‘Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East,’ By Shadi Hamid
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.
HAMID’S WORK IS UNCONVENTIONAL, BUT HE BRINGS A UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE