In this Era of Authoritarianism

Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

With democracy and democratic values declining in many parts around the world, the authoritarian system seems to thrive.

According to the latest edition of The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, more than half of the 167 countries have their democracy rankings declining.  This latest report is alarming especially at a time when the U.S., with its ‘flawed democracy’, has a President who borrows tactics from authoritarian rulers and praises them in public. With a leader in charge who has an apparent fascination for the authoritarian tactics, the U.S. with its long history of advocacy for democracy around the world seems to be at an awkward juncture of history to campaign in favor of democracy in this era of authoritarianism.

 In the recent years in many parts of the world, the people have been seen either comfortable (read silent) about the dictators ruling over them or dictators ‘successfully’ forcing them to total submission. From powerful nations like China and Russia to struggling third world countries like Democratic Republic of Congo, Venezuela, and Egypt, authoritarian regimes are now found at ease ruling over a huge section of people against their will.

Some countries ruled by the authoritarian rulers have dynamic economic progress. China, with its self-styled “people’s democratic dictatorship” in practice, has earned tremendous success over the last few decades. Their economic and military influences have been rising under the leadership of Xi Jinping’s ambitious authoritarian rule. When countries like Libya and Syria, in pursuit of getting rid of a longstanding dictators, have now been turned into failed states, China’s success in the recent years has emboldened President Xi to the extent that he seems to look forward to leading the country for life, the way Mao did imprisoning the basic rights like freedom of speech and expression of the Chinese people.

The countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait in the Middle East are tremendously rich under the dictatorial leadership. In spite of the absence of democratic values like freedom of speech and other basic rights, people in these countries appear to be comfortable (again, read silent) with their respective leadership. And these Arab leaders seem to have ‘bought’ the rights to undermine the democratic rights of the respective people in exchange for offering riches. And to further embolden the Arab rulers, the U.S. President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia, one of the oldest dictatorships in the world, in his first tour abroad as the President. So did Mike Pompeo, the recently appointed Secretary of the State.

In some other parts of the world, the authoritarian rulers appear to hate the idea of being called out as dictators. Instead, they prefer to coin themselves as democratic leaders even though they endanger democracy and its values. The countries like Egypt, DRC, Nicaragua, Iran, and Bangladesh have leaders in power who have reportedly been accused of undermining democratic values. Sarcastically, some of these countries’ leadership claims to have democracy in practice even though they fear to hold free and fair elections and dissents in these countries are sternly oppressed with looming economic adversity.

Is Democracy in Danger?

Donald Trump’s appraisal of Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and other authoritarian rulers in combination with his attacks against media that echoes the approach of some leaders who happened to be dictators have contributed to an increased fear that the democratic values are in danger today. Amid this apparent rise of anti-democratic values and forces, a question is frequently peeping out if democracy is failing. The question of survival of democracy gets acute when countries like China continue to thrive in absence of democratic values and democratic leaders like Erdogan gradually turns into an authoritarian ruler.

Crises are moments of reinvention. The economic and political upheavals of the current moment offer a very real opportunity to reinvent and renew democracy’s promise.”  

Brooklyn Law School’s Sabeel Rahman, however, finds opportunity in crisis. “Crises are moments of reinvention. The economic and political upheavals of the current moment offer a very real opportunity to reinvent and renew democracy’s promise,” says Sabeel Rahman. He adds, “Revitalization is not a foregone conclusion. But a wide range of social movements are leading the charge for a more inclusive, equitable, multiracial democratic order.”

A Ray of Hope

The rays of hope amid this depressive reports about decaying democracies in some parts of the world lies in the courageous belief in human nature that they cannot be chained for long. In many countries as we witnessed, people have taken to the street to claim their democratic rights and values.

Recently in Armenia, people took to the street against the former Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan’s desire to stick to power after a controversial reformation of the constitution. The Armenian constitution was transformed into a Parliamentarian system to pave the then President Sargsyan, who already served twice as president, to stick to power as prime minister. The Armenians, however, came out to the street in thousands and forced Sargsyan to resign and proved that the will of people cannot be tamed.

After a historic summit between the belligerent countries in the Korean peninsula, a ray of optimism prevails. Hope remains that if a ruthless dictator like Kim Jong-un can come to the understanding of reconciliation and peace, the nightmare of authoritarian rules in many parts of the world will eventually bow down to the true will of people.

About Masum Billah 37 Articles
Masum Billah is a Staff Writer for The GeoStrategists. A Graduate from the Department of International Relations at the University of Dhaka, Masum Billah is a human rights activist. He writes columns on human rights, foreign policy, and terrorism.
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