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He inherited a nation on the cusp of major oil revenues and plagued by corruption. In the ensuing years, the economy improved, and with it, the standard of living.

“Hopes were quite high when Mr. Aliyev came to power,” Mr. Gogia said. “Here was an energetic, young leader who could modernize the country. But these hopes wound down quite soon after he came to power.”

The pro-democracy Arab Spring protests that have embroiled parts of the Middle East and North Africa and toppled dictators since 2010 appear to have spooked the Aliyev government, especially as it related to social media.

The Azerbaijani government has imprisoned youth activists with large numbers of followers on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. More than half a dozen activists from NIDA, a youth opposition movement active on social media and critical of the government, have been arrested.

The opposition claims it has been hamstrung by such tactics, especially in a country where broadcast media are still controlled by the government.

Stability versus democracy

Besides Mr. Aliyev, 51, there are nine registered presidential candidates. The opposition’s main candidate, Jamil Hasanli, is a historian who represents the National Council of Democratic Forces, a coalition of opposition parties and groups.

Oscar-winning screenwriter Rustam Ibragimbekov was the National Council’s original candidate, but election officials rejected his candidacy on the grounds that he is a dual citizen of Azerbaijan and Russia.

Another presidential aspirant, Ilgar Mammadov, was arrested in February on charges of instigating civil unrest and has been awaiting trial in prison.

Its human rights record aside, Azerbaijan has plenty of advocates inside the United States, including former Rep. Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican who wrote in a Washington Times op-ed last month that America must be patient with its Caspian ally.

“I know that Azerbaijan is not perfect. The Azerbaijani government is often criticized over its human rights record,” Mr. Burton wrote. “However, considering that Azerbaijan — like other former Soviet republics — has scant experience with democracy, its human rights record is better than most. In fact, Azerbaijan’s religious tolerance, inclusiveness and protection of women’s rights should be recognized.”

Mr. Burton is chairman of the board of the Azerbaijan America Alliance, which promotes Azerbaijan’s interests in the U.S.

Mr. Burton also stressed Azerbaijan’s increasing ties with Israel. Azerbaijan’s bilateral trade with Israel reached $4 billion last year and about 40 percent of Israel’s oil imports come from Azerbaijan, he noted. And when Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov visited Israel in May, Israeli President Shimon Peres described the trip as historic.

Mr. Mammadyarov was also the only Muslim foreign minister to address the 2013 American Jewish Committee Global Forum in Washington.

Others see an evolution of a Soviet republic seeking stability and economic prosperity first before freedom can be achieved.

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