Most historical analyses investigate a single locale, individual, or neighborhood in order to offer conjectures about larger contexts. This allows the researcher to become well versed in the archives of their research site, and make informed and sound conclusions about their subject matter. It is rare to see a comparative analysis within History, due, seemingly due to fear of conducting incomplete research for two different case studies. However, some researchers are seeking to rectify this shortcoming.
In Making Islam Democratic, Asef Bayat uses a comparative methodology to highlight the differences in political Islamic mobilization in Iran and Egypt from 1960 to the present day. His W 231 analysis offers unique perspectives into the motivations of both government and citizen actors in these two countries, and seeks to explain why Iran of 1979 underwent an Islamic revolution, while Egypt of the 1980s did not. What follows is a nuanced analysis of the two countries civil societies and governmental apparatuses.
Despite some minor analytical shortcomings due seemingly to space constraints, Making Islam Democratic is a highly valuable book because of its comparative methodology, and its contribution towards studies on political mobilization in the modern Muslim world Bayat closely focuses on the way politics have operated in states that experienced various Islamic revolutions in the second half of the twentieth century, and argues that political organizing, both at the local and the national level, have been greatly influenced by the post-Islamist turn. Bayat defines post-Islamism” as a conscious attempt to conceptualize and strategize the rationale and modalities of transcending Islamism in social, political, and intellectual domains. ” Bayat argues that post-Islamism occurs in states where Islam fails to properly harness the political aspirations of normal everyday citizens. When this happens, people turn to new movements/organizations that are can emphasize what Bayat feels defines the post-Islamist turn: the fusion of religiosity and rights” (11).
Bayat’s analysis is focused on the late 1980s and 1990s in Iran and Egypt, when both the Islamic government of Iran and the secular government of Egypt were dealing with rising challenges from Islamic organizations, in both moderate and extreme forms. Bayat’s central research question asks why Iran of the late 1970s experienced an Islamic revolution, while Egypt of the 1980s, faced with similar conditions, only experienced an Islamic movement.
For Iran, Bayat concludes that the Shah’s autocratic rule, which crushed political opposition, while providing favorable conditions for Western businesses and expatriate communities galvanized a crosssection of Iranian society, and provided for remarkable unity of purpose” in overthrowing the regime. After the revolution completed, the revolutionary government allowed for public protest to continue in order to preserve the legitimacy of clerical rule (36).
However, for Egypt, Bayat concludes that while popular mobilization” in poorer urban neighborhoods played a key role in spreading both Islamic practice, it also politicized large swaths of the Egyptian population, and made them ready to ask questions, debate key issues, and clarify movements’ aims” (19). This allowed groups like the Muslim 232 Brotherhood and the Jam’a al-Islami, as well as youth organizations and social welfare groups, to control large sections of civil society, and mobilize large numbers to accomplish a variety of political tasks from the late 1970s to the early 1990s.
However, Bayat sees the state as key in quelling a potential Islamic political revolution in Egypt throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. While Iran offered insurgent political groups concessions in order to maintain clerical rule, Egypt’s government cracked down on oppositional groups, increased the strength of his secret police, and actively co-opted (or silenced) key figures in the Islamist movement. This resulted in a passive revolution” in Egypt that Islamicized civil society, but failed to bring down the Mubarak regime (191).
Bayat argues that this crackdown, in turn, made the Egyptian government more religious in nature, as increasingly pious individuals became the leaders of various governmental apparatuses. Since the state, through co-optation, began to control alternative forms of political protest, many of its doctrines and figures began to play a large role in the government itself. In this way, Iran and Egypt diverged when confronted with the possibility of a mass Islamic revolution.
This book is highly useful for studies on Islamic co-optation of civil society. It highlights the ways the state and civil society interact through organizations like the Muslim Brotherhoood and Jama’a alIslamiyya. Rapidly changing conditions often accelerate the importance of political groups, and Bayat argues that studying these institutions allows for a better understanding of how rights” and religiosity” merged in the 1980s.
For example, Bayat explains how the Egyptian government’s expansive infitah program, which liberalized the Egyptian economy and encouraged foreign investment, caused a steep standard of living decrease for poor residents of both Cairo and Alexandria. As government programs in these areas declined, independent humanitarian organizations from wings of the Muslim Brotherhood provided communities with essential services (134). Such acts bestowed legitimacy upon political-religious groups, and inspired political activism within pious individuals. Bayat’s analysis closely analyzes these dynamics.
However, the book is not without shortcomings. Bayat’s attempt to compare political Islam in modern Iran and Egypt is limited to 203 pages. While Bayat devotes large amounts of his analysis to the historical narratives of Iran and Egypt, there is little attention given to the protesters themselves. Indeed, the information given about various institutions and organizations within the two countries provides useful 233 information into their tactics and scope, but we learn little about the motivations and actions of the protesters at an individual level.
Such an analysis would be useful not only for learning more about past actions, but also would provide some possible reasons for the mass protests on January 25th that ended the Mubarak regime. Nevertheless, this is a well-written comparative work that analyzes the differences in political participation for Muslim activists in modern Egypt and Iran. It is a valuable effort, and useful for students and teachers who wish to learn more about political mobilization and Islam in the modern world. 234