On Monday evening at Senate House the Middle East Monitor welcomed Professor John Keane of the University of Sydney to London to give the inaugural Abdelwahab Elmessiri memorial lecture.
The lecture was held to remember the scholar's great contributions to works on Palestine, Israel, Zionism and the wider Middle East. Professor Keane's lecture analysed the developments of politics during the 21st century which he described as the new despotisms of this era. Looking at countries from China, through to Russia through to the United Arab Emirates, Professor Keane explored how the regimes in these countries and others, may lay claim to democracy but were in fact continuing the traditions of old autocracies from the 20th century.
Professor Keane explained that the use of the term despotism stemmed from the fact that it described the use of "arbitrary power", it had a "strategic value" as it raised critical questions and it highlights an 18th century practise which remains part of today's fabric of society in that those with arbitrary power can "develop the arts of democratically ruling them." He went on to explain that it "should be remembered that there is all the difference in the world between not having democracy and having to fight for it (as before); and having democracy and losing it." Professor Keane's exploration of 21st century democracy ended with the final warning that "democracy's in for a rough ride."