2019 / 6 / 3
Beyond Democracy and Populism In the West and Middle East
By Dr. Hussain Shaban
Iraqi Academic and Thinker,
Vice President of the Academic University of Non-Violence and Human Rights (AUHNOR)
I am going to highlight some questions and important philosophical points about the relation between democracy and populism.
Continuing from the last session, which I put forward three questions:
1. What is the difference between populism in the West, and populism in third world´-or-developing countries?
2. What is the difference between the Right and Left wings of populism?
3. What is the relation between Islamaphobia and Westaphobia as well as between Islamalogia and Westalogia?
I will first address these questions by discussing the connection between democracy and the values of humanitarian ideals:
• Social justice
• Progress and development
• Good governance
• Freedom of expression
• Ethnic, national, language, and religious groups
Based on these ideals, we can calculate how far´-or-near we are from true democracy.
Is This The Only Model of Democracy?´-or-Are There Many Ways to Reach Democracy?
In my opinion, every society has its own governance system, influenced by factors of socioeconomic culture.
It is my belief that there is a general common principle of democracy, but there are various ways to reach democracy. The concept of democracy is not set in stone--;-- it is an ever-evolving dynamic that is constantly developing and progressing.
This concept was implemented by the United Nations in at the Fifty-Fifth General Assembly A/55/PV.81 titled, Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order adopted on 4th December 2000.
As I mentioned earlier, we have to first look for the general principle of democracy. In addition we must simultaneously implement:
• Social progress
• Economic relations
• Traditional history
• Popular and unpopular society
• Religious and ethnic groups
• Different perspectives (or backgrounds) for diversity
According to The Economist’s Democracy Index , at the end of 2018, there are four categories on the democratic level:
Democracy Index 2018, by regime type
No. of countries % of countries % of world population
Full democracies 20 12.0 4.5
Flawed democracies 55 32.9 43.2
Hybrid regimes 39 23.4 16.7
Authoritarian regimes 53 31.7 35.6
Note. “World” population refers to the total population of the 167 countries covered by the Index. Since this excludes only micro states, this is nearly equal to the entire estimated world population. Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit.
We are faced with a world-wide view of the decline of the intellectual gravity and dynamism of the core concept of democracy at the global level, and this retreat led me to question:
1. The principle of the Rule of Law
2. Peaceful trading of power
3. Human Rights
4. Principles of equality
5. Question of sovereignty
It was the explosion of "identities," especially after the collapse of the totalitarian regimes of the late 1980s that triggered a new conflict. The impact on democratic transformation, especially the sense of threat led to the tendency of demagoguery toward populism, in pluralistic societies, and generated reactions in other societies that suffered from external alienation and internal tyranny. Thus, the electoral weight of right-wing forces, even the far right and some of the far left, has increased in a number of European countries, despite the popular conditions of the moderate elites that have ruled for a short time, as the terrorist trend of "Islamist" movements has grown in many third world countries, especially in the Arab world.
The populists’ attempt to exploit stereotypes, especially hatred of the other, and xenophobia against foreigners when faced with the recent wave of asylum and migration seekers, diminishing liberties and citizenship rights, coupled with the rejection of economic globalization leading to the implementation of protectionist policies, resulted in Britain voting to the leave the European --union-- (BREXIT).
The victory of Donald Trump in the United States inspired fear and hatred of the other, which are manifestations of intolerance and extremism, as well as the policy of ignorance in terms of foreigners, migration, terrorism and Islam, and protectionist economic policy. This was consistent with the sentiment of the poor, particularly when he delivered his speech in defence of American values and culture. It is the rhetoric of some authoritarian governments towards external threat, preservation of sovereignty, protection of security, countering terrorism and the flow of refugees, especially illegal immigrants, which in fact takes away human rights.
China, Russia and some third-world countries were indifferent to democracy. China abolished restrictions on presidential terms and paved the way for Xi Jinping to remain in office for an indefinite period. President Putin has stepped up his attempts to extend the country s authority to himself. After the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989 new democracies emerged in Eastern Europe, South Africa, South-East Asia and Latin America. The transition into real democracy faces many challenges from authoritarian regimes and religious systems, but the greatest challenge is the populists, as seen in France with the rise of the French National Front led by Marin Le Pen, the 5-star movement in Italy, the extreme far-right party AFD in Germany, and the populist victories in Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland and others. Citizens confidence in democracy is shaken by the decline of the economic situation. In contrast to dynamism and diversity, it is static and homogenous. The transition to democracy suffers from four main challenges:
1. Civil war
2. Sectarian and Religious conflicts
3. Ethnic and national tensions
4. Societal violence
5. International terrorism
6. Regional wars
Considering domestic and regional circumstances, and attempts to adhere to traditional´-or-conservative values, the idea of democracy has become a luxury. Sometimes we blame foreign powers, such as the United States and the European --union--, for not supporting emerging democracies´-or-democratic transition, and other times we blame the influence and interferences of non-democratic regional powers, particularly tyrannical regimes. Despite these external factors there are important internal factors that cannot be overlooked, including a lack of democratic culture and scarcity of legal awareness of human rights, the intersection of religion and politics, weakness of civil society, fragility of the rule of law, the lack of independence of the judiciary, the continued occurrence of violence and terrorism, the spread of corruption, the persistence of illiteracy and ignorance, increased militarization, and continuously weak national state policies.
Where do we go now?
What we need is to protect the existing democratic institutions and to distinguish between liberal democracy, cultural liberalism, and neo-liberalism which as Chomsky said, “Undermines the mechanisms of social solidarity, mutual support and popular engagement in determining policy.” This distinction should confirm the State s right to sovereignty without prejudice to human rights, and should not put diversity issues on the defensive, claiming the clash of civilizations, identities, and institutions. Sometimes the argument is not able to express the popular will, which require a broader representation of local governance.