The Modern Day Dictatorship Is More Popular Than You Think


With Freedom House’s survey reporting a global decline in freedom for its eighth consecutive year, autocratic governance remains a major, and growing, problem.

Contrary to popular belief, dictatorships are far more prevalent across the globe than one might presume. On the surface, such a statement might seem hyperbolic, but when looking at the definition of a dictatorship, the scope begins to widen. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the definition of a dictatorship is:

“A form of government in which one person or a small group possesses absolute power without effective constitutional limits.” – Encyclopedia Britannica

As elaborated by the encyclopedic definition, a dictatorship also consists of a few key factors:

  • No division of power
  • Little to no constitutional backbone
  • Little to no social liberties or personal freedoms
  • Swift and severe disciplinary policies on citizens
  • Manipulation of media and the usage of propaganda to increase the states influence

Dictatorships, by this definition, constitute a significant portion of the world’s political landscape, and despite their intricacies, have essentially the same general effect on the governed–less freedom.

aha75pxIconAs rated by Freedom House’s annual Freedom In The World survey, 48 out of 195 (25 percent) of countries worldwide are deemed “not free.” To put it into context, just the four countries on this list make for a combined 102 million people living under a dictatorship.


image from FreedomHouse.org

Using Freedom House’s predetermined criteria (doc download) which takes into account factors that are eerily similar to those outline in the definition of a dictatorship, it becomes increasingly clear that there are a number of countries across the globe that may fit the bill.

Freedom House’s criteria includes factors such as:

  • Personal rights
  • Political pluralism
  • Functioning of government
  • Rule of law
  • Personal autonomy

With this criteria as a guideline, here are four countries that can currently be considered modern day dictatorships.

Central African Republic (CAR)


Current leader: Militant controlled

Time of rule: 1 year

Population: 4.6 million

Marred by military coups and political infighting, the Central African Republic has fallen severely behind both socially and politically between 2013 and 2014, and has thusly dropped from a freedom rating of 5 to 7 in the past year.

Following a coup by the militant rebel group Seleka in 2013, CAR’s legislature was halted and its constitution–outline by Francois Bozize in 2003–was dissolved. Since then, CAR has been in a state of social and political turmoil.

Since the takeover by Seleka in 2013 basic human rights like freedom of speech have been extremely limited as exemplified by sectarian violence between CARs Muslim militants, Seleka, and CARs Christian population.

Such violence escalated in December of 2013 when 1,000 women and children were killed in fighting between Seleka and CARs christian militants, anti-Balaka.

Saudi Arabia


Current leader: Abdullah ibn Abdilazīz

Time of rule: 9 years

Population: 30 million

As a general rule, Absolute Monarchies aren’t the best governing bodies for fostering freedom–Saudi Arabia, unsurprisingly, is no different.

With stringent laws that outlaw freedom of speech–especially that which is critical of the government–and little to no civil liberties for women, Saudi Arabia earned a survey score of seven out of seven on Freedom House’s list.

In addition to severely lacking in civil rights, Saudi Arabia is also devoid of basic democratic facets like political parties. Elections in Saudi Arabia are held at a very limited capacity, and the only voter elected officials are on the municipal level where only male citizens are allowed to cast ballots.

As outlined by Saudi Arabia’s theocratic law, political parties are strictly forbidden, some have even been arrested for conspiring to break said doctrine.



Current Leader: Omar al-Bashir

Time of rule: 21 years

Population: 39 million

Al-Bashir, arguably the truest dictator on the list has autocratically ruled Sudan for over two decades.

From manipulating elections, to rampant political corruption, Al-Bashir and the Sudanese government have their hand in controlling just about every aspect of Sudan’s social and political climate.

Despite Sudan being technically being governed by a interim constitution that was drafted in 2005, the doctrine is largely ignored or subverted to suit the needs of Al-Bashir and his regime.



Current leader: Islam Karimov

Time of rule: 24 years

Population: 29 million

Systematic state-mandated child labor and political and journalistic oppression are two reasons why the unassuming country of Uzbekistan scores so lowly on Freedom House’s list.

Though Uzbekistan technically operates in a bicameral, or two-party system, there are no true opposition parties to Islam Karimov’s Communist Party. Karimov has run essentially uncontested for over two decades and has systematically threatened, stifled, and jailed, any dissenters, who have threatened his autocracy.

By controlling major media outlets Karimov and his regime have a vice on public information which has helped effectively curtail any possible revolts.

The takeaway

In addition to their individual country reports, Freedom House’s survey also provided a (mostly concerning) summary of what the report means. Some major findings include:

The bad:

  • 54 countries showed declines in freedom whereas 40 showed gains
  • For the eighth consecutive year the survey recorded more declines in democracy than gains
  • Some leaders used “modern authoritarianism,” which means they purported to uphold constitutional law while simultaneously subverting it behind the scenes

The good:

  • Civil liberties improved in Tunisia
  • Pakistan also showed gains
  • The addition of Honduras, Kenya, Nepal, and Pakistan, increased the global amount of constitutional democracies to 122

Cover photo by fusion of horizons via Flickr  

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