after decades of authoritarian misrule, corruption, and erratic foreign interventions.”

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa (R) welcomes his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi upon his arrival at the Belem monastery on the beginning of a state visit in Lisbon, on November 21, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/JOSE MANUEL RIBEIRO)
Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa (R) welcomes his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi upon his arrival at the Belem monastery on the beginning of a state visit in Lisbon, on November 21, 2016. (AFP/Jose Manuel Ribeiro)

Under the title “The False Promise of Strongman Rule,” the report issues a damning indictment of Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

Sissi became president in 2014, a year after the army ousted then-president Mohammed Morsi. He won praised from some democratic politicians — especially those on the right — for toppling the Muslim Brotherhood incumbent and ruthlessly cracking down on both Morsi’s supporters and an armed insurgency led by the Islamic State group.

“Sissi is held up as a promising partner in the fight against Islamist terrorism,” the report said. “A closer look at his performance reveals not just a feckless and thuggish security apparatus that has failed to quell the insurgency, but also a pattern of corruption and economic mismanagement that is bringing Egypt to its knees.”

A total of 67 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties in 2016, compared with 36 that registered gains. This marked the 11th consecutive year in which declines outnumbered improvements, the report said.

“But while in previous years the declines in freedom were generally concentrated among autocracies and dictatorships that just went from bad to worse, in 2016 it was established democracies — countries rated free in the report’s ranking system — that dominated the list of countries suffering setbacks.”

“In fact, free countries accounted for a larger share of the countries with declines than at any time in the past decade, and nearly one-quarter of the countries registering declines in 2016 were in Europe,” the report said.

The number of countries designated as free stood at 87 in 2016, representing 45 percent of the world’s countries. The countries deemed not free numbered 49, and 59 countries were categorized as partly free.

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, center, is applauded by some of his lawmakers after Turkey's parliament approved a contentious constitutional reform package, paving the way for a referendum on a presidential system that would greatly expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's office, on January 21, 2017 in Ankara. (Adem Altan/AFP)
Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, center, is applauded by some of his lawmakers after Turkey’s parliament approved a contentious constitutional reform package, paving the way for a referendum on a presidential system that would greatly expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office, on January 21, 2017 in Ankara. (Adem Altan/AFP)

The number of electoral democracies stood at 123, two fewer than in 2015. Turkey was among three countries to lose its designation as an electoral democracy.

In May, the demotion of Israel’s “press freedom” ranking by Freedom House from “free” to “partly free” was explained by a combination of economic pressures, a rare indictment against a journalist for possession of confidential military documents, and limits on travel to neighboring states.

With 31 points in the 100-point scale, where a higher number represented more restrictions on press freedom, Israel was tied with Chile, South Korea and Namibia in 65th place in a list of 197 countries. Close behind Israel in the index were Italy, India and Greece.

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