The term ‘globalisation’ gained currency in the 1980s. It described the flow of ideas, finance, trade — even people — across national frontiers without too many restrictions. Among the ideas that went from developed to developing countries was the notion that the system of governance that had worked in rich nations for centuries was the right choice the developing world should also be making for itself. The basic idea that became the preferred option in Europe and the United States was that people should have a voice in the way they were governed. Also, there were human rights that governments should define and protect. However, some of these beliefs have been challenged by leadership in many parts of the developing world. This is because of the way Donald Trump governed for four years after moving into the White House in January 2017.
When this article appears in The Express Tribune on December 14, 2020, the change in America’s leadership will still be 37 days away. President Trump has refused to accept the result of the elections. He and those close to him refuse to call Joe Biden the President-elect. On December 8, the Supreme Court refused to consider the case filed by Trump’s lawyers challenging the result of the poll in the state of Pennsylvania. The fact that all 50 states that make up the American federation formally certified in early December that Biden was the winner in the electoral contest didn’t prevent Trump and his followers from maintaining that the election of November 3 was not fair. According to Trump and his associates, the election was marked by fraud in many states, in particular in those in which Biden had won convincingly. Trump’s post-election behaviour is a test of the strength of the American democracy. There are many in the US who worry about the direction of political change in the country.
Among those who are concerned about the country’s future is Richard Hanania, a research fellow at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace at Columbia University. He wrote an article that appeared in The Washington Post two days before the Americans went to the polls not only to elect their president but also thousands of officials at the state and county levels. Hanania quoted a number of other scholars who also worry about the fragility of the American political system. For instance, David Kilkullen, an Australian scholar who has worked as adviser to the US Army, describes America close to the point of “incipient insurgency”. Peter Turchin, a Russian-American scholar who specialises in mathematical modeling and statistical analysis of the dynamics of societies, was pessimistic about America’s future. According to him the American society is “getting awfully close to the point where a civil war or revolution becomes probable”. Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist, says that the situation in the US reminds him of the time he spent in Lebanon where in the mid-1970s, street clashes between sectarian militias erupted into multifaceted strife that lasted a decade and a half.
Reviewing these assessments, Hanania reached a depressing conclusion about the state of American political affairs. “The logic underlying most of these predictions is consistent and straightforward. Americans are more divided on social and political issues than in previous decades, and they hate each other more than in previous decades, and they hate each other more.” he wrote. “Violence is boiling over: Armed right-wing militants travelled to the sites of left-wing protests this summer, supposedly to enforce order, and deadly clashes occurred. If tensions continue to grow, these isolated incidents could become more common and the United States might follow the path of other nations that have experienced full-blown armed conflict in recent decades.”
The rapid deterioration in the socio-political affairs in the US was encouraged by President Trump who had been put into office by disaffected groups. They had deep grievances about the way the elite in the country had treated them. What happens in this country affects the world outside. Instability in America begets instability in the world. At the time of this writing, Pakistan’s still evolving political system was under stress and was being challenged by some of the groups that lost in the 2018 elections. Acceptance of election results is one of the important indications of the working of a successful representative system. Imran Khan and his party refused to accept the results of the 2013 elections. When he and his party won five years later in 2018, the opposition took the same stance. They called him “selected” rather than elected Prime Minister, suggesting that his electoral victory was the result of meddling by the military establishment.
Islamabad is one of the few developing country capitals that resisted the temptation to opt for authoritarianism encouraged by the government headed by Trump. After four years of coddling dictators around the world, the US soon to be under president Biden is likely to encourage a participatory system of governance. The President-elect has promised to host a gathering of the world’s democracies to demonstrate his commitment to democratic values both abroad and at home. To convince those who will be watching his time in office, he might make an example of Egypt, a Muslim nation that has drifted towards authoritarian rule more confining than the one practised by Hosni Mubarak. It was the highly constrained system of governance that did not permit popular participation under Mubarak that led to what came to be called the “Arab Spring of 2011.” The youth rose and challenged the system Mubarak had founded. Their rebellion against the system led to the fall of the military dictator in Cairo.
After a brief interlude that lasted about a year, the military in Egypt came back, this time under President/General Abdel Fattah El Sisi who attacked the few remaining structures of independent civil society in the country. The military dictator was secure in the knowledge that he could act with impunity but it may not be right in the way it is reading the situation. Some experts who study the Muslim world have suggested that Biden, once in office, should make Egypt a test case of his resolve to promote democracy in the world. “It’s basically unheard-of for Washington to undertake a major reassessment of a longtime partnership like the one with Egypt,” wrote Michael Wahid Hanna who is senior fellow at the Century Foundation. Moving against the current trends in Egypt “would send a powerful signal not just in the Middle East but would be a necessary first step in resetting the terms of America’s relationship in a region that still represents a disproportionate focus of American policy.” Interpreting broadly the geographic meaning of the Middle East would include Pakistan, a country critical for American interests in the area. Washington should encourage the development of representative democracy in what is the largest Muslim country in the region. Pakistan could serve as a model for the restive nations in the larger Middle East.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 14th, 2020.
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