Armed conflicts, civilians debased by both terrorist groups and dictatorial governments, a worrying repression of dissent and waves of populism and racism experiencing a staggering rise, are in the words of Gianni Ruffini, director of Amnesty International Italia, an indication that the world is moving backwards as far as human rights are concerned.
In October 2015, the Law and Justice Party (PiS), the reference party for Polish conservativism, returned to power obtaining an absolute majority of seats and putting an end to a series of centrist-liberal governments (PO-Civic Platform). As of 2007, this party’s most important representative has been Donald Tusk, former prime minister and current president of the European Council.
In the mid-1970s democracy seemed to have fallen to an all-time low. In Latin America, two of the most successful democratic stories, Uruguay and Chile, were violently overthrown by military coups in 1973, while only two years later Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency in India, cancelling a general election and eliminating the most basic civil freedoms.
“Political science must be relevant, it does not involve studying butterflies.” Attempting to discover the theory of reality is what the Florentine political analyst Giovanni Sartori, who died on April 1st at the age of almost 93, had tried to do for his entire life. This amusing comment was made by Gianfranco Pasquino, a political scientist, a former senator.
If we want to understand what is going on today in France, we need to start by saying something about the global geopolitical trend, of which France is obviously part. If a single phrase could summarize the global geopolitical trend, we should say that we are witnessing an era of shift of power: in the last four decades, the geopolitical axis of the world has been shifting from the “developed countries” toward the “developing countries”.
In all countries, established political parties have the dangerous propensity to counter this electoral wave of populism by adopting the issues and language used by them. Political scientists have long believed that when a country succeeds in achieving a democratic transition, creating stable institutions and accomplishing a certain level of wealth, it has a rather low risk of an authoritarian backlash.
Alireza was in Kabul when he received his father’s call urging him to leave the country. A letter signed by the Taliban requested the immediate closure of the English institute that Alireza was directing in Ghazni. After having received a second letter including death threats, Alireza understood he and his family had no chance but to flee the country. The father sold his bakery and the house and paid a smuggler 32.000 dollars to get Alireza, his wife and his two other children out of Afghanistan.
The latest of a raft of measures adopted by US President Donald Trump only a few days after he was sworn into office, the executive order on immigration has sparked heavy criticism in the country and around the world. The measure is intended primarily to suspend the national refugee system temporarily, and the Syrian refugees programme indefinitely, and to deny entry to the US to individuals from seven named, majority-Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen) for 90 days.
The rise of illiberal trends
From India to Russia, the world is experiencing a new rise of illiberal trends and the return of strongmen. Reset DOC
On the streets of Istanbul, it seems a typically democratic election season, with multicolored flags and posters of more than 6 parties, each hoping to pass a 10% -of-the-vote hurdle to obtain seats in the National Assembly. But when Turks go to the polls this Sunday, they will either accelerate or put the brakes on their 93-year old republic’s departure from its founder Kemal Ataturk’s vision of the secular, democratic, Western-facing polity toward a more authoritarian, neo-Ottoman regime that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK-Parti) have been engineering ambitiously for several years. This election is as fateful as the Gezi Park demonstrations that first alerted millions of Turks and roiled much of the rest of the country.
Since the 2011 Arab uprisings gave way to the dreadful combination of civil war and terrorism that has spread from Syria to Libya and Yemen, analysts and political actors from both the Arab world and West have felt an acute need for at least one success story in the region. Tunisia has provided such a tale—despite suffering two lethal terror attacks on its soil so far in 2015, the second being the killing of 38 tourists at a seaside resort in Sousse on June 26. But the reenactment of the emergency law in what is supposed to be a post-transition period, and under a government whose dominant party, NT, based its entire election campaign on “national security,” comes across as both an admission of failure and a threat to hard-won civil liberties. Depending on how it is used, the law may even endanger democracy and pluralism in Tunisia.
The world discovered the Yazidi people in August 2014, when the Islamic State, recently self-proclaimed by the “caliph” al-Baghdadi, brutally and violently attacked Sinjar, in the north-west of Iraq, inflicting murder, rape and kidnappings that led the community to flee en masse to Mount Sinjar. And while U.S. President Barack Obama dutifully exploited the siege to order the first attacks on Iraq, it was the Syrian YPGs, Kurdish people’s defence units, supported by PKK combatants, who opened a humanitarian corridor that allowed thousands to escape. The Kurdish-Iraqi peshmerga fighters who had earlier abandoned the area due to Islamists’ advance also took part in the liberation of Mount Sinjar.
He was the narrative voice of the “second modernity”, the one unmoored from its “solid” foundations and no longer tethered to mass heavy industry, a voice that was always in search of a revenge against extreme inequity and blind consumerism. Zygmunt Bauman, one of the most prominent European sociologists of recent decades, has died. The Polish-born thinker passed away at his home in Leeds, England at the age of 91.
“The migratory crisis does not concern distant places. It is happening right in front of us. This is not an Austrian crisis. This is not an Italian, French, German or a Greek or a Hungarian crisis. This is a European crisis and it requires a collective European response.” This comment made by Dimitri Avramopolous, EU Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs, when speaking of the horrifying discovery of 71 migrants who died of asphyxiation while attempting to reach northern Europe crammed in the back of a truck abandoned on the Austrian-Hungarian border, marked the epilogue of the tenuous new deal on European migration policies announced on July 20th.
Algeria is a complex country, but should one state the three key elements needed to understand the current dynamics, they would most certainly be clan, oil revenue and civil war. Having obtained independence from France in 1962 after colonial domination that lasted over 130 years and a ferocious war of liberation that last for almost eight years, led by Houari Boumedienne, Algeria embarked on a process of accelerated industrialisation financed by oil sales.
Europe and the Maghreb are two increasingly blended realities that, in many ways, share the same difficulties. Olivier Roy, Chair in Mediterranean Studies at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies of the European University Institute in Fiesole, calls this the “post-migration era”, with the Maghreb’s inhabitants no longer pressing against the gates of the European countries, and wishing to come and go, freely “circulating” by following the best economic opportunities, which, at times, are more advantageous in Rabat or Algiers than in the North. Reset DoC has reached Professor Roy some days before the Nobel Peace Price conferred to the Tunisian civil society organizations.
The expansion and consolidation of the Hindu Right’s political power has raised legitimate concerns about the future of India’s secularism. While criticism of secularism could be found in the public debate during the anti-colonial struggle, the sustained assault on it became particularly apparent during the Ayodhya movement. During the late 1980s and 1990s, the public campaign led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) advocated that the practice of secularism has led to the appeasement of Muslims. The BJP further argued that it has been quite harmful to India’s democratic polity because it has been institutionalising vote-bank politics, and that what is needed is in fact an attempt for a ‘positive’ secularism as opposed to ‘negative’ secularism. While these distinctions were widely used during those days, surprisingly it has vanished from the political lexicon of the Hindu Right in recent years.
Two years after the military coup that ousted President Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood is at a crossroad in its history. This has already happened in the past, but should the Brotherhood not resolve the impasse it is currently experiencing, this time it risks political annihilation, or, to say the least, a radical transformation.
Egyptian President al-Sisi’s absence at the Arab League’s 27th summit – where he was replaced by Prime Minister Sherif Ismail – led the daily newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm to speculate on a violent attempt, discovered at a later date, to remove from power the field marshal who has become president. The usual denials that followed from the Egyptian government’s spokesman had certainly not managed to dispel doubts surrounding these events. It does, however, seem sensible to hypothesise that al-Sisi’s decision to not attend the summit does not in any way provide a strong argument for fuelling suspicion of a foiled internal plot.
Fatima Naoot could not have chosen a more fitting subject. The poem she decided to read at a literary encounter held in Cairo at the end of March spoke of physical and psychological prisons and of the people who use them to ensnare freedom of speech. Among them are those who felt insulted by a message she posted on Facebook, and those who sued her taking her to face an Egyptian court that sentenced her for having “insulted Islam”.
It may surprise some to discover that the vice president of the Freedom and Justice party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s most important political party obliged for decades to exist underground, is a Coptic Christian. And yet it is true. Professor Rafiq Habib, an academic who has for some time been studying Islam, is a Christian who has accepted to work with the new Islamic party, believing that at this time the Freedom and Justice Party represents the main nucleus of Egyptian society. “At the moment the Muslim culture can be a way of finding shared values, capable of strengthening a society pulverised in recent decades by a regime wishing to keep people divided. Its fundamental values are shared by the majority of the Egyptian people,” explains Habib.
Fatema Mernissi (b. 1940, d. 30 November 2015), the Moroccan sociologist and novelist, and the pioneering scholar of Islamic feminism of world-fame, has left us today, and left behind her a great legacy for the Arab-Islamic world, and not only, to be proud of and on which to build for a better egalitarian world. With her sociological and theoretical works, along with her narrative-fiction writings, Mernissi has become an icon among Muslim reformists and egalitarianists for the last four decades.
What remains of the sovereignty of the people in next Sunday’s referendum in Greece? Something of course remains, something important. We are, however, far from what those words meant when nation-states defined with certainty the future of their political, economic, military and legal order. The Greeks will announce an apparently clear nai or oxi, a “yes” or a un “no”, addressed, however, at very different national, European and international orders of “sovereignty.”
Dynamic and yet conservative, increasingly turning to the East and yet still attracted by the European option, fascinated by presidentialism but not by the Iranian totalitarian model, Turkish society – and its leadership – escapes all Western categories for which it remains a complex puzzle. Reset discussed the matter with Valeria Giannotta, a professor of International Relations at the University of the Turkish Aeronautical Association in Ankara, while attending the conference entitled “Betting on Iran”, organised by CIPMO (Italian Centre for Peace in the Middle East) in Milan, Italy..