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Capsule Review

Barriers to Democracy: The Other Side of Social Capital in Palestine and the Arab World

In This Review

Barriers to Democracy: The Other Side of Social Capital in Palestine and the Arab World

Barriers to Democracy: The Other Side of Social Capital in Palestine and the Arab World
By Amaney A. Jamal
Princeton University Press, 2007 192 pp. $35.00 Purchase

Democracy thrives in the presence of a vigorous civil society composed of many private associations -- trade unions, professional associations, charities, sports clubs, religious groups, and countless others that can hold their own vis-à-vis the government. This idea, with an intellectual heritage going back to Alexis de Tocqueville's classic Democracy in America, figures in the policies of states and nongovernmental organizations dealing with what is seen as a democracy deficit in the Middle East. Jamal's field research in the Palestinian West Bank suggests, however, that the posited correlation between civil society and democracy is not quite so straightforward. Although civil associations exist in abundance there, the authoritarian Palestinian Authority is able to co-opt them, leaving them willing to work within an undemocratic patron-client relationship. Jamal tests her Palestinian findings by surveying the situation in three other Arab countries with authoritarian roots -- Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco -- and finds similar government control of civil society. These sobering findings need not cause those Arabs and outsiders seeking a democratic opening to give up on civil society. They should, however, remind both the scholar seeking to understand and the reformer working to change of the need to appreciate how things actually work.

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