Rafik Hariri Center Senior Fellow Amy Hawthorne writes for The Cairo Review of Global Affairs to review Tarek Masoud’s book on Egyptian politics:
How did Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood do so well in elections under the authoritarian Hosni Mubarak regime, and again in 2011 and 2012 after the January 25 uprising? Why did the Brotherhood then fall from power so quickly? Why has the secular opposition performed ineptly, and, in particular, why can’t the pro-welfare Egyptian Left win elections in a poor country? Tarek Masoud provides valuable insights into such crucial questions in Counting Islam: Religion, Class, and Elections in Egypt. His rigorous study should change how readers think about Egyptian politics.
Using extensive quantitative research (economic, voting, and polling data), Masoud challenges the widespread view that the Brotherhood’s famed organizational skills, its charitable work, or the appeal of its Islamist ideas are sufficient to explain its electoral success. He contends that for Egyptian voters, elections are mostly about economic interests—especially contests for parliament, whose main role in Egypt is to provide services, not to shape policy. In addition, decades of underdevelopment have structured Egyptian society to the advantage of pro-regime and Islamist candidates. Masoud analyzes various data to show that in authoritarian, poor, largely non-industrialized Egypt, state-controlled social and economic organizations, family networks, and Islamic institutions dominate the civic landscape; and pro-regime and Islamist candidates use them to lobby voters with economic promises. Meanwhile, secular opposition parties lack similarly dense networks of mobilization. For example, only 12 percent of workers belong to unions, and there are few other class- or occupation-based groups.