WASHINGTON - Democratic governance declined throughout the world in 2011, showing that gains made in the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring are very fragile and in its chaotic aftermath leaders may slip back into authoritarian rule, a US watchdog group said on Monday.

Only Tunisia has improved markedly its overall governance score amongst the Middle East-North African countries that were surveyed in the latest Countries at the Crossroads report published by Freedom House. Bahrain slipped backward and Egypt edged up only slightly.

Worldwide, declines in the quality of governance far exceeded improvements, led by a worsening of government accountability and the rule of law in civil and criminal matters, the US research group said.

The deterioration raises an alarm for pro-democracy advocates who had hoped that the overthrow of brutal authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt marked a dramatic breakthrough, said Vanessa Tucker, project director.

The report covers the period from April 2009 to December 2011.

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