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DATA: Tables of Countries in four divisions positioning determined by human rights and political rights

Rankings for Democracy; Press Freedom; Corruption


World groupings incl. OECD; NATO; G8; ASEAN; APEC;

Regional Rankings: European Union; Latin America + Caribbean; African Union; Arab League;

Overview of World Democracy; Primus Inter Pares; The Perils of Mass Migration; World Audits 2015 Winners and Losers




This year as ever, now our sixteenth annual World Audit, we note the huge differences between the annual performance measured by democratic criteria of the world’s largest 150 nations (population exceeding one million).

Key democratic elements, Human Rights and Political Rights make up the Division in which nations are placed. Within these 4 divisions we display ‘Press Freedom’ a reliable measurement of Freedom of Speech; together with Public Corruption determining the ranking within that division.

We are glad to reiterate our gratitude for our use of their data and for our longtime friendship since our beginnings with the new millennium, to both Freedom House (the world’s first NGO); and to Transparency International for the use of their Corruption Index. For further information on methodology, see the marginal note on the World Audit stats page below.

Our Four Divisions reflect that the 1st (29) and 2nd Divisions (6), together totalling (35), are fully democratic by these criteria. Again the top 20 are generally the same nations every year, only slightly shuffled over the years since our foundation. Once again the Scandinavians –Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway sweep up the top 4 places, with New Zealand, Netherlands and Switzerland as always, in close pursuit. Broadly the anecdotal experience of visitors to these countries which our readers may share, is that here they ‘have cracked it,’ where it comes to ordering a nation and achieving the greatest good for the greatest number.

It may well be that the larger populated, fully democratic nations, thus Germany(10), UK(13), USA(15), Japan(16),France(19) which inevitably have larger bureaucracies and management systems, are simply less sensitive to ordinary people’s needs and concerns. That national legislatures are more prone to being influenced by big business and powerful non-democratic influences. Or again, that the key is in the public corruption rankings , which with exceptions, appears to be broadly parallel to overall democratic ranking. Corruption certainly appears more significantly present in the larger democracies, than in the smaller democracies that consistently lead the pack.

Yet the truly alarming statistic is the inferential one, that of the world’s 150 leading nations by population, here in the first quarter of the 21st Century, only 35 can be described as fully democratic! A large majority 115 have yet to achieve that desirable state of affairs.

Localised wars and other violence, smashed-up homes, famine, tyranny, persistent unemployment, all provide the personal provocation and raw material for the present mass migration, which even now in January 2016, is seen as their ’solution’ by many of the individual displaced; and as ‘the problem,’ for which the western nation states and world institutions are just not prepared, leading to a denial everywhere of any responsibility, or planning for the future.

Primus Inter Pares

The United Nations was founded before the end of WWII and many thought that is was to be the one acceptable world agency that could by consent deal with such intractable problems as the prevention of war; famine, cross-border crime and the causes and realities of mass immigration, But the UN can only do what its more powerful members agree it can do, and they have never consented to the UN having the supranational powers needed to deal with such intractable situations as mass migration, perhaps involving ceding certain powers beyond the control of national politicians. It was a matter of national interests winning out, rather than the general global interest and this is incompatible with solving such present and future problems.

Their approach has been determined for different reasons. The USA for example, whilst having long been in the forefront of personal liberties - subsequently and more questionably, extending that to its business corporations, is the largest of our Division One democracies, but the US doesn’t always present as ‘the good guy’ that this ranking might infer. Having successfully steered the free world through the long 20th C Cold War confrontation with the USSR (and witnessed its total collapse without a shot being fired), they have not yet fully accepted their real role in a democratic world, whose great nations are all more or less on the same economic page, is to be in terms of the US being ‘first among equals,’ rather than the overseer of all. This is a key distinction of leadership of which the USA is capable, if its politicians generally can resist the financial and other blandishments of ‘the lobby’ interest groups, and see more clearly, how different, disinterested approaches can produce the best outcomes for their people.

The tensions become more obvious in such relationships as those with China, currently delicately handled by both sides, but this is very much dependent on whom the US elect to political power in the presidency and the Congress and who at that time has power in Beijing. The relationship with Russia has been more complex. It was of course the USSR that collapsed in 1991, not the Russian Federation.
Of course a political collapse is not a military defeat, although that was too subtle a distinction for the likes of Fox News and the tabloids in peacetime, but generally the attitudes in US and allied public opinion was that now Russia was no longer the menace it had been and largely it did become ‘invisible,’ for a while at least.

That was not the reaction in Russia where their underlying nationalism took over, now that communism had failed. Fully conscious of still being territorially the largest nation state on earth, ranging from frontiers with western Europeans to those with east Asians, and retaining a nuclear arsenal with equivalence in power to that of the USA itself, Russia looked for and found a leader in Vladimir Putin who could and did restore their damaged self-image, ‘amour propre’ and sense of nationhood.

The world rankings of which most national governments and media take account, are not ours of the democratic freedoms, but reflect the fundamentals in world terms, of economic and military power. The USA comfortably leads all others militarily and has such a lead (and is determined to keep it) over even combined, potentially hostile groupings of nations, that it is unlikely ever to be challenged in that way.

But economics are a different matter. For a start, the national economies of trading nations are interdependent. The US is currently the clear leader in this sphere, but there are others doing well in the competition. China is an obvious contender and over time so is the European Union, India and other potential unions, such as a Japanese-Pacific grouping. But the US is likely to economically always be up there, or thereabouts.

The point being that it is logical to look for global unity and a common approach to problems wherever possible, since enormous supra-national events such as the results of climate change, like currently excessive rainfall, or being on the cusp of mass migration, routinely fails to be adequately foreseen let alone managed, other than (rather unsuccessfully) by individual governments. That seems unlikely to change.

The great defence of our leading nations has simply been ‘rationality’, faced by the blatant irrationality of militant religion. In modern times religion has lost its former compulsive power, except where other forms of power have consistently failed ‘to deliver the goods,’ as in the middle east.

Religion generally is tolerated, being seen as on balance, a key element in a nation’s historic culture, a force for good in most places such as earlier times of education and medical concerns when proto-states had nothing to offer. But that becomes a more difficult decision when faced with the harmful consequences of what is sometimes inappropriate religious interference in modern life.

Obviously the upsurge in militant Islam in the middle east and parts of western Asia, are today’s most outstanding example, but another less well known example, this time of long term Christian religious excess, might be that of the Philippines. There the large population always exceeds the jobs available in the archipelago, resulting in families inevitably being fractured with younger adults after marriage and starting a family, then having to split up to earn enough to support their young and aged. So for many years their children are being raised by the old people, before themselves retiring, only for this unhappy cycle to restart.

The prosperous world has done well out of this for hospital nurses and housekeepers and childminders and teachers; the world’s merchant ships have had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of seamen. Critically, the Philippines’ Government receives annually a large supply of hard currencies from the remittances these families make. It’s a key element in their budget. All too often the employment that their citizens have to take, is exploitative and their conditions, all too often, are internationally criminal, particularly with some Arab employers, and have earned their governments a bad name in this respect.

But the reason for the misery of these millions of young parents in particular, spending most of their lives living apart from their own spouses, children and parents, is unnatural, indeed cruel. This is substantially due to the power of the Christian church there that strictly forbids and demonises the use of contraceptives, and exerts every last ounce of their civil power, including from the pulpit at election time, in choices between political candidates, so there has always been a sizeable surplus of unemployed on the national labour market.

Internationally and nationally politicians are reluctant to interfere with ‘faith’ systems. But a conflict forced on them by a militant movement like Daesh, with no interest in sharing civilian power and an obsession with the power that they see as an entitlement, leaves no choice, other than a military response. That may or may not become a knock-down drag-out fight, as was the case with the Mahdi, the self-declared ‘divinely inspired guide’, in the late 19th C Sudan, who terrified the region including Egypt, but who after several years of successes was eventually brought down when confronted by a modern western army, at the seminal battle of Omdurman.

Result: a near century of non-violent religions co-existing in the middle-east but then came the state of Israel, which filled the gap.

The present arena of Syria and Iraq and in Afghanistan, news of which is easily available to westerners, does not reflect the realities of the continuing Islamist confrontations in the Russian Caucasus, FSU republics in Central Asia and in western China’s Xinkiang. There the religious element is also emblematic of the resentment at what the Central Asian rebels have perceived as Chinese colonialism (for more than a century)! That is clearly more complex in terms of solutions than of the religious challenge alone.

So, just perhaps…by mid-century where Islam is concerned, we can only hope that this situation will resolve itself, much as it has been doing in the western world, where Christianity/ Islam are respected for their historical achievements, but not greatly regarded as an example of how to organise and run a modern state.

The Perils of Mass Migration

These democracy stats are being read in the context of the year gone by and do not reflect the late emerging migration crisis ,which for that part of the world paying attention, has now had its most alarming alert signals, demonstrating the almost (but not quite) universal unpreparedness of the world’s nations for such a major human crisis.

It is simply that 2015 demonstrated the clearest signal yet that the world has entered one of those infrequent periods, where mass population movements following a ‘have –have not’ divide, with its inevitable consequences for those nations whose democratic criteria, we annually review here.

There has always been a movement of people who under threat of, or experiencing disease, drought, invasion, breakdown of law and order, political separation, or the idea of improving their own and their children’s life prospects, by moving on, or attempting to go to live somewhere more secure, elsewhere. In modern times a large sector of organised crime has built up around the business of ‘people trafficking,’ which like that of narcotics, over very many years, has found ways to survive and prosper. But the criminal element is only a part of the story. Mass migrations are historic and due to similar causes: Floods, drought, disease, war and the knowledge that ‘elsewhere’(in today’s terms, the nations of North America, Europe, Australia), not only are on top of these kinds of problems, but also it is possible to live peacefully there, find honest employment, raise and educate children.

Before 2014 an increasing flow of refugees from middle-eastern wars had illegally crossed international borders, but in 2015 this became a flood, with refugees numbered in millions. In the case of the four year old Syrian civil war which followed hard on the heels of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq and generating a refugee flow to neighbouring states, the Syrian uprising that became a civil war, now in its fifth year, has turned that into a flood.

Worse in terms of intractability, is the sense that the fundamental cause of the civil war is religious and the detail and primary financing of the continuation of the dispute is religious. Whilst the rebels seek the ouster of the Syrian government of the Alawite (Shia) Assad family, many of these rebels groups are armed and sponsored by super-wealthy Sunni ruling families, like those of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the several Gulf States, as well as it is now evident, Turkey. They seek the downfall of the Shia-led government, but certainly not the implementation of democracy in Syria that appears to be the sine qua non of the Western powers, led by the USA.

The situation is further complicated by the emergence in strength of Daesh, the Islamic State, who have taken and now control wide swathes of Syrian and Iraqi territory, hostile to the western world, completely controlled under the aegis of Koranic law established 1500 years ago. The situation now is that very many Syrians that had taken temporary refuge in neighbouring Turkey and Jordan, see little chance of ever returning to their destroyed homes and en masse seek a better world in which to live and raise their families, elsewhere than the middle-east!

But the regional problems described are not the only problems in this part of the world. Displaced Afghanistani refugees , those from the civil wars in Libya, and deeper south from wars, famine and disease, in eastern, western and central Africa, have joined the exodus towards Europe and constitute large numbers which maybe expected to continue to increase.

It was the 19th C, which before that of the post-WWII refugee problem, saw the widespread dispersal globally of emigrant Europeans and other nationalities to:- the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Uruguay and Argentina which were mostly a win-win for the political economies that they had left behind, as well as those that they had elected to live under! For that to happen now when the mass of the potential migrants are deeply imbued with a faith which has not adapted with the centuries, accentuates the problems. No host nation now wants to import intolerant adherents of the Sunni-Shia split which may include people with a terrorist agenda.

Thus, we predict that the results of this World Democracy Audit showing the world as it is in January 2016, will regionally be affected, perhaps distorted by this unwelcome new pressure over the coming years.

World Audit’s 2015 Winners and Losers

It is dismal and something of a shock, comparing the situation over the fifteen years of this century loaded down with inherited realities, to see just how ‘gradual’ it has been over the years for any democratic change in the world to manifest itself. Perhaps it was ever thus. More likely, current results from the 20th/21st centuries are better compared as between today’s Formula One and the horse-drawn era, once set side- by- side with the 19th, 18th, 17th centuries and beyond.

These changes, in turn, might reasonably have been regarded as hysterically out of control, of perhaps heretical dreaming, had any knowledge of them, been available to those whose experience was solely limited to the world before that.

The days of ‘crowned heads’ might characterise all of human history before these immediate past few centuries, yet note that in our all-democratic First Division of 29 nations, currently there remain a high proportion - 11 crowned heads of state all but one European, * all of whom to be sure, now have a very light footfall on the political affairs of their nation – which is of course how they have survived, but still, heredity obviously matters! *Japan

The world’s principal villains don’t change much either. The condition for many national disasters can be seen to be as much due to the effective absence of any valid law and order, a lack of control , as to the polar opposite, the dominating presence of a dictator ‘making it up as he goes along’.

A view of our 78 strong Fourth Division, includes both of these dismal categories. At the furthest end in descending order, we include, as well as longstanding chaotic and violent practitioners of misrule, some fairly impregnable absolutist rulers: North Korea (150th), Turkmenistan(149), Uzbekistan(148), Eritrea(147), Somalia(146), Sudan(144=) Syria (144=) – with ongoing civil war of course in Syria. ‘Anarchy’ in its various modes, best represents the alternative explanation in the lowest grades. They are well represented amongst the 78 non-democratic nations and are often post- colonials who didn’t make it to democracy.

Faced with the sheer weight of 115 undemocratic states in our combined Divisions Three and Four, compared worldwide with only 35 democracies in Divisions One and Two, it is noticeable that amongst the latter in Europe for example, Bulgaria and Rumania have joined up by generally improving, since it was a political precondition of joining in the prosperity of the largest cluster of democracies in the world, the European Union. Hungary has this year dropped down to the Third division (40) and is awaiting sanctions from the EU Commission.

Others: Poland(23), Czech Republic(27),Slovakia(28) former Soviet satellites opted for democracy and the EU. Similarly Mongolia(35) is now acknowledged to be democratic (being in the 2nd Division), far away in central Asia, squeezed as they say, like “an egg between two rocks,” more accurately between the Russian Federation and China - remarkably has done the same.

The three Baltics: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, which were ‘all-union republics’ within the Soviet Union until the collapse of the USSR in 1991, emerged with western tutelage as democracies, more or less straight into the EU and NATO. The collapse of Yugoslavia and its consequent civil war, saw such relicts of the Austrian Empire as Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, the still troubled Bosnia, FYR Macedonia, all appeared to opt for democracy, even the former Serbian territory of Kosovo moving out of Serbia ‘de jure’ towards nationhood. The actual performance of these, except for that of the minnows, being reflected in these tables.

All things globally considered, the nations of Europe have been the most successful in making the transition for themselves and particularly those whose overseas empires were released from bondage. Only one dictatorship remains in Europe, which is Belarus(141) a former appendage of the USSR still controlled by its ageing Cold War leader and his unattractive apparat.

The European Union whose very point and purpose to a large degree, was to put an end to centuries of endless inter-state warfare, has unquestionably been a great success in this respect!

Asia and the middle-east saw the mighty India(51) released from empire to become a robust and leading democracy and when so minded, a future world power. Other formerly European ruled territories: Indonesia, Malaysia. Vietnam, Algeria and several in Africa, have made the cut to independence, but as will be seen in our tables, they are not crowding the democratic sector. Yet it is only fair to observe that imperial rule was even by its own rules, not without large democratic lapses, when self-rule finally arrived.

Future historians may note that in those times, few if any imperial powers, extended their own hard won national democratic achievements, to their distant colonies, except sometimes when vacating them. Freedom of the Press is a telling example, but corruption, even now taken as ‘a given’ in a majority of our 150 nations, certainly seduced some colonial administrators (whilst others manfully resisted it). So, it cannot be a surprise to anyone that amongst newly emergent post-imperial nations, each moves at its own speed, to the point of balance where corruption is clearly a considerable obstacle to achieving a working democracy.

It’s worth pointing out that India, probably with the world’s largest population with massive public poverty as well as extraordinary individual wealth, is still ranking its national democracy at 51st and is certainly within sight of the most favourable statistical end result, whereas China is 123d, partly because it doesn’t have that democratic ‘sine qua non,’ press freedom – thus freedom of speech. Corruption is bad in both giant nations. India’s (67th) position compares with China’s (82nd) - but China does not call itself a democracy and even if it did, it started out in the mid- 20th C having finally expelled its invaders, from an extremely low base. Their 20th century history had been of almost unremitting civil war, and then invasion and World War II, mostly involving Japan; then civil war again, with the Communist Party gradually acquiring complete mainland control. It had by the 1980’s begun to blossom as an undoubted world grade power. Its stability and productivity since then have put it high up on most tables of performance, other than those of democracy.

It is always a matter of surprise to us that Singapore, one of the least corrupt states (7th) in all of the world - and rather a nice place, ranks so low as (108th) for Press Freedom, strict curbs on which the government actively maintains, consistently putting it at the top of our Division 4.

Press Freedom is essential in a democracy and what a struggle that is in so many parts of the world. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that China is currently holding 49 journalists behind bars. The number of journalists jailed in Turkey and Egypt rose dramatically in 2015. The others shamed by being in the ‘top ten’ of holding jailed journos, are Iran, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Vietnam.

The USA’s virtual colonies amongst the nations of South and Central America; the Philippines and numerous Pacific islands have had differing outcomes. The Philippines might more readily perhaps be seen as a continuing colony of the Vatican, whilst its democratic politicians have had an uphill job in democratising the place. With endemic corruption, they are not there yet! Japan, the US's principal adversary in WWII, after total defeat in its Pacific war turned inwards, and concentrated very successfully on economic and democratic growth, firmly away from internationalism and any involvement in war. It was able to do this primarily because the USA was ready to protect it from foreign interference –notably the threat of an expansionist USSR. Now Japan (16th in the world), is a beacon of democracy in the Far East and is generally resistant to the US’s urging to get more involved alongside the US and Nato expeditions, in what the Japanese public consider to be national intrusion.

There is of course the influential political ‘neocon’ group implanted in the US State Dept, which many of America’s friends have to disapprove of, since it seeks the ticking time-bomb of US hegemony, via the ‘American Empire’ concept, ultimately based on the US’s unrivalled military power. Our perception is that ‘insisting’ on hegemony over a world of nation states, carries with it the potential for disaster, as witness the US military intervention on Iraq following that of Afghanistan, neither of which came close to achieving the publicised war-aims, yet certainly ‘cost,’ in terms of lives of both the US, their allies and their Iraqi and Afghan opponents.

The Latin American nations’ democratic performance is best illustrated by the side-bar (that includes the Caribbean), which show that only Uruguay(18) ,Chile(21) and Costa Rica(22) all 1st Division, are regarded as fully democratic, leaving 22 nations including the biggest: Brazil(52), Argentina(66), Mexico(70) with a way to go. Obviously Central and South America has been dominated by the presence of their giant northern neighbour.

Several central and South American states were treated as economic colonies and ruled by politicians favoured by the USA and some of the US’s giant corporations. During the cold war, the position of those states that inclined towards a European type socialist solution to their problems, were called communists (the enemy), vilified and persecuted by the USA and its international agencies. Chile, now 21st in the world, was perhaps the worst example, with its elected president being murdered in office by US sponsored rebels.

Even after the end of the USSR and thus international communism in 1991, Cuba remained until 2015 frozen out by WDC. It was an absurd situation, very sensibly cleared up by President Obama. Yet Venezuela had a democratically elected left- wing government until recently, again vilified in all things by US public opinion, this time led by the US media notwithstanding that the South American supplied 7% of the US’s oil imports. Chile(21) is second only in Latin America to Uruguay(18) and just ahead of the phenomenon that is Costa Rica(22) that famously alone in the world, years ago abolished its army.

Africa generally continues to disappoint. Following the accelerating pace of de-colonialism, many of the largest or more significant, formerly colonised nations, did start off with the apparatus of state already established by the former colonial powers and often with an economic push and continuing investment . Other African states, never attractive enough to the imperial powers to be developed when colonised, often with little natural wealth engendering any activities other than basic farming or pastoral pursuits, sometimes had just one real valuable asset, like diamonds, or rare minerals like uranium. Here the corruption endemic to many very poor countries saw a wave of exploitative involvement by outside opportunists, which has evolved throughout Africa when circumstances allowed it. Another category, of genuine longer term investors, amongst which particularly late-arrival China, currently is significant, have invested heavily and permanently in African states that can supply them with those raw materials on which their own domestic economy depends.

Probably the most significant developed state there is South Africa, which had previously been ruled by a determined white settler population, that eventually did gave way to a representative government of indigenous Black Africans. They inherited an established nation and in return aimed, with mixed results, for ‘a rainbow state.’ At 43d in the world it is not out of reach of achieving full democracy, it ranks 5th amongst African nation states, but its democratic status is unquestionably under threat since the inheritors of power in the state, after independence, still dominate the nation’s politics. These are inevitably without heavyweight political competition, riddled with corruption - always a mortal danger to democracy with any such distortion of an effective balance of power.

The African Union sidebar panel of 46 nations shows that only Mauritius(32nd) & Ghana(33rd), are listed amongst the world’s democratic nations. 23 African states are included amongst the last 50 in the Democracy table. Inevitably with this situation of economic deprivation and absence of state institutions familiar in developed states, then more basic forces hold sway, not least the corruption familiar in almost all underdeveloped states.

But nature itself in essential ways such as the absence of drinking water, the proliferation of disease, large scale drought destructive of agriculture, is particularly significant in Africa and concomitant with that is the competition for resources, often leading to war. War today, is even at the basic level of the poorest states, modern in the sense of weaponry and fighters who find that they are trading their lives and limbs in return for a higher place in the queue for all that is essential, and for as long as it lasts, desirable.

This fearful problem of war for perceived essentials is also complicated by religions that severally claim and are prepared to kill for a monopoly of ‘truths’, often different interpretations of historic events within the same religions, cults or sects, once exemplified at world level by Christians: Catholic and Protestant, now particularly by Moslems: Sunni and Shia.

The middle-east and western Asia is currently the cockpit of religious violence where Islam, Judaism and Christianity were all born. The world’s only Jewish state, Israel is there, its capital Jerusalem also being a holy city to the Christians and the Moslems.

Israel(31) this time around, after a gap of about 2000 years, is also a democracy or as is being suggested, a ‘semi-democracy’, since its citizens living within one prescribed part of the state, enjoy full democratic rights including religious freedoms. But it also includes inhabitants who are not acknowledged as citizens, but aren’t going away. They would be called ‘incomers,’ except that they were there before there was a state of Israel.

As the years go by, this paradox is no closer to a solution, which itself leads to continuing waves of violence. Right now the most evil religious war is taking place in the neighbourhood, between different species of Moslem, the fighting washing up to Israel’s borders. Their ever vigilant border troops have a real job on nowadays, and at this time there is also a semi-intifada within Israeli borders. The Israeli air force flies frequent missions, much of this over Syrian territory, but they usually say that the raids are against Hezbollah munitions that might one day be used against Israel. There are no neighbouring allies but Israel’s own military are formidable and they have endless backing from the USA.

Israel had to fight for its very existence against the neighbouring Arab, mostly Moslem states. It did and it won, but that fact has not led to it becoming accepted in the neighbourhood, just as in turn, it does not accept most of the indigenous population as citizens. It also has the nuclear weapon, the sine qua non of the military High Table, together with a well-trained and equipped citizen army. Yet it is under permanent strain.

Much of the neighbourhood including the mostly Moslem North and some of East Africa, was subject to colonialism by the regional power, Ottoman Turkey; or latterly to European nations who on the defeat of Turkey in WW1divided them up between them and their Arabic clients. Syria, a truly ancient entity, is predominantly but not exclusively Arabic, in fact before the civil war, it was the most religiously tolerant nation in the region. Its long history includes provincial status in the Roman, Persian and Byzantine empires. It is bordered by Iraq, similarly ancient but both of these states have been in the toils of horrible wars and civil wars, with a renewed cult of Wahhabi -Sunni extremism, that has emerged with major implications for all the surrounding states.

Iraq was invaded by the USA, its dictator pursued and killed during the occupation. The US withdrew in favour of a shaky alliance of the majority Shiites with some leavening of the less numerous Sunni. It is referred to by some, mainly in the US, as a democracy (we mark it at 133), which puts that into some sort of perspective. Its neighbour, not seriously democratic Syria (144), long had a stable government with a ruling family like most of its Arab neighbours, but has been in a state of civil war, now in its fifth year, superficially a religious divide between the Shia and Sunni, although Syria is the only Arab state with genuine freedom of religion.

But although the quarrel is certainly distorted by these different sects of Islam there is another agenda which is the ancient religious and therefore prickly political divide between Sunni Islam, exemplified by the wealthy Arabic kingdom of Saudi Arabia; and the regional giant the Shia Islamic Republic of Iran, who are not Arabic. The neighbourhood is now also the epicentre of Islamic extremism, first by Al Qaeda and its franchisees, latterly by a breakaway, called Daesh, or the Islamic State, with a self-hailed Caliph causing much more concern than its recent predecessors. Daesh now occupies vast tracts of Syria and Iraq, mostly desert, but including some scattered towns. There seems no likelihood of peace in the region in the foreseeable future. International efforts, apart from their airforces engaged against Daesh, have recently centred on seeking to bring the Syrian civil war to an end. Although both the US and Russia are involved, along with Saudi and Iran, finding an acceptable solution will not be easy.

Some in the west believe that the removal of President Assad would bring the rebel fighters to stop fighting, but the vast majority of these fighters are now Islamic warriors whose objective is not just the removal of the Assad family, but the creation of a fundamentalist Wahhabi Sunni Islamic state. (Their sponsors are paying them for that and many of the fighters are not Syrian at all, but religiously motivated, mainly jihadis from North African and other Moslem countries and including western volunteers).

Since Syria is currently made up not just of Sunni Moslems but includes a significant number of Shi’ites, plus several other Moslem sects, and a variety of Christians, all of whom are condemned by the Sunni, it is unlikely that any solution that does not include the established freedom of religion will be acceptable to Assad’s negotiators. But it is that very freedom which is unacceptable to the Sunni. The Shia Alawites are well aware that their own existence is on the line and ‘turkeys don’t vote for Christmas’.

The other aspect is the potential military defeat of Daesh which may or may not happen. If not, it would be partly because none of the observer nations will put troops on the ground, after the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan.

In such conditions of both civil and religious war, it is obvious there is little to be said about democracy, except that none of the rebel groups fighting in Syria are offering to bring about democracy. Almost entirely they are jihadists religious, including the powerful Al Qaeda contingent. What is known about Daesh is that it is a separate religious dictatorship, whose religious rules are ‘interpreted’ from Islamic scripture by authoritarian human beings.

The neighbouring large states, Turkey and particularly Egypt (109 was102), have dropped in democratic rankings. In the case of Egypt the army’s behaviour during the Arab Awakening was beyond any acceptability. They had a soft coup displacing the Marshal who was their leader and president, after many civilian deaths and other casualties amongst the protestors. They announced a free election which was duly held and surrendered power to the Moslem Brotherhood party that won. A year into the new government the army moved again, disbanded the government, arresting everyone prominent including the prime minister and killing all that opposed them. They then coolly announced that they were going to call a new election and the most senior general Al Sisi was nominated and then won, so is now the new president. Hundreds, perhaps thousands more civilians protested and were killed; many more were imprisoned, some executed.

Turkey’s drop in the rankings (was 81 now 86), has also been no surprise. President Erdogan has suddenly and unilaterally gone to war again with the Turkish Kurds – an age-old civil conflict in Turkey that had gone quiet, having been halted for years for negotiations. It had also emerged that Erdogan has been playing a double game with the Allies and ISIS, enabling Daesh to export the Iraqi and Syrian oil from the oilfields they had captured. Keeping its borders open for jihadists arriving from across the world and leaving again. Moreover, it became clear that Erdogan was a prime mover in escalating the former Syrian uprising into the existing civil war. This is now an ugly series of facts for its NATO allies to reconcile with.

                                                                                             Clive Lindley Publisher/Editor









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