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MidEast Freedom Rankings: Syria Worst, Tunisia in Decline, says Freedom House


Syria is the least and Israel is the most free country in the Middle East and North Africa region, while Turkey remains one of the worst performing countries of Europe, according to Freedom House.

The US-based international human rights watchdog released its 50th annual Freedom in the world report this week. It reviewed access to political rights and civil liberties in 195 countries and 15 territories between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 2022. The nations are rated as “free,” “partly free” or “not free” based on their scores out of 100. The watchdog listed three countries from the Middle East and North Africa region among “the worst of the worst” countries across the world: Syria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

The watchdog said overall freedom access in the region has “slightly improved,” owing to very limited upswings in the scores of United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. 

“While political rights and civil liberties are few and far between in a region dominated by despotic regimes, there was some piecemeal progress during the year,” the report said.

Although it upped its score by one point from seven to eight, Saudi Arabia remains the second-worst performing country in the region after Syria, which is the worst-performing country across the world in terms of political rights. Both the kingdom and Syria have been tagged as “the worst of the worst” countries across the world.

Israel has maintained its place as the best performing country. Yet the watchdog warned that the country should be watched closely this year over Prime Minister Benjamin Netahyahu’s controversial judicial overhaul plan, which critics slam as a blow to the country’s judicial independence. 

Tunisia, which follows Israel as the second-best performer in the Middle East and North Africa region, has witnessed the biggest one-year decline with its score dropping to 56 from 64. The watchdog cited the democratic backsliding the country has been witnessing since President Kais Saied’s power grab. 

Tunisia and Lebanon remain the sole two countries that are “partly free” in the region, with Lebanon upping its score one point from 43 to 42. The United Arab Emirates’s score also rose by one point from 17 to 18.

Iran lost two points over the government’s response to the ongoing anti-government protests across the country. Libya and the West Bank also saw a decline in their scores by one point, dropping to 9 and 22, respectively.

Middle East and North African countries’ and territories scores, lowest to highest, are as follows:

Syria

Saudi Arabia

Yemen

Libya

Sudan

Gaza strip

Iran

Bahrain

Egypt

UAE

West Bank

Oman

Qatar

Iraq 

Algeria

Turkey

Jordan

Kuwait

Morocco

Lebanon

Tunisia

Israel

Turkey, meanwhile, remains one of the worst performing countries among its European peers. The watchdog listed Turkey among the countries that should be kept under scrutiny ahead of the May 14 presidential and parliamentary elections as the country remains “not free” since 2014, when the watchdog downgraded the country’s status from “partly free.”

The Nordic countries, Finland, Sweden and Norway, all received perfect scores. Tibet, North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, and South Sudan joined Syria among worst-scoring. China is still regarded among “worst of the worst.”

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