When Victory Is Not an Option: Islamist Movements in Arab Politics

When Victory Is Not an Option: Islamist Movements in Arab Politics

by Nathan J. Brown
     
 

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Throughout the Arab world, Islamist political movements are joining the electoral process. This change alarms some observers and excites other. In recent years, electoral opportunities have opened, and Islamist movements have seized them. But those opportunities, while real, have also been sharply circumscribed. Elections may be freer, but they are not fair. The

Overview

Throughout the Arab world, Islamist political movements are joining the electoral process. This change alarms some observers and excites other. In recent years, electoral opportunities have opened, and Islamist movements have seized them. But those opportunities, while real, have also been sharply circumscribed. Elections may be freer, but they are not fair. The opposition can run but it generally cannot win. Semiauthoritarian conditions prevail in much of the Arab world, even in the wake of the Arab Spring. How do Islamist movements change when they plunge into freer but unfair elections? How do their organizations (such as the Muslim Brotherhood) and structures evolve? What happens to their core ideological principles? And how might their increased involvement affect the political system?

In When Victory Is Not an Option, Nathan J. Brown addresses these questions by focusing on Islamist movements in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Palestine. He shows that uncertain benefits lead to uncertain changes. Islamists do adapt their organizations and their ideologies do bend—some. But leaders almost always preserve a line of retreat in case the political opening fizzles or fails to deliver what they wish. The result is a cat-and-mouse game between dominant regimes and wily movements. There are possibilities for more significant changes, but to date they remain only possibilities.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This is an important book not only for its rich empirical exploration of the Muslim Brotherhood in four settings (Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and the Palestinian territories) but also for its insights into semiauthoritarian regimes, which allow opposition groups just enough room to organize and compete but not enough to win elections or form governments. Relying on extensive contacts with Brotherhood leaders, Brown explains how they saw advantages—such as gaining the right to legal assembly and being allowed to propagate their views and deliver basic services to the needy—to playing a game they were destined to lose."—John Waterbury, Foreign Affairs (September/October 2012)

"Brown examines the organization, operation, and impact of Islamist movements in semi-authoritarian states, or systems in which opposition parties are permitted to participate but not win, arguing that while these movements become 'politicized' (i.e., they are participants in politics and elections), they are so in a limited way. . . . He provides an excellent framework for understanding the recent political dynamics of the Arab world."—Choice (October 2012)

"Brown's book . . . captures the main dynamics of Arab politics today, and it serves as a guideline to predict the future of Arab Islamists. This theoretically deep, empirically rich, and politically insightful book is a must-read for students of Middle East politics."—Ahmet T. Kuru, Political Science Quarterly (Summer 2013)

"His metaphor of 'Islamist' survival, that they survive 'as a cat-and-mouse game so long as the cat allows the mouse to live and the mouse remains a mouse' (p. 240) is prophetic as well as salient. The value of Brown's approach is that he compares and contrasts movements across the Middle East and not just on one organization or country."—Daniel Martin Varisco, Contemporary Islam (May 2015)

"Drawing on an extraordinary range of sources, Nathan J. Brown explores the impact that participation in semi-authoritarian politics has had on the character, organization, and ideology of Islamist movements, and reciprocally, on the semi-authoritarian regimes themselves. Grounding his analysis in the cases of Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Palestine, Brown explores the irresistibility of joining the electoral game, the democratizing impact that participation has had on Islamist rhetoric, as well as the limited incentives to fully embrace liberal values created by a context of never being able to truly win. When Victory is Not an Option is an original, lively, and completely up-to-date account that makes accessible to the reader the latest thinking on the phenomenon of Islamist political inclusion."—Eva Bellin, Myra and Robert Kraft Professor of Arab Politics in the Department of Politics and the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandeis University, author of Stalled Democracy

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801477720
Publisher:
Cornell University Press
Publication date:
01/31/2012
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.70(d)

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

Nathan J. Brown is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University. He is the author of several books, including The Dynamics of Democratization, Palestinian Politics after the Oslo Accords, and Constitutions in a Nonconstitutional World.

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