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Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East

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In 1989, Francis Fukuyama famously announced the "end of history." The Berlin Wall had fallen; liberal democracy had won out. But what of illiberal democracy--the idea that popular majorities, working through the democratic process, might reject gender equality, religious freedoms, and other norms that Western democracies take for granted? Nowhere have such considerations In 1989, Francis Fukuyama famously announced the "end of history." The Berlin Wall had fallen; liberal democracy had won out. But what of illiberal democracy--the idea that popular majorities, working through the democratic process, might reject gender equality, religious freedoms, and other norms that Western democracies take for granted? Nowhere have such considerations become more relevant than in the Middle East, where the uprisings of 2011 swept the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups to power. In Temptations of Power, Shadi Hamid draws on hundreds of interviews with leaders and activists from across the region to advance a new understanding of how Islamist movements change over time. He puts forward the bold thesis that repression "forced" Islamists to moderate their politics, work in coalitions, de- emphasize Islamic law, and set aside the dream of an Islamic state. Meanwhile, democratic openings in the 1980s--and again during the Arab Spring--pushed Islamists back toward their original conservatism. With the uprisings of 2011, Islamists found themselves in an enviable position, but one for which they were unprepared. Groups like the Brotherhood combine the features of both political parties and religious movements, leading to an inherent tension they have struggled to resolve. However pragmatic they may be, their ultimate goal remains the Islamization of society. When the electorate they represent is conservative as well, they can push their own form of illiberal democracy while insisting they are carrying out the popular will. This can lead to overreach and significant backlash. Yet, while the Egyptian coup and the subsequent crackdown were a devastating blow for the Islamist "project," obituaries of political Islam are premature. As long as the battle over the role of religion in public life continues, Islamist parties in countries as diverse as Egypt, Tunisia, and Jordan will remain an important force whether in the


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In 1989, Francis Fukuyama famously announced the "end of history." The Berlin Wall had fallen; liberal democracy had won out. But what of illiberal democracy--the idea that popular majorities, working through the democratic process, might reject gender equality, religious freedoms, and other norms that Western democracies take for granted? Nowhere have such considerations In 1989, Francis Fukuyama famously announced the "end of history." The Berlin Wall had fallen; liberal democracy had won out. But what of illiberal democracy--the idea that popular majorities, working through the democratic process, might reject gender equality, religious freedoms, and other norms that Western democracies take for granted? Nowhere have such considerations become more relevant than in the Middle East, where the uprisings of 2011 swept the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups to power. In Temptations of Power, Shadi Hamid draws on hundreds of interviews with leaders and activists from across the region to advance a new understanding of how Islamist movements change over time. He puts forward the bold thesis that repression "forced" Islamists to moderate their politics, work in coalitions, de- emphasize Islamic law, and set aside the dream of an Islamic state. Meanwhile, democratic openings in the 1980s--and again during the Arab Spring--pushed Islamists back toward their original conservatism. With the uprisings of 2011, Islamists found themselves in an enviable position, but one for which they were unprepared. Groups like the Brotherhood combine the features of both political parties and religious movements, leading to an inherent tension they have struggled to resolve. However pragmatic they may be, their ultimate goal remains the Islamization of society. When the electorate they represent is conservative as well, they can push their own form of illiberal democracy while insisting they are carrying out the popular will. This can lead to overreach and significant backlash. Yet, while the Egyptian coup and the subsequent crackdown were a devastating blow for the Islamist "project," obituaries of political Islam are premature. As long as the battle over the role of religion in public life continues, Islamist parties in countries as diverse as Egypt, Tunisia, and Jordan will remain an important force whether in the

30 review for Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East

  1. 5 out of 5

    Yas

    For a book that claims that the electoral success of the Muslim Brotherhood post 2011 revolution was expected due to the increasing islamization of society in the last 2 or 3 decades, the book fails to explain why those Islamized bent societies(whose choices more or less seem to be taken for granted) failed to protect or even protest the 2013 coup. This is the main weakness of the book that is an otherwise valuable and beneficial read. There is an immense focus on the muslim brotherhood fears, t For a book that claims that the electoral success of the Muslim Brotherhood post 2011 revolution was expected due to the increasing islamization of society in the last 2 or 3 decades, the book fails to explain why those Islamized bent societies(whose choices more or less seem to be taken for granted) failed to protect or even protest the 2013 coup. This is the main weakness of the book that is an otherwise valuable and beneficial read. There is an immense focus on the muslim brotherhood fears, the SCAF machinations, the liberal and leftist forces ideological battles....but the people who "okayed" this coup, blessed it and even held fascistic leanings against the brotherhood...they were mentioned in passing in comparison with others. A society that held "deeply religious conservative views" and voted for islamists according to the author...Still despite all that, they did not defend those choices strongly ...there is no focus or an adequate explanation for it. if the argument that is settled throughout the book that islamists political views are aligned with the people(especially in Egypt, citing some polls where majority of Egyptians support Hudood )....why did when a coup happened, those who protested Morsi deposition were only the members of the brotherhood and their sympathizers ??? An eyeopener for me in this book was the context of moderation and repression. The author quite successfully analyze the brotherhood choices(Cases in example are Egypt and Jordan). The prevalent wisdom that repression of the regime and radicalism of religious movement went hand in hand, and while the author does not completely fault this view. he disagrees strongly with it citing the example of several brotherhood parties in the middle east who advocated for "moderate" views during intense repression, these very same parties also advocated for illiberal measures in the few years where there were democratic openings. Very good read and recommendable to anyone interested in understanding the islamist movements and their political strategies in the middle east.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Samar Dahmash Jarrah

    Very in depth look at Islamist Political Parties. Very interesting. Was a pleasure interviewing the author on our radio show.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Robbie Bock

    This book gave me a much better understanding of the difficulties of Muslims coming to power and governing. I can not see how the difficulties will be overcome in anything short of decades and what it will look like is certainly an open question! I don't see any easy or certain solutions.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Murphy

    Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy by Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institute is the most important book I have read on the Middle East in the past two years. The text, while at times overlong and belaboring of a point, represents a paradigm shift in how one should understand political Islam in Islamist parties across the middle east. Three case studies are explored in the text: Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia. In this examination the question arises whether or not the use of the Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy by Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institute is the most important book I have read on the Middle East in the past two years. The text, while at times overlong and belaboring of a point, represents a paradigm shift in how one should understand political Islam in Islamist parties across the middle east. Three case studies are explored in the text: Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia. In this examination the question arises whether or not the use of the language of democracy, tolerance, and human rights often espoused by groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood are sincerely held or, as another review put it, tactical in nature. Those beliefs are held tactically, not sincerely. They are adopted as a means of gaining international sympathy from the West against the often oppressive authoritarianism and anti-democratic regimes in the region, but once in power, the longer power is held the more likely they are to introduce theocratic reforms. They are not Christian Democrats or Social Democrats that have compromised core belief structures for broad appeal, for the nation itself is often more conservative than the leadership of the party. Their stance is not made better by inclusion and acceptance, but rather they become more religious in nature when there are no restraints that make such a position untenable. This went counter to how I have been taught about the period and the people inside, so I asked around. Shadi Hamid is a widely accepted scholar, his work is regularly accepted as some of the best on the Middle East, and his credentials are above reproach. Turns out, a lot of what I learned about inclusion and the democratic process erasing extremism comes from the theories espoused by John Rawls, which is not universally true either across time, nor across regions. I will be looking more into Shadi Hamid in the future, to see how his approach has changed since 2013. Score? 95/100 | A

  5. 5 out of 5

    Luiz Rossetto

    Disclaimer: as the author began to write this book, the idea of islamists deposing Arab autocrats like Ben Ali or Mubarak seemed like a distant, impossible dream. With this in mind, I'd say this is a very clarifying reflection about the relation between political Islam, Democracy, secularism and liberalism. The central thesis of the book might sound counterintuitive, although convincing: while democratic opening was out of question and local dictators were on charge, the Muslim Brotherhood adopt Disclaimer: as the author began to write this book, the idea of islamists deposing Arab autocrats like Ben Ali or Mubarak seemed like a distant, impossible dream. With this in mind, I'd say this is a very clarifying reflection about the relation between political Islam, Democracy, secularism and liberalism. The central thesis of the book might sound counterintuitive, although convincing: while democratic opening was out of question and local dictators were on charge, the Muslim Brotherhood adopted a more "moderated" and pragmatic posture, working along with leftists and liberals and showing theirselves as different from salafists (which they indeed were). Because of the existence of a common enemy and the risks to their very survival, Muslim brothers conceded on giving such an emphasis on questions like the Shariah and things like that. This changed with the political transition and polarization that followed the Arab Spring, specially in Egypt. I don't want to give any spoilers, but it's a very nice book for anyone interested in middle eastern politics.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Boston64329

    I found this book challenging. More than likely because of my lack of knowledge and understanding of the Middle East and the politics of each state. Having said that, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in understanding the islamist movements and their political strategies in the middle east. I'm going to search for an author who will present the opposite argument and/or takes this book's premise one step further or read Shadi's previous book. Based on US nightly news reports, I wasn't su I found this book challenging. More than likely because of my lack of knowledge and understanding of the Middle East and the politics of each state. Having said that, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in understanding the islamist movements and their political strategies in the middle east. I'm going to search for an author who will present the opposite argument and/or takes this book's premise one step further or read Shadi's previous book. Based on US nightly news reports, I wasn't surprised buy the percentages of the population that appeared to support a Sharia based illiberal democracy or vicegerency. I was surprised that the will of the majority was moderated. The moderation of Islamic principles and the lack of courage to field candidates so as not to instigate a secular minority persecution or repression was and was not a surprise. The lack of civilian control of the military is what I believe to be part of the problem.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Faheem Hussain

    An essay inspired by this book: Egypt's Liberal Coup An essay inspired by this book: Egypt's Liberal Coup

  8. 4 out of 5

    Pie Resting-Place

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. A book that circles around the idea that the repression the Muslim brotherhood experienced in the past has increased the degree to which they espouse policies that are more palatable. Once this repression disappeared their political aims became a lot more 'extreme' and 'islamist'. This combined with the unstable climate of rapid change around the Arab Spring together triggered the renewed repression that we are currently seeing in Egypt. What this book touches on at many points but never seems t A book that circles around the idea that the repression the Muslim brotherhood experienced in the past has increased the degree to which they espouse policies that are more palatable. Once this repression disappeared their political aims became a lot more 'extreme' and 'islamist'. This combined with the unstable climate of rapid change around the Arab Spring together triggered the renewed repression that we are currently seeing in Egypt. What this book touches on at many points but never seems to explain is that there must be a deep disagreement in many Arab countries between a group of powerful people who want a secular state and a majority of the electorate that wants a more Islamist state, perhaps in combination with the locking up of women and the enforcing of Taliban like religious laws.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Murtaza

    This book posits a paradox in the development of Islamist political movements; that their response to repression is to actually moderate themselves further. This at first glance is counterintuitive, since we expect repression to radicalize political movements more often than not. While that is certainly the case with extreme forms of repression (Sayid Qutb after all was only radicalized after his own torture and imprisonment) less absolute forms do seem to have this effect. Muslim Brotherhood mo This book posits a paradox in the development of Islamist political movements; that their response to repression is to actually moderate themselves further. This at first glance is counterintuitive, since we expect repression to radicalize political movements more often than not. While that is certainly the case with extreme forms of repression (Sayid Qutb after all was only radicalized after his own torture and imprisonment) less absolute forms do seem to have this effect. Muslim Brotherhood movements in Egypt and Jordan have moderated their public positions to a great degree in recent decades, and have doubled down on further moderation when confronted with repression by the state. The author also spends some time tracking the fundamental beliefs and ideologies of Islamist movements, and makes a good case that they are in many ways reflective of the conservative societies they spring from. Even in Egypt ostensibly liberal parties are compelled to include some nods to Islam in their platform in deference to popular preferences. Despite decades of very extreme repression of religion by secular regimes in countries such as Tunisia, the desire for Islam in the public sphere shows an amazing resilience in popular opinion. Simply put, people want "democracy" but they don't necessarily want to be "liberal" in the sense that Western countries are. Even in its mildest forms political Islamism is fundamentally inimical to the idea of liberalism; it is "freedom" in a way which has a different definition. With the exception of perhaps the Turkish model where the Islamists simply became conservative secularists in practice, there's not a lot of common ground for liberals (a small minority) and even liberal Islamists to occupy. I don't think the West should try to force their own definition of freedom onto people who want to be governed according to their own beliefs and mores. Contrary to their rhetoric Western countries in practice have always been willing to turn a blind eye to domestic repression in the Arab world as long as their own foreign policy interests were catered to. The U.S. should treat Islamist movements - which are fundamentally democratic, even in their internal practices - and are broadly popular, as the expressions of the popular will that they are and not commiserate with brutal dictators in their suppression. Islamist groups somewhat paradoxically happen to be very sensitive to what Western powers think of them and have been pragmatically willing to modify their policies wherever necessary in order to maintain a positive international image. On areas of mutual interest, they can be worked with. Islamism is not going away, and any project to suppress it is by nature a project to violently suppress democracy itself. This shouldn't, and ultimately can't continue. They should have their day to govern freely, something they were denied in Egypt, and let their politics live or die by its own ability to satisfy popular demands. My one complaint with this book is that it didn't deliver on its promise from the early pages to show Islamist political supporters on any personal level. This is purely an academic work, and it is written in a way which is dry and not intended to be engaging to people who aren't otherwise interested in the topic.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ahmed

    Shadi disagrees with the "inclusion-moderation" hypothesis. The central argument of this book is that it is in fact under repression that Islamists become more "moderate" - they abandon the more radical parts of their programme, democratise internally, build alliances with other parties and stress their democratic bona fides. When they have free speech they go the opposite direction. As the Islamists moderate they are less objectionable to the west, and also more able to form broad coalitions wit Shadi disagrees with the "inclusion-moderation" hypothesis. The central argument of this book is that it is in fact under repression that Islamists become more "moderate" - they abandon the more radical parts of their programme, democratise internally, build alliances with other parties and stress their democratic bona fides. When they have free speech they go the opposite direction. As the Islamists moderate they are less objectionable to the west, and also more able to form broad coalitions with other secular and leftist opposition parties. They are more palatable to the voters and seem like a responsible potential alternative to rule the country. This makes the regime double down on the repression, which makes the Islamists further moderate and emphasise democratic principles and moderate policies in an attempt to appease them and seem moderate and responsible, which only makes them seem more viable and therefore make the regime more threatened, leading to more repression. He very clearly shows a critical division between the leadership and the rank-and-file. The leadership are insulated from the people, and therefore their actions don't seek to follow the people's will but only shape it. However, as the leaders are the ones facing the repression directly they are the ones that moderate, not the rank-and-file. Many examples of MB leadership accepting things like democracy or women and non-Muslims running for office, but the general membership still not being aware of this and even opposing it years later. The political stuff doesn't filter down to their tarbiyah, which emphasises obedience and responsibility, so the masses, in their perception of being under siege, just delay these disagreements to a later date. Lots of surveys showing they are significantly to the right of the leadership, which is very visible in the case of Tunisia's Ennahda, as well as Jordan and Egypt. Then, under an open political atmosphere, the conservatisation of Egyptian society over the last few decades starts to show in the polarisation. It isn't about the brotherhood's conservatism as much as it is about their main opponents - the radical salafis. There's an "outbidding" process in which they have to compete for the citizens, who show strong preference for shariah, hudud, restrictions on minorities etc. This combined with their pragmatism reversed all of the MB's gradual moderation. The author does a good job of humanising Islamists, as the work is based on lots of interviews. He concludes that perhaps the role of the international community is to provide an alternative pressure; the AKP were very democratising when they were trying to get into the EU, and only became authoritarian when they gave up and this was no longer an influence. So he criticises Obama's laissez-faire style and implies they were wrong to quit the ideology of heavily promoting human rights and democratisation, which led to the openings of the 80s. By extension, what's happening at the moment will not lead to any long-term stability or moderation in the Arab world; rather the west should engage with democratically-elected parties and push them towards pluralism.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Guy

    Just finished reading an enlightening book called "Temptations of Power: Islamists & Illiberal Democracy In A New Middle East", by Shadi Hamid. The author uses many examples from countries of the MENA region such as Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, and the Gulf states to explore why the Islamists' rise to power via democratic means has yet to be successful and lasting. In a region long dominated by totalitarian secular autocrats and "religious" monarch-dictators, most of whom propped up by the USA and th Just finished reading an enlightening book called "Temptations of Power: Islamists & Illiberal Democracy In A New Middle East", by Shadi Hamid. The author uses many examples from countries of the MENA region such as Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, and the Gulf states to explore why the Islamists' rise to power via democratic means has yet to be successful and lasting. In a region long dominated by totalitarian secular autocrats and "religious" monarch-dictators, most of whom propped up by the USA and the West, the Arab Spring of the past few years introduced the world to the idea that democracy might naturally bubble forth in that region. Unfortunately, it seems the region was not (is not?) ready for democracy. Many Islamist leaders, brought to power in the Arab Spring, struggled between appeasing their religious followers demanding Sharia Law and the non-religious minorities fearing Islamic totalitarianism. In this struggle, the Islamists seem to either overreach in the eyes of the opposition or underachieve in the eyes of their followers. In either case, this delicate balance somehow keeps the new leaders from any focus on building the tools and systems of democracy needed to codify laws that promote and protect power-sharing and freedoms/rights for religious and secular minorities. Sharia Law itself runs counter to democracy as understood in the rest of the world, but when super-majorities vote for leaders whom they expect to install such law, the paradox of "illiberal democracy" becomes apparent, and is seemingly irreconcilable. In an era when the only "news" we get of this region is of war, bombings, terrorists, and conflict, it was nice to learn a little bit of some of the larger ideological, generational, and geopolitical forces behind the changes taking place in the Middle East. The book is a little on the dry side, but still well worth the read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tarbuckle

    Quite academic and dry in composition, but about as objectively observed, analysed, and forecasted as one could hope for. Alas, that impartial clarity leads the reader, via the author, to a darkened pessimism about the political outlook for the Middle Eastern morass, but there certainly exists no End of History and these things tend to play out both cyclically and linearly, with neither existential impetus stretching/looping back to an exact pre-existing environment. It will be the work—perhaps Quite academic and dry in composition, but about as objectively observed, analysed, and forecasted as one could hope for. Alas, that impartial clarity leads the reader, via the author, to a darkened pessimism about the political outlook for the Middle Eastern morass, but there certainly exists no End of History and these things tend to play out both cyclically and linearly, with neither existential impetus stretching/looping back to an exact pre-existing environment. It will be the work—perhaps quite sanguinary, and almost assuredly of deeply religious fiber—of generations in its unfolding, though whether it be to stability or dissolution, democracy (with its probability of popularly erected conservative Islamic structure) or autocracy (with the Islamic reform elements and proponents suppressed) remains an open—and troubling—question.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Well worth the time to read. Provides a detailed look at the political history of Islamist parties in Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia. Very relevant and it holds the mirror of truth to the American political system. "The politicization of religion can be used to bolster support among the rank-and-file. It is a way to consolidate, justify, and legitimate political power. This becomes more useful the more unpopular Islamist become. If Islamists cannot point to tangible economic gains - if they can't, in Well worth the time to read. Provides a detailed look at the political history of Islamist parties in Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia. Very relevant and it holds the mirror of truth to the American political system. "The politicization of religion can be used to bolster support among the rank-and-file. It is a way to consolidate, justify, and legitimate political power. This becomes more useful the more unpopular Islamist become. If Islamists cannot point to tangible economic gains - if they can't, in other words, fix the potholes - then the temptation to cloak themselves in religion becomes all the more irresistible." p. 208

  14. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Trevithick

    3.5 stars - enjoyed this book that works to explain the paradox regarding the role of moderate repression on Islamist groups and their own liberalization and organization. Makes a persuasive case that Islamist groups democratized before the Arab Spring, not after it. Focuses largely on Egypt and Jordan, and to a lesser extent on Tunisia. Enjoyed the section on groups very intentionally limiting their political victories so as (amusingly) not to seem too successful and upset the government.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Justin Holiman

    Although Mr. Hamid tends to be a bit soft on Islamists, the book is not only thoroughly detailed (and very well researched), but a great narrative for a confusing and endlessly turbulent are. The Arab Spring changed geopolitics forever, and Temptations of Power helped to show just why that is. A must read for any political hopeful.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

    2.5 stars. The book was ok. At the end of it, I wasn't exactly sure what I was supposed to have gotten out of it. I think the author would have been better off with this as a 15-page research paper than a full book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Horst Walther

    Although it challenges your patience to read through all the necessary details this reading provides you some valuable insight into the dynamics of Islamist movements and especially their relation to democracy and to liberalism.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Patrick F

    Want to get a succinct but detailed analysis of the evolution of Islamist groups and poltiical parties and thought in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia? Well, then read this careful, profound, and important work from Brookings fellow Shadi Hamid. 5 out of 5, for sure.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Yusuf Agah

    Providing basic and updated information. Comparison between Egypt, Jordan and Tunusia offers a good idea. A good read for the ones who are interested in political İslam.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Hussein Magdy

    Excellent analysis of Islamists political calculations and presents the most reasonable explanation behind Islamists choices in Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia

  21. 4 out of 5

    Noha Sallam

    A very good and eye opening book to some of the facts and circumstances surrounding the rise of teh MB to power and their term in governing.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Machmack

    Excellent insights into a complex history.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Brittany Farrell

  24. 5 out of 5

    Syreen

  25. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  26. 5 out of 5

    Maryum Alam

  27. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

  28. 4 out of 5

    Antoine Terrar

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rpl

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ahmed Rashed

    Very thorough discussion and explanation of Islamic movements in the Middle East

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