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From ‘promoting’ to ‘protecting’ democracy: No political subtleties

Dec 05,2021 - Last updated at Dec 06,2021

The contest between democracies and autocracies is gaining a new momentum with the virtual democracy summit organised by the United States and scheduled for December 9-10, 2021. The show down over the summit is an episode of a long series of rivalry on the international political theatre. China called the summit a “joke”, while the Russian and the Chinese ambassadors to Washington described it in a rare jointly-authored op-ed as a product of “Cold-War mentality” of the United States, and it will create “ideological confrontation and a rift in the world… and new dividing lines". Despite these criticisms, the US is marching ahead with the summit to which only Israel and Iraq from the Middle East are invited. 

By doing so, the two camps are reconfirming their divergent worldviews on governance. After all, it seems that history has not “really” ended after Fukuyama set the scene ablaze in early 1990s claiming that liberal democracy and capitalism represent the final stage of human evolution — the “end of history”. The actions of the three great powers, and those of the “wanna-be”, are indicative of a deeper renewed struggle over competing value systems. While the United States says this summit is for action on building “democratic resilience”, the autocracies are pushing the model of “effective governance” pointing to the Chinese model of sustained economic growth. The appeal of the “reframed” Chinese economic model and the assertive Russian political model are yet to be seen on the global stage and especially in the MENA region. 

The politics of the invitations is telling. Turkey and Hungary were not invited. Tunis, Morocco, Jordan and Kuwait are among the electoral democracies that were excluded. Turkey, the NATO ally, and Hungary, the EU, member state were also excluded, most likely, on the basis of “authoritarian / populist” politics of their leaders. In so doing, the US appears as sending a message to all that the Biden administration is serious about democracy and it will “penalise” friends who derailed somehow. An approach that some diplomats would rather avoid and suggest an alternative “private talk” to avoid public confrontation with “allies and friends”. 

These latest manifestations come as the world is witnessing “global democratic backslide” which is associated with potential security ramifications. Secretary of state Anthony Blinken emphasised in the OSCE summit in Stockholm last week the need to “protect democracy” as democracies tend to be more prosperous, stable and peaceful. A message also echoed in the NATO meeting held in June 2021. It appears that the republican-conservative militant “democracy promotion” agenda of the early 2000s is being replaced by liberal-democratic diplomatic “democracy protection” agenda after the total failure of the former in Afghanistan and the partial failure of the latter in Iraq. 

Despite the global democratic backsliding, the changing political winds in Washington were and are being felt in the MENA region. Many countries are experimenting with a “version” of electoral democracy, political reforms, and repositioning themselves in an increasingly multi-polar global order. Although democracy suffered, and is suffering some impediments, and despite its problems it remains better than any other form of governance known to humans in the past 500 years of history.

 

The writer is chairman of NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions. [email protected]

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