A common assumption among Western observers is that political opponents of authoritarian leaders in the Caucasus and Central Asia tend to be themselves relatively liberal in their political beliefs and tolerant in social views. But several recent incidents in Azerbaijan challenge this assumption.
Before examining the Azerbaijani examples in depth, it should be noted that President Ilham Aliyev’s administration in Baku has clamped down in recent years on basic freedoms, closing open space in the political arena and muzzling the press. At the same time, the political opposition in the country lacks cohesion and doesn’t seem likely to pose a serious political challenge to Aliyev’s authority anytime soon.
The weakness of the political opposition may actually help hide the illiberal attitudes held by some of its most prominent elements: some relatively high-profile Aliyev critics have recently voiced opinions that are at odds with the principles of democratization.
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Eldar Mamedov is a political adviser to the Socialists & Democrats Group in the European Parliament. He writes in his personal capacity.