WASHINGTON, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- Uprisings sweeping the Middle East are the most significant challenge to authoritarianism since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a pro-democracy group says.
The Freedom House's annual global survey of political rights and civil liberties said the Arab Spring has triggered unprecedented progress in some countries, but it has also provoked a backlash as many leaders scramble to suppress real or potential threats to their rule.
"The repercussions of this backlash have been felt across the Middle East, as well as in China, Eurasia, and Africa," the Washington-based group said Thursday.
A total of 26 countries registered a net decline the status of political and civil freedoms last year and only 12 showed overall improvement.
Improvement was seen in largely in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, while political and civil liberties worsened in countries such as Bahrain, Iran, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Freedom House said Syria and Saudi Arabia, two countries at the forefront of the violent reaction to the Arab Spring, received the survey's worst-possible ratings.
"We've been through a multiyear period in which the world's authoritarians seemed to be on the march and the democracies appeared to be in retreat," said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. "But the past year's trends give reason for hope -- especially because they arose in a region of the world where many observers dismissed the idea of democratic change as futile."
"It is imperative that the United States be fully involved in the difficult process of democracy building that lies ahead," Kramer said.
The study, been published annually since 1972, examines the ability of individuals to exercise their political and civil rights in 195 countries and 14 territories around the world. Each country and territory is given a status of Free, Partly Free, or Not Free based on a scoring of its performance on key democracy indicators.