(Kiana) #1
Democracy Demotion

July/August 2019 21

people in its net. Freed from American
pressure, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi
has launched a thorough, brutal crack-
down on all forms o” opposition and
dissent in Egypt, leaving the country
more repressive than it was at any time
during Mubarak’s 29 years o” rule.
And MBS has literally gotten away with
murder: he faced almost no repercus-
sions after evidence emerged that he
had ordered the brutal assassination and
dismemberment o” the journalist Jamal
Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in
Istanbul in October 2018.
The growing assertiveness o” two
major authoritarian states is also setting
back democracy. In the past decade,
Russia has rescued the regime o• Presi-
dent Bashar al-Assad in Syria, conquered
and annexed Crimea, and destabilized
eastern Ukraine. China, meanwhile, has
been investing extraordinary sums o”
money and diplomatic energy to project
its power and inÁuence around the world,
both on land and at sea. A new era o”
global competition has dawned—not just
between rival powers but also between
rival ways o” thinking about power.
To add to the threat, the competition
between democratic governments and
authoritarian ones is not symmetrical.
China and Russia are seeking to penetrate
the institutions o” vulnerable countries
and compromise them, not through the
legitimate use o” “soft power” (transpar-
ent methods to persuade, attract, and
inspire actors abroad) but through “sharp
power,” a term introduced by Christo-
pher Walker and Jessica Ludwig o” the
National Endowment for Democracy.
Sharp power involves the use o” informa-
tion warfare and political penetration
to limit free expression, distort the
political environment, and erode the

dom. That is what has changed since
the election oÊ Trump, who doesn’t even
pretend to support freedom. Instead,
Trump has lovingly embraced such
dictators as Putin, the North Korean
leader Kim Jong Un, and Crown Prince
Mohammed bin Salman o” Saudi
Arabia, known as MBS, while treating
European and other democratic allies
with derision and contempt.
Trump’s disregard for democratic
norms is contributing to a growing and
dangerous sense oÊ license among dicta-
tors worldwide. Consider the case o”
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
In early October 2017, I received a
distressing e-mail from Nicholas Opiyo,
one o” Uganda’s leading human rights
lawyers. In late September o” that year,
soldiers had entered Parliament and
beaten up members resisting a deeply
unpopular constitutional amendment that
would allow Museveni, who had then
been in power for over 30 years, to rule
for life. “It appears to me the whole
region is in a steep democratic recession
partly because o” the loud silence from
their western allies,” Opiyo wrote. “In
the past, the state was a little reluctant
to be this [brutal] and violent and had
some measure o” shame. It is all gone.”
Autocrats around the world are
hearing the same message as Museveni:
U.S. scrutiny is over, and they can do
what they please, so long as they do not
directly cross the United States. Rodrigo
Duterte, the president o” the Philip-
pines, had surely taken this message to
heart as he purged his country’s chie”
justice, arrested his leading foe in the
Senate, and intimidated journalists and
other critics oÊ his ostensible war on
drugs, a murderous campaign that has
caught both political rivals and innocent

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