Book Review

Ghadbian, Najib; Democratization and the Islamist Challenge in Arab World, Westview Press, Boulder, CO. 1997. 171 Pgs. Index


The wave of democratization is one of the most important political trends of the 1990’s. It swept thorough Eastern Europe and did not leave any country intact, politically speaking. Images of regimes being toppled and dictators humiliated on worldwide newscasts sent a rippling effect of unrest throughout the world.

Was the Arab world immune to these changes? What are the effects of democratization on the Arab world? What are the implications for Islamist political trends and full fledged parties throughout the region? It is these questions that this book under review attempts to answer.

The Book’s main thesis is that given the chance for a free and fair elections in the Arab [and Muslim] world, the Islamist would fare quiet well, if not near sweep clean the election. The book is a very good attempt of explaining the historical as well as the political background of the region. The study is a methodological study of the subject matter.

The book begins by defining what democracy, Arab, and Islamist are. Next an explanation of the political and economic cultural are discussed at length.

Next Models of transition of people [or societies] towards democracy are presented. The claim that Arabs or Arab cultural and democracy are not compatible is refuted.

The second chapter is a brief historical explanation of identify and democracy in the Arab world up to the present time.

Part II of the book is a study of the intersection between Islamist and Democracy since the Mid 1980’s and the advances made thus far by the Islamist in bringing their ideas in line with modern democratic process.

The next chapter (4) concentrates on the Islamist challenge to authority by defining what and who are the Islamist. Also included is a discussion of the phenomena of Islamic resurgence, the Islamist agenda and the positions of leading Islamist towards democracy.

Part III of the book is a case study in detail of two countries and their varied experiences with democracy and the Islamist challenge. It may come as no surprise that Egypt is one of the two countries, the other being Jordan. Each case study is ably handled as the author. Not only has he benefited from first hand experience in the region, indeed he has made use of field study in the region as can be evident from a variety of personal interviews conduct by the author himself. Further in each case study the limits and prospects in each country is summarized at the end.

The book finally concludes with conclusion that outlines the prospects for the region in light of the Islamist challenge to the current status quo.

This work is an honest and well reasoned analysis of the democratization trend in the Arab world and Egyptian and Jordanian experience in particular.

Some Interesting Observations by the Author:

The author reports …that Islamist had become the most robust opposition to the ruling elites became more apparent with every democratizing measure. (P. 141.)

The author opines that the role of the Islam in collective identity is the main question posed in the Arab world today (p. 142) He is also hopeful that there are moderate leadership on both sides who are willing to … comprise and engage in hiwar (dialogue) (P. 143) He lists the extracted factors that have affected the prospects of democracy are legacy of colonizing powers, the Israeli problem, the cold war, and post cold war order. (P. 145-6.)

His two final observations are also worth noting one that authoritarianism and unjust distribution of resources throughout the Arab world are problems enervating the Arab world today and that should democracy come to the Arab world it may not produce policy content supportive of western interest. P. 149

Comments on specific issues in the Book:

Population growth in Egypt is seen as a problem whereas it should be viewed as a human resource management issue. (P. 109) Population growth should be treated as a positive increase in human resource that is a raw material to be used to advance the state to the next level of progress. It should not be viewed as a problem to be tackled through birth control. This is a mere continuation of the issue of mismanagement of resources as in the case of the rampant corruption in the governmental sector. This has led to a steady migration from rural to more urban areas. The normally high population growth should have been matched and sustained by a growth in the resources to service the population growth. In Egypt alone, there are a high number of fertile land that is not utilized properly to feed and sustain the nation, instead solutions and aid are sought from foreign sources.

Although the participation of Ikhwan in the social service arena is commendable one also must consider the other side of the coin in that such activities do contribute positively to the stabilization of the regime that is fighting against them.

Misc. PageHome PageE-mail: Muhammad Hozien