By Dina Shehata
4 May 2018
Trump, Putin, Modi, Erdogan, Orban, Le Pen,
Wilders — these are the names of but a few of the leaders representing the rise
of right-wing populist movements across the world today.
Right-wing populist movements share
important commonalities including an anti-elite/establishment orientation,
nationalism combined with racism and xenophobia, opposition to free trade and
globalisation, and an emphasis on reasserting traditional gender and family
In the American context, right-wing
populism began with the emergence of the Tea Party Movement within the
This distinguished itself from traditional
Republican politics by its appeal to white working-class Americans, its
opposition to immigration, free trade and globalisation, and its desire to
control women’s bodies and reproductive freedom by banning birth control and
The Tea Party Movement capitalised on a
growing feeling of economic and social exclusion by white Americans, who increasingly
fear that their dominant status within American society is being threatened by
the rise of women, immigrants and minorities.
It also built on the economic insecurity
felt by an important segment of the American working class as a result of free
trade and globalisation and the consequent de-industrialisation of the American
The movement built on the angst of American
males who feel that the rise of women and racial and LGBT minorities to
positions of power is threatening the traditional structure and power
hierarchies of American society.
In Europe, right-wing populism has had a
stronger nationalist emphasis and has been closely tied to the rise of
Islamophobia and the rejection of immigrants, especially from the Muslim world.
It also has a strong anti-EU component.
Right-wing populism in Western and Eastern Europe builds on the social and
economic grievances of the European working class and attributes these to
globalisation, European integration and immigration.
It prescribes reducing the powers of the
EU, greater economic protectionism, and restrictions on immigration as a
solution to Europe’s problems.
The recent success of the Brexit referendum
in the UK has been attributed to the rise of nationalist and anti-EU sentiment
in the UK. Similarly, the rise of leaders of right-wing populist movements to
power in Poland and Hungary, in addition to the growing shares of the electoral
vote won by parties such as the Front National in France and the Alternative
for Germany Party in Germany, has also been a measure of the rising strength of
these movements across Europe.
Finally, the growing strength and
popularity of leaders such Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President
Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi represents a
growing backlash against globalisation, Westernisation and secularism in the
These leaders adopt a nationalist and
xenophobic outlook that seeks to reassert the past glories of their nations in
opposition to western hegemony and globalisation. They propose a vision which
emphasises nationalism, religion and social conservatism in the face of
globalisation, individualisation and social diversification.
In short, the right-wing populist movements
across the world represent a yearning to return to an imagined past in which
communities were homogenous, families were patriarchal and heterosexual,
employment was secure and economies local, and religion and nationalism were
This is an ideal posited in opposition to
the complex reality of globalisation and of post-modern and post-industrial
societies that encourage the free movement of goods, people and ideas and where
traditional conceptions of nation, family, religion are being questioned and
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990
and the end of the Cold War the US political scientist Francis Fukayama
famously declared the “end of history” and the final triumph of the Western
liberal economic model.
However, the recent upsurge in right-wing
populist movements and leaders across the world represents a negation of the
proposed triumph of the Western model and the rise of an alternative vision for
the future characterised by rising nationalism, economic protectionism, and
social and political conservatism.
In fact, the rise of right-wing populist
movements across the world seems to be validating the vision of fellow US
political scientist Samuel Huntington of a post-Cold War future defined
primarily by a “clash of civilisations”.
Today we are seeing the emergence of a new
multi-polar world order in which each nation and civilisation is reasserting
its autonomy vis-à-vis the others, externally through growing nationalism and
economic protectionism and internally through growing authoritarianism, social
homogenisation and conservatism.
Especially troubling in this new world
order is the status of racial and ethnic minorities, who are often perceived as
a kind of fifth column to be feared and contained rather than as citizens to be
The rise of right-wing populism is thus
likely to have a negative effect on the progress of democratic governance and
individual and minority rights across the world.
As more countries move in a more
nationalist, conservative and authoritarian direction, individual and
citizenship rights, especially those earned by women and minorities, will
likely be eroded in the name of nationalist and religious ideals.
Moreover, more international conflicts are
likely to result from the spread of nationalist and xenophobic movements across
the globe, with refugees, immigrants and minorities suffering the most.
However, such multi-polarity might also
have a limiting effect on the scope of such conflicts, with all-out wars being
replaced by proxy wars such as the ones now being fought out in Syria and
Dina Shehata is a senior researcher at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political
and Strategic Studies.