opn 190924 Brexit-1569322174570
Protesters hold up placards as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds Brexit talks at the prime minister's residence in Luxembourg, on Monday, Sept. 16, 2019 Image Credit: Bloomberg

The political developments in Britain are a striking example of what traditional democracies around the world are going through.

Since the Brexit referendum in 2016, the ruling Conservative party is fragmenting with the far right gaining more ground at its expense.

Liberal members are either drifting towards Liberal Democrat party or staying independent. The opposition Labour party is in no better shape, with LibDems attracting many on its fringes.

Boris Johnson’s rise as leader of Conservatives and prime minister added to the fragmentation and chaos. His populist approach is alienating many, even in his party, and it is doing more harm to the deteriorating British political scene.

Brexit might have triggered the latest turmoil, but traditional politics had begun to decline in established democracies decades earlier.

Since the collapse of USSR and the end of Cold War, mainstream political parties in Europe started to shift towards the ‘Middle’, giving rise to new terminology like ‘middle left’ and ‘middle right’.

Traditional left and right eroded to the extent that people couldn’t differentiate their policies. The ‘Middle’ then became crowded and started to give way to offshoots on both directions.

‘New World Order’

The rise of far-right and populist left was not a surprise, and it coincided with the decline of the ‘state’ as we knew since the last two centuries. Groups became more powerful and politicians from the ‘establishment’ relied on appeasing the groups to gain votes.

Outside the western world and traditional democracies, groups challenged states in a more militant way — especially in the Middle East where those groups disguised in religious gowns.

The last three decades witnessed the rise of all non-state and non-traditional players, fuelling a populist sentiment that threatened politics as we know it and the core foundations of nation-state.

Politicians, and thinkers, have been talking about a ‘New World Order’ to replace the bi-polar Cold War-era international politics.

Terrorism, and religious one in particular — mainly Islamist terrorism, replaced Communism as the threat to traditional democracies.

Terrorist attacks and subsequent wars didn’t yield the talked-about world order, let alone making the world a safer place. Terrorism from the east led to the rise of ‘indigenous’ terrorism in the West, in the form of neo-Nazis or white supremacists.

Western democracies were not the only ones affected. Middle East has seen a wave of turmoil manifested by popular uprisings in some countries that toppled regimes and shook the state foundations.

As these protests were hijacked by groups such as Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood), it left some countries still on fire.

Internal fighting and destruction ravaged countries such as Syria and Libya. Yet, there are religious autocracies in other countries like Iran. Even the so-called ‘the only democracy’ in the region — Israel — adopted laws turning it officially into a ‘religious state’, not much different from Iran.

Extremist ideologies

As some academics conclude, societies and communities resort to religion, or extremist ideologies, in times of uncertainty. Nothing is more uncertain than the state of a world in transition, especially when that intermediate phase takes longer time.

Major changes are common in history, and in many cases it took even longer to crystallise and caused chaos as well. That was the price to be paid for moving forward. History books are full of accounts of civil and regional wars that resulted in new national, regional and world orders.

The world disorder might be seen as a side-effect of the global change in politics and international relations. But it is a price that has to be paid nonetheless.

It is not guaranteed that populist, extremist or religious trends will prevail and shape the new world order. Most likely these are the fuel that powers global change.

Residues remain, of course, and it is up to us to decide what to do with it — make it a shrine to pay homage, recycle it into another new world disorder, or make the best out of it for better system.

Here comes the opportunity that transition provides for emerging power centres, or national and regional players.

Britain may not lose the tag of “oldest established democracy” or the United States may not cease to be the “most vibrant and world’s largest economy” soon.

But Great Britain might not stay the way it is now, a ‘United Kingdom’. The US might be surpassed economically by a new emerging power — not necessarily its main competitor: China.

It might be a new country or a bloc in the making that will emerge from the disorder to become a leader, or a group of leaders of the new order.

— Dr Ahmed Mustafa is an Abu Dhabi-based journalist.