Free Fall


Perhaps it's the "oil curse"—the phenomenon of despots who rely on oil revenues to preserve their power without democratic support. Maybe some of the blame rests with Islam's doctrinal union of din (faith) and dawlah (state). The West bears a share of the responsibility too: The U.S. sought to undermine secular nationalist leaders during the Cold War and brought together the best of the worst of the world's fanatical mujahedin for Operation Cyclone in Afghanistan.

Whatever the causes, the most recent survey conducted by the human rights group Freedom House reveals a stark contrast between the political trajectories of the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. While the number of "free" countries in the latter group has nearly doubled during the last three decades, the former has seen a decline in "free" countries, with precious little progress even at the lower end of the scale. The quandary now: how to help the exceptions fall in line with the global rule without repeating the mistakes of the past.

Table: Freedom in the World

Muslim Majority Countries Non-Muslim Majority Countries

1973 2003 1973 2003
Free 6% 4% 36% 60%
Partly Free 31 38 24 26
Not Free 63 58 40 14