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Counting Islam
Religion, Class, and Elections in Egypt


Award Winner

Part of Problems of International Politics

  • Author: Tarek Masoud, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Massachusetts
  • Date Published: July 2014
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521279116

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About the Authors
  • Why does Islam seem to dominate Egyptian politics, especially when the country's endemic poverty and deep economic inequality would seem to render it promising terrain for a politics of radical redistribution rather than one of religious conservativism? This book argues that the answer lies not in the political unsophistication of voters, the subordination of economic interests to spiritual ones, or the ineptitude of secular and leftist politicians, but in organizational and social factors that shape the opportunities of parties in authoritarian and democratizing systems to reach potential voters. Tracing the performance of Islamists and their rivals in Egyptian elections over the course of almost forty years, this book not only explains why Islamists win elections, but illuminates the possibilities for the emergence in Egypt of the kind of political pluralism that is at the heart of what we expect from democracy.

    • The first comprehensive treatment of Islamist parties in elections before and after the January 25, 2011 revolution that unseated Hosni Mubarak
    • Refutes arguments that locate the success of Islamists in the religious content of their political appeals
    • Draws on a unique combination of archival, ethnographic and econometric evidence
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    • Winner of the 2015 Hubert Morken Best Book Award, Religion and Politics Section, American Political Science Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    'This book provides the most compelling explanation yet for why Islamist parties have stunned autocrats and oppositionists across the Middle East. With a breathtaking set of data collected in the field, Tarek Masoud demonstrates that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood won elections through a combination of luck and political savvy, not sermons or social services … Lucidly written for scholars, students, and policy makers, Counting Islam offers unparalleled insight into the maelstrom of repression and faith engulfing the Arab Spring.' Jason Brownlee, University of Texas, Austin, and author of Authoritarianism in an Age of Democratization and Democracy Prevention

    'This book asks an important question: why do poor Egyptians turn their backs on pro-poor leftist parties and instead vote for religiously conservative parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi Nur Party? Drawing on a combination of qualitative and quantitative evidence, Masoud discounts suggestions that they do so because they prioritize faith above material interests. Instead, he shows that most Egyptians who voted for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's first democratic elections did so because it was better able than its secular rivals to convince them that it would redistribute wealth and shore up Egypt's social safety net … This empirically rich, carefully argued book is an essential contribution to the literature on political Islam, religion and politics, and political parties in new and developing democracies.' Amaney Jamal, Princeton University, and author of Race and Arab Americans Before and After 9/11 and Barriers to Democracy

    'The Islamist sweep of elections in the Middle East has been a source of both curiosity and worry. Tarek Masoud relies on data from four decades of electoral politics in Egypt to show that the power of Islamic parties comes not from religious rhetoric but rather from the ability to speak to the material concerns of voters. This is an important book, meticulously researched, well-written and clearly argued. It demystifies Middle East politics and goes to the heart of the most important questions asked about the role of Islam in politics. An important corrective to popular misperceptions at a critical historical juncture, this book is a must-read for academics and policy makers alike.' Vali Nasr, Dean, Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, and author of The Rise of Islamic Capitalism and The Dispensable Nation

    'In Counting Islam, Tarek Masoud asks how Islamists have performed in Egyptian electoral politics, both under authoritarianism and in their sweeping victories in the democratic elections that followed the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011 … Ultimately, Masoud's theory posits an intriguing causal mechanism: Institutional embeddedness provides opportunities for communication that shapes perceptions.' Rana B. Khoury, Arab Studies Journal

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    Product details

    • Date Published: July 2014
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521279116
    • length: 276 pages
    • dimensions: 226 x 152 x 18 mm
    • weight: 0.39kg
    • contains: 45 b/w illus. 22 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: Islam's steady march
    1. Explaining Islamist dominion
    Part I. Elections under Authoritarianism:
    2. Clientelism and class: the tragedy of leftist opposition in Mubarak's Egypt
    3. The Islamic machine?
    4. Winning in the 'well-run casino'
    Part II. After the 'Arab Spring':
    5. God, mammon, and transition
    6. Islam's organizational advantage?
    7. Conclusion
    Epilogue: requiescat in pace?

  • Author

    Tarek Masoud, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Massachusetts
    Tarek Masoud is an Associate Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. His writings on political Islam, Egyptian politics, and US foreign policy have appeared in the Journal of Democracy, the Washington Quarterly, Foreign Policy, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, among others. He is the co-editor of Problems and Methods in the Study of Politics (Cambridge, 2004) and Order, Conflict, and Violence (Cambridge, 2008). He was named a Carnegie Scholar by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and received the 2009 Aaron Wildavsky Prize for best dissertation in religion and politics from the American Political Science Association. He is a recipient of grants and fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the Paul and Daisy Soros Foundation, and the Harvard Medical School, and is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He holds a PhD from Yale University and an AH from Brown University, both in political science.


    • Winner of the 2015 Hubert Morken Best Book Award, Religion and Politics Section, American Political Science Association
    • One of Monkey Cage's Best Middle East Political Science Books of 2014

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