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This trend has been most pronounced in Russia — which has sharply restricted space for political dissent, treats human rights activists and investigative journalists as enemies of the state, and directly violated international agreements guaranteeing Ukraine’s territorial integrity — and China, which has abandoned “softer” methods of authoritarian control, and resorted to cruder Cold War-era tools, including criminal sanctions designed to restrict civil activists, administrative detention, and the placement of dissidents in psychiatric hospitals.

Russia, China, but also lesser regional powers such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and even economically-devastated Venezuela increasingly seek to wield informational, diplomatic, and economic resources designed to discredit Western democracies, roll back democratic gains, and promote their own anti-liberal ideologies and institutions as legitimate alternatives for other countries to emulate. As part and parcel of the new assertiveness, authoritarian regimes are leading a growing, and increasingly coordinated, assault on support for Western democracy, imposing various constraints on reformist NGOs, closing down pro-democracy organisations, harassing activists, and launching cyber-attacks designed to sabotage democratic processes within Western countries. Indeed, a recent inquiry by a team of experts at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in the US found that the “Big Five” leading the authoritarian charge — Russia, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela — are increasingly bold in their efforts to insinuate themselves into the democratic political processes of Western countries with the goal of sowing discord and disrupting democratic political space. The Kremlin’s and Tehran’s undisguised glee at Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections suggests they believe they are succeeding in their campaign of sabotage.     

Another facet of the democratic recession can be observed in the general dashing of the hopes for political liberalisation in North Africa and the Middle East, the cascade of state failure in the region (most notably in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen), and the rising influence of revolutionary Shia and radical Sunni movements in the Islamic world. Indeed, in the post-Arab Spring resurgence of radical Islamist ideologies and groups we observe not only the return of religion as an alternative organisational principle of world politics, but the outright rejection of all forms of man-made law, democracy, and the Westphalian international order. Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, Hamas in Gaza, and Salafist jihadi groups — IS, Jabhat al-Nusra (which last July rebranded itself as “The Front for the Conquest of the Levant”, or Jabhat Fateh al-Sham), and various al-Qaeda regional affiliates in the Arabian Peninsula and Maghreb — are increasingly contesting the most fundamental values and institutions of modern political liberalism, and challenging the state-based international order.

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January 18th, 2017
4:01 PM
I agree wholeheartedly with Lorna. This article is somewhat confused. Firstly followers of Trumpism (whatever that is)are not turning their backs on the values and institutions underpinning liberal democracy, although the author does not actually specify what these are, but simply voted for the wrong candidate in his eyes. Whatever you may think of Trump he won a free and fair election, and just because he panders to certain voters fears to suggest he is a danger to democracy is a falsehood. Secondly Amichai seems to then go on to conflate the Trump voters with a growing number of younger citizens 'more willing to entertain the notion of living under authoritarian rule'. I am pretty sure these young people are not Trump supporters, but have grown up being told by the left that the 'gentle authoritarianism' of institutions such as the EU are a better form of government than liberal democracy within a sovereign state. People are voting outside the 'system' because they no longer trust the political elite and are sick of being patronised by them if the only alternative is a Trump of a party of the extreme right or left then that's where they will turn.

December 1st, 2016
8:12 PM
Good comment Lorna

Lorna Salzman
November 26th, 2016
2:11 AM
A close comprehensive look at the history of democracy, with only one flaw: depicting opposition to 'free trade" and immigration as regressive anti democratic populism. But this is typical of liberals (including George Soros) and institutions like the EU who cling to their own kind of "gentle"authoritarianism" in order to promote what are actually anti democratic policies as well as trying to persuade us that opposition to unlimited unvetted immigration is pure xenopohbia and racism. It is this arrogance that pushes people into the arms of the populists and right wing. The author of this piece has regrettably joined forces with the neo liberals in denigrating genuine public concern over terrorism and globalization policies written by and for the corporate elite. The Democrats lost the election in the US because in the end they couldn't fool the American electorate about what they stood for.

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