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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 21 November 2015
Is a happy marriage between political Islam and liberal democracy possible? If we are talking about the Islamic State, then obviously not. But what about mainstream political Islam – like the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood? This is a vexed question and there aren’t that many books aimed at a general audience written to address it. This book does that.

Mainstream Islamic political parties like the Muslim Brotherhood certainly say all the right things that western secular democrats like to hear. But it this tactical? This author’s answer, based on interviews with hundreds of activists in Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia, concludes that it is. Such moderation makes good political sense and has all sorts of advantages.

But he offers more: he challenges a conventional wisdom of Western political science that holds that repression begets radicalization while participating in a democratic process brings forth moderation. In Egypt, to take the leading example, the Muslim Brotherhood moderated its stance on issues like Sharia, women’s rights etc. on because of repression in the years before the 2011 revolution. After the revolution, and when the Brotherhood could actually participate freely in the electoral process, it became more radical.

This should come as no surprise. Culturally, Egypt has moved to the right in the past few decades, with polling evidence suggesting greater popular support for ‘traditional’ Islamic punishments like the death penalty for moral offences, apostasy, adultery and so on. In fact, public opinion was often to the right of the Brotherhood’s stated position on various issues. It was no surprise then that when a democratic space opened briefly after 2011, the Brotherhood simply followed the sentiments of its base and became more radical, with extra push provided by the fact that the Brotherhood’s electoral competitors for votes were not leftist or liberal forces but Salafists and other radicals. Hence, electoral considerations pushed the Brotherhood rightwards.

The Brotherhood and and kindred movements like it can claim to be democratic in the sense of reflecting the will of the majority of believers. But they are not liberal. Secular and Islamic democrats can agree on procedure (elections) but disagree on a fundamental level on substance (like the role of the state, rights of minorities etc.).

The differences cannot be glossed over. Just to take one example to illustrate this. The Brotherhood has a conservative stance that Egypt’s problems can be addressed by a return to a cardinal virtue (Sharia). This is antithetical to the secular liberal view that that we need politics because there will always be conflict about what ‘virtue’ means and that any attempt to impose a uniform moral code only exacerbates conflict. The difference in world view runs top to bottom, on a whole spectrum of issues, such as the rights of women, minorities, freedom of conscience (especially the idea of apostasy, which has absolutely no secular equivalent).

This is not the rant of a conservative Islamophobe. The repression begetting moderation thesis is not a call to for ‘secular’ Arab governments to tame political Islam by extirpating it. The repression concerned is of the sort that aims to clip wings and muzzle political Islam, such as was practised in Jordan, Tunisia and Egypt under Mubarak, and not the war of annihilation launched by the Algerian state in the 1990s or that being undertaken in Egypt at the time of writing. This sort of repression does indeed produce greater fanaticism and violence. In other writings, he makes it clear that the idea of political Islam cannot be beaten into submission. He also discusses the (possible) Tunisian exception, where perhaps political Islamism and secularism can co-exist but cautions against wishful thinking in regard to this, not least because the same sort of shift in public opinion towards the cultural right applies to Tunisia as it does pretty much everywhere else in the Middle East.

Hamid is a realistic scholar of political realities of the countries he studies and free of both wishful thinking and from any wish to promote renewed imperial agenda. It will make sobering reading for those who were enthusiasts for America’s imperial mission in the Middle East in the 2000s but also of that project’s critics, who assumed that the phenomenon this book describes – i.e. political Islam as an illiberal but ‘democratic’ movement – was a mere byproduct of external, Western interference rather than internally generated. It’s a lot more complicated than that. If you want to be properly informed, then this book is a must-read.
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VINE VOICEon 4 January 2016
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This handsome paperback has a splendid cover housing 269 cream pages ( a publishers choice that infuriates me).
The author is both a gifted communicator as well as an expert in his field, and such experts seem hard to come by in the liberal west!
Hamid has insight and something helpful and informative to say about the rise of Muslim opposition and government groups in the Middle East. From personal contacts and hundreds of interviews conducted he is able to summarise recent history and explain the position that the middle east has arrived in.
Particularly of interest is the summary the author gives of the problem of Israel and the open hostility against a nation that has historically had friends in the west.
The book is completed by an extensive set of end notes that add to its academic rigour.
I enjoyed reading Hamid's treatise and it is helpful in settling your own world view.
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on 2 May 2014
This is a fantastic book about 'Islamist' in the ME, particularly for the mainstream Islamist movement, under the umbrella of the thought of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The main source is not from a keyboard research but is on the basis of a long term fieldwork, personal observation, over hundred hours interviews with Islamists and digging out archives.

What is the features of this book is that it provides a brand new perspective or framework of looking at how Islamists reacted to the different contexts and why the local social structure contributed to the rise of Islamists during the 'Arab Spring'.

In other words, it is highly recommended to read this book if anyone want to grasp the current Islamist movement in this region.
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on 30 January 2016
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Very good analysis of current ME situation regarding 'islamism' and the struggle for finding a democratic form to suit the conditions of a dynamic but troubled region. Well written, accessible, erudite and thought provoking.Worth a look.
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VINE VOICEon 14 December 2015
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This is a timely and sobering narrative on the Muslim Brotherhood. The book is well researched and the author has clearly investigated the Muslim Brotherhood’s development in Egypt, as well as Jordan, and Tunisia. His analysis of the movement's intentions or strategy pre- and post-2011 is insightful. At the heart of the book is whether the Arab world can have democracy and whether its form of democracy could be compatible with liberalism. Presently there are a host of books about the Middle East (and in particular about ISIS) and this is one of the of the best books out on the subject. Highly recommended.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 11 March 2016
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The Islamic revival of the 1970s and partial democratic openings in e.g. Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan in the 1980s meant that the political context across the region changed. Arabs were becoming increasingly religious and many wanted the implementation of Sharia law in their nations. This meant that political parties had to respond to get the votes, but at the same time they had to be careful how they went about it as any popular threat to the existing powers was often punished harshly.

Shadi Hamid looks at the tactical and strategic choices the Islamist movements made to get into a position where they would be accepted as a legitimate political contender not only by their potential supporters, but also by their opponents in the political system and the international community.

He argues that the many years of repression they faced in “pseudo-secular regimes that portrayed themselves as progressive, liberal and pro-women’s rights” meant that they were pushed along a more moderate path to become more palatable. And his argument is that repression often creates moderation as the repressed will have to fit into the existing model. On the other hand, once they are in power, it is time to prove to their electorate that they will live up to their pre-election promises. Something that has proven hard to do in systems where the former leaders/secular opponents and the military are often ready to step in should they go too far.

What follows is an account of how the different main Islamist parties survived and gradually gained power in the individual countries. It is based on face-to-face interviews and discussions with players in the Islamist groups, mostly the Egyptian Brotherhood. Most of the information was gathered before the recent revolutions (events that they had not foreseen as they thought it would take longer to get into power – or a semblance of power). The book has been on the way since the mid-2000s, so he is clearly very comfortable with and knowledgeable of the subject and that comes through in the almost journalistic way that he explains the events and strategies.

A well-written and readable book with an interesting take on how repression works to create moderation. I will apply this knowledge when following the politics of the region in the future. 4.5 stars and well worth a read.
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VINE VOICEon 15 January 2016
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After reading this book, I now have a better understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, which I thought was just a Political party with individual Muslim members. It turns out to be both religious and political in more or less equal measure. It is interesting to see how Islamic politics struggle to embrace liberalism without sacrificing religion (Islam).

rom what I have gleaned, the book has demonstrated it's thesis that, when Islamists were oppressed, they moderated their political views by placing less emphasis on Islamic laws, and work in tandem with other political movements, but when hand of repression was lifted, they rekindled their dream of an Islamic State, becoming more conservative Islamic groups. For example the book looks at the Brotherhood when the Egyptian Regime became dictatorial. The Muslim Brotherhood worked with Salafi Parties during the authoritarian rule in Egypt starting in the early 90th, and moderated their political ambitions during the period. This is a fascinating look at politics in the Islamic world.

I believe this book has been especially written for non - Islamic readers since, they are the most to benefit from an understanding of Islamic Politics. Against that backdrop, I am surprised that the Author assumes his readers know a lot about Islam. The terminology employed in some places was too hard for me. What is Salafi? I had to take regular trips to Wikipedia (thank you!) and Google whenever I met words I could not understand from the context in which they were used. May be I am not just good. I flipped to the end of the book expecting to find some kind of Glossary of terms the Author expect to be difficult to many readers but only found 'notes'. The notes mainly outline sources, no explanations.Big words are used, I wish I read using the Kindle as it is faster to search for words.
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VINE VOICEon 11 January 2016
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This book has been so very thought provoking. I've given it 5 stars because it lays out the contradiction between democracy and Islam - but not in the way you might think. Islamic based parties are shown to be more democratic when they are being oppressed and they actually attempt to divert secular parties that will not have them in government. It also explodes the myth that all Islam countries are the same - Tunisia is NOT like Egypt and the secular grounding there has produced a very different Islam based / influenced state
And it also introduces the illiberal democracy concept - the ability to vote might just mean that a population will vote for a non-liberal society. And when Egypt did so - the Western allies would not help it to survive. It seems that to get support you have to be a democracy AND liberal in outlook As I say, thought provoking and out of line with the media line in the press - challenges how you think
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on 1 February 2016
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There could be few 'history' books as topical as this one!

If you struggle to understand Islamist movements, and the linked concept of the 'illiberal democracy', then this incredibly meticulously researched book is for you. The story is still unfolding of course, and I hope OUP agree to fund and publish revised updates in years to come, if the author agrees!

This book will be essential reading for students and lecturers in history, politics and religion; as well as being of relevance to the general reader who wants to dig underneath the news headlines.

The book is scholarly but never obscure. It is clearly written. Even so, some prior knowledge would be really helpful!
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VINE VOICEon 8 February 2016
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This is an interesting and well written book. It opens your eyes to what is happening in Egypt and Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle-East. It shows the tensions that are being held- just- in this region of the world.

The book is worth reading to understand the problems that face the people in this part of the world, and for some glimpses about how they might resolve themselves. The book has the great merit of seeing people and ideas in play, rather than clashes of ideologies. There may be more ground for negotiations than we realise.
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