When Victory Is Not an Option

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

Nathan J. Brown
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    When Victory Is Not an Option
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6389-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-14)

    Over the past generation, Arab politics has begun to open up. And some Islamist movements—particularly those modeled on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood—have poured into the resulting gaps. How has politics changed them?

    In a variety of Arab political systems, space for political speech and even activity has become more open but is still very constrained, and limits can be ruthlessly enforced. These changes were deeply entrenched long before the revolutionary upheavals of 2011; indeed, it is not yet clear how much would-be revolutionaries and reformers, as bold as their efforts have been, will overcome deeply institutionalized patterns of governance....

  5. 2 RUNNING TO LOSE? Elections, Authoritarianism, and Islamist Movements
    (pp. 15-31)

    Semiauthoritarian regimes in the Arab world tempt, entice, repress, and frustrate Islamists in constantly shifting and often undependable ways. Semiauthoritarian politics is characterized by much more motion than movement. But fairly consistently, the pattern of rules constructed by such regimes invites Islamists to compete in—and lose—elections. What are the rules under which Islamists agree to run? Why do they bother? And how does participation in such a system affect them?

    We are interested in this book in the effect of semiauthoritarianism on Islamist movements. In this chapter we will focus on understanding what semiauthoritarianism is, the political openings...

  6. 3 BEYOND ANALOGY MONGERING: Ideological Movements and the Debate over the Primacy of Politics
    (pp. 32-58)

    Islamist movements in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Palestine have dramatically if gradually increased their investment in electoral politics when they have found themselves in a semiauthoritarian environment. While they have always been interested in politics, their recent involvement is a qualitative and quantitative leap. It is not an unconditional one, nor has the payoff been unlimited. And they have been improvising in determining the level and nature of their commitment; the movements seem to be operating a bit in the dark, with no clear precedents to guide them.

    Beatriz Magaloni has observed that “in the transition game, parties are viewed...

    (pp. 59-82)

    We have seen how semiauthoritarianism operates, and we have begun to build some ideas about how social movements with ambitious agendas might react to the opportunities semiauthoritarian politics leaves open. In this chapter, we turn our attention more specifically to the model of the Muslim Brotherhood, the central focus of this book. Semiauthoritarian regimes and the Muslim Brotherhood model seem virtually (if partly unintentionally) made for each other. Semiauthoritarian regimes provide the circumstances in which Islamist movements can flourish, at least by the anemic standards set by other opposition forces in such circumstances. Islamist movements are often willing to provide...

    (pp. 83-125)

    In presenting itself to Palestinian voters in January 2006, Hamas regularly referred to its relationship with the “mother movement,” Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Why would a group running for national office for the first time introduce itself to the electorate in terms of its foreign affiliation? Part of the message was precisely the international aspect of the relationship: Hamas leaders had an interest in countering any image of their movement as a global pariah. But they also sent a subtle message not to the broad electorate but to their committed foot soldiers: Hamas, the movement with “resistance” as its middle name,...

  9. 6 CAN ISLAMISTS PARTY? Political Participation and Organizational Change
    (pp. 126-164)

    We have seen that our existing knowledge about political parties operating on the edge of political systems suggests that in general and over time, given a political process that offers substantial rewards for participation and substantial risks for other strategies, parties on the edge of a system will indeed become politicized within it.

    We have also tried hard to change the subject—or at least move our attention in a different direction—by insisting that we focus more on the hedges and qualifications (“over time,” “substantial rewards,” “substantial risks,” and the meaning of “politicization”) than on the “moderation” of such...

  10. 7 IDEOLOGICAL CHANGE: Flirtation and Commitment
    (pp. 165-203)

    In 2005, Muhammad Mahdi ‘Akif, then general guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, was asked by a journalist what Egypt needed most. He responded with one word: “Freedom,” and then repeated it for emphasis. “Freedom is a basic part of the Islamic order,” ‘Akif claimed. “If it is absent then the slogan Islam is the solution has no value; it becomes the problem not the solution.”¹

    The choice of the word “freedom” seemed odd, not simply because Brotherhood critics hardly viewed the group as a liberating force, but even more because ‘Akif was embracing the slogan at a time...

    (pp. 204-226)

    In semiauthoritarian politics, movements do not participate in order to win an election and govern. But can their participation affect the workings of the political system or of the society, either over the short or long term? This is a question we have avoided answering, instead focusing on the opposite question: how do semiauthoritarian systems affect the movements? In answering our preferred question, we have arrived at a better understanding of regimes and movements, one that equips us for turning it back around. That is what we will do in this chapter, asking whether Islamist movements can make politics and...

    (pp. 227-242)

    Shortly after Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections of January 2006, the leader of the Islamic Action Front’s parliamentary bloc startled his fellow Jordanians by suggesting that the results could be repeated in Jordan. Not only did he state that under a fair law “Islamists in Jordan would obtain a majority”; he also asserted that they were “prepared to assume control over the executive branch to realize the hopes of the people.”¹ A proclamation by an opposition politician that his party was prepared to win and govern would hardly elicit mention in a democratic system. In Jordan, full fidelity to...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 243-252)
  14. Index
    (pp. 253-260)