In This Review

When Victory Is Not an Option: Islamist Movements in Arab Politics
When Victory Is Not an Option: Islamist Movements in Arab Politics
By Nathan J. Brown
Cornell University Press, 2012, 272 pp

This is an important book not only for its rich empirical exploration of the Muslim Brotherhood in four settings (Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and the Palestinian territories) but also for its insights into semiauthoritarian regimes, which allow opposition groups just enough room to organize and compete but not enough to win elections or form governments. Relying on extensive contacts with Brotherhood leaders, Brown explains how they saw advantages -- such as gaining the right to legal assembly and being allowed to propagate their views and deliver basic services to the needy -- to playing a game they were destined to lose. Whatever the merits of that strategy, even the relatively disciplined, ideologically consistent Brotherhood movements in Egypt and Tunisia did not precipitate the collapse of the semiauthoritarian regimes that had repressed them for decades. And even with the downfall of those regimes, Islamists in Egypt and Tunisia might not be able to mutate into more flexible political parties competing for votes. As the case of Turkey indicates, Islamist movements might have to wither before Islamist political parties can succeed.