The 2017 Assilah Forum Foundation (AFF) held in the northern Moroccan city of Assilah a colloquium on populism, one of the most striking topics in the international affairs that has changed the political course of many countries in the last 100 years.
Mohammed Benaissa, AFF Secretary General, opened the colloquium themed “Populism and the Western Speech on the Democratic Governance” with a warning that populism seeks to break into power strongholds and claim the ability to organise a different society.
“Within which intellectual and political category do we classify the protest or movement experiments that have been witnessed by some Arab, African and European societies?” Asked Benaissa.
The colloquium was moderated by former Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos who said that “we cannot understand the impact of populism at a national level unless we understand what’s happening in the world and the big changes that are caused by globalisation.”
Mahmoud Gebril, former President of Libya’s Transitional National Council, thought that the world was in a developed and historic movement following a civilised curve known as globalisation.
Gebril warned that populist movements could turn into radical and extremist groups prompting armed conflicts and military coups if there is no intellectual framework that encloses them in societies.
Taher Al-Masri, former Jordanian Prime Minister, wondered how the Western world which has long defended human values is now instilling religious and ethnic fears into its society.
Masri explained that democracies in the Western world correct themselves, but asked what would happen after the damage was done.
“I am one of those who think that Nazism is a radical movement whose roots were populist,” he said, adding that humanity did not do well in giving a minute social and political explanation to populism which may engender grave consequences.
Vuk Jeremic, former Serbian foreign minister and former president of the UN general assembly, drew a bleak picture about Eastern Europe which he said was going from a liberal to illiberal democracy which was had been embraced after the fall of the Berlin wall.
Jeremic stressed that the consequences of populist movements were very visible on the international scene, saying that it has become increasingly difficult to address key issues concerning the international community through multilateral means and structures.
He cited the example of the United States which is rapidly excluding itself from key mechanisms and treaties such as the Paris climate agreement.
Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, the Permanent Representative of Brazil to the United Nations and former Minister of External Relations, said that the initial impulse from populism is not necessarily a negative one.
“We have to recognise that populism is used in different ways depending on the region and the contexts,” citing the example of Europe where populism is associated with the rejection of the other which he called “xenophobia.”
Patriota said that populism in Latin America is associated with more inclusion and explained that positive populism in one country can have an impact on other countries.
“Former Brazilian President Lula was described sometimes as a populist. He preached solidarity across the borders and sensitivity to the disenfranchised in Brazil and elsewhere,” said Patriota, adding that populism that includes xenophobia is the problematic one.