In This Review

Civil Society in the Middle East, Vol. 1
Civil Society in the Middle East, Vol. 1
Edited by Augustus Richard Norton
E. J. Brill, 1995, 328 pp

What is it about the Middle East that makes political systems there resistant to democratization? By now, a vast literature on this topic has developed, much of it emphasizing the role of Islam as an impediment to political liberalization. Norton, the editor of this volume and the director of a multiyear project on civil society in the Middle East, rejects the culturalist explanation for the scarcity of democracy and concentrates instead on the weakness of civil society where authoritarian regimes have taken root. Until political groupings that transcend family, tribe, or clan are allowed to develop, pluralistic politics of the sort that supports democracy cannot thrive. Whether one accepts this argument in full or not, this volume of excellent essays -- some previously published -- is well worth reading. In addition to several general essays, country studies on Tunisia, Jordan, Kuwait, Syria, Egypt, and the Palestinians will be found. A second volume will soon be published.