Pratt, Nicola. Democracy and Authoritarianism in the Arab World.

PositionBOOKS IN BRIEF--SUMMER/FALL 2007 - Book review

Pratt, Nicola. Democracy and Authoritarianism in the Arab World Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2007. Paper $ 22.00.

Democracy and Authoritarianism in the Arab World contributes to the reinterpretation of the emergence of authoritarianism in the Arab world by looking at the role of civil society in either maintaining it or creating democratic alternatives. Nicola Pratt argues that space for political action across the Arab world has been defined. Consequently, any prospect for challenging authoritarianism is limited, but not impossible. Thus, the ideological orientation of civil society may possibly promote democratization. Civil society in the region must formulate a counter-hegemonic project not simply reforming formal political institutions.

The history of authoritarianism in Egypt is divided into two periods: (1) from World War I to the mid 1960s; and (2) following the defeat of 1967. The 1967 defeat was characterized by the infitah policy, which ushered in new political and economic alliances between regimes and private capital, both domestic and foreign. Authoritarianism was constructed and normalized due to nation-state building after independence and the popularity of Arab nationalism. This, in turn, subordinated the civil society to the state. Consequently, promises of national self-reliance and anti-imperialism, as essential elements of state building, were never delivered. Rather than challenging authoritarianism, this period is the one when authoritarianism was actually reproduced.

What happened to civil-society activism is a major concern for Pratt. The regimes were challenged both by opposition that appeared in the form of protests and growing opposition from Islamist movements on the one hand, and economic deterioration on the other. "These...

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