‘Temp­ta­tions of Power: Is­lamists and Il­lib­eral Democ­racy in a New Middle East,’ By Shadi Hamid

Turkish Review - - CONTENTS - JOSEPH CON­RAD

In Shadi Hamid’s book “Temp­ta­tions of Power,” the au­thor re­futes the pop­u­lar claim that democ­racy can serve to mod­er­ate Is­lamist groups. In­stead, he presents the op­po­site ar­gu­ment -- that re­pres­sion can mod­er­ate groups. He fo­cuses the ar­gu­ment on the re­pres­sion that the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood and the Is­lamic Ac­tion Front (IAF) have faced in Egypt and Jor­dan. Hamid finds that dur­ing bouts of re­pres­sion, th­ese groups mod­er­ate their poli­cies. In the open­ing chap­ter, Hamid ad­mits that he is work­ing against the con­ven­tional wis­dom when he states, “There are few ar­ti­cles where the link be­tween re­pres­sion and mod­er­a­tion is ex­plic­itly dis­cussed” (43). Cer­tainly, Hamid’s work is un­con­ven­tional, but he brings a unique per­spec­tive to ex­plor­ing mod­er­a­tion within the Middle East.

Along­side the pre­vi­ously men­tioned ar­gu­ment, Hamid ex­plores the pos­si­bil­ity of lib­eral democ­ra­cies in the Middle East. His view is that Is­lamist groups can­not achieve a lib­eral democ­racy based on their ide­ol­ogy. Both of th­ese ar­gu­ments meet as Hamid re­fines them. Some read­ers may sug­gest that Is­lamist groups could pro­duce lib­eral democ­ra­cies since they have pur­sued democ­racy in the cases ex­am­ined in the book. How­ever, Hamid de­flects this ar­gu­ment by nar­row­ing the def­i­ni­tion of a lib­eral democ­racy. While Is­lamists have en­cour­aged democ­racy in Egypt and Jor­dan, Hamid ar­gues that a lib­eral democ­racy re­quires a set of in­alien­able rights. This is the cru­cial fac­tor that Hamid uses to dif­fer­en­ti­ate a democ­racy based solely on ma­jor­ity will from a democ­racy that pro­tects its mi­nor­ity cit­i­zens’ rights. “Temp­ta­tions of Power” fo­cuses on Is­lamists’ un­will­ing­ness to rec­og­nize in­alien­able rights, which -- Hamid as­sures his read­ers -- is a byprod­uct of their ide­ol­ogy. As he states early in his book, “Their il­lib­er­al­ism is a prod­uct of their Is­lamism, par­tic­u­larly in the so­cial arena” (25-26).

While de­vel­op­ing his first ar­gu­ment, Hamid is care­ful to dis­tin­guish be­tween the dif­fer­ing types of re­pres­sion. He points out that the cases he is ex­am­in­ing have “low to mod­er­ate lev­els of re­pres­sion short of out­right eradication” (45). Hamid nar­rows his con­clu­sion to a spe­cific class of re­pres­sion so as to not al­low it to be mis­in­ter­preted as sup­port for re­pres­sion it­self. Do­ing so helps him avoid the ap­pli­ca­tion of his the­ory to ex­treme cases, such as Egypt af­ter 2013.

To es­tab­lish the con­nec­tion be­tween re­pres­sion and mod­er­a­tion, “Temp­ta­tions of Power” at­tempts to main­tain a chrono­log­i­cal or­der to es­tab­lish a time­line. In or­der to es­tab­lish a causal link, the book presents turn­ing points in the tight­en­ing and loos­en­ing of re­pres­sion within Egypt and Jor­dan. Fol­low­ing from Hamid’s hy­poth­e­sis, we see that both the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood and the IAF mod­er­ate in times of in­creased re­pres­sion. How­ever, when re­pres­sion is slightly lifted, which Hamid refers to as a “demo­cratic open­ing,” we see Is­lamist groups move fur­ther to the ide­o­log­i­cal right.


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