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Analysis: Redrawing the map of the Not Free World

2011 Freedom House map of Freedom in the World. Legend: Green = Free; Yellow = Partly Free; Purple = Not Free. Original: Wikimedia.Algeria, Libya, Iraq and Iran are all significant oil producers but they have something else in common with each other and also with Egypt: a special place in the 2011 Map of Freedom in the World.

The map from Freedom House shows a vast virtually unbroken belt of land that is "not free". It stretches from Angola in Southern Africa and Western Sahara and Mauritania in North West Africa all the way to Russia, China, North Korea and Vietnam.

There are five individual countries where successful reform could put a sizeable break in the East-West chain: Iraq and Egypt, which have lost veteran dictators in 2003 and 2011; Libya, which may follow; Algeria, which has just lifted a state of emergency ordered 19 years ago; and Iran, where three weeks of Tuesday protests are planned for March.

Speculation continues as to where the next regime will fall to street demonstrations. The Economist has produced The Shoe Thrower's index (Yemen and Libya are top), which uses a range of indices that measure the proportion and number of people under 25, the number of years the government has been in power, GDP, corruption, lack of democracy and censorship. In the longer term, its Democracy Index and the Freedom in the World surveys may be as good places to start as any other, while the FAO Food Price Index may provide a guide to the timing of future protests.

Iraq's current "not free" status is a reminder that democracy takes time, requires more than elections, and that power vacuums create fertile ground for sectarian or ethnic violence if inequalities exist or are anticipated between different religious or other groups.

American neoconservatives have long argued that Arabs want democracy, and that a democratic Arab World was a feasible worthy goal and in the best interests of the US. Their influence had waned since the controversial overthrow of Saddam in Iraq and the attempt to replace him with a democracy, which their arguments partly motivated.

As democratic and revolutionary fervour take hold in the Middle East and North Africa, three questions arise. Firstly, did the Iraq invasion and other Bush Jnr. policies have important intended or unwitting effects on subsequent unrest or expectations in the region? Civil and political liberties increased there between 2003 and 2007 but then declined between 2007 and 2011, according to Freedom House. The invasion also precipitated large anti-war protests in Egypt in 2003 that the Mubarak regime struggled to control.

Secondly, could Saddam have been removed by his own people - with less (or more) eventual bloodshed - given another 8 years or so?

Finally, and importantly for the future of its people, is democracy now more likely to succeed or fail in Iraq? It too is experiencing protests: Friday (February 25) saw a 'day of rage' against corruption and poor services.

Many countries that neighbour the "not free" belt are not regarded by Freedom House as fully "free" - including Turkey, a country which seems to have been an inspiration for many protestors. Yet, the time may be ending when - apart from a few kilometres of Israeli coast at the Gulf of Aqaba - one could walk from North-West Africa to the Far East without passing through a country that is at least "partly free"

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WorldandMedia's Niamh Griffin in Uganda

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