What explains the emergence of Muslim democratic parties (MDPs)? What explains the variation in the electoral success of MDPs across the Middle East and North Africa? In his new book, Muslim Democratic Parties in the Middle East, A.Kadir Yildrim attempts to answer these questions from a socioeconomic perspective with cases studies of Egypt, Morocco, and Turkey. The author presents an interesting argument linking the emergence and success of MDPs to the nature of economic liberalization. Yildrim argues that economic liberalization impacts the "key constituencies"—what he terms the periphery—of Islamist parties. MDPs, according to the author, succeed because of changes in a country's socioeconomic structure brought about by economic liberalization. But not all countries liberalize in the same way, and one of the book's principal merits is the distinction the author draws between two main types of economic liberalization: competitive and crony liberalization. Under a competitive liberalization process, small-business owners and the masses benefit, transforming their preferences toward various issues, including economic liberalization, Islam, and democracy. These changes, in turn, create a political opportunity for MDPs to emerge and successfully compete against Islamist political parties. On the other hand, under crony liberalization, "societal support for the moderate policies of MDPs fails to materialize, leaving Islamist parties' societal support base intact" (p. 3).
Although Yildrim sets out to explain both the emergence and success of MDPs, the book focuses more on answering why MDPs are successful in some cases but not others. The author does provide overviews of the emergence of MDPs in the three cases, but these sections are descriptive and not strongly linked to theory or the impact of economic liberalization. One of the strengths of Yildrim's book is his comparative analysis of economic liberalization in Chapter 2. The chapter offers a nice discussion of the extent of economic liberalization in each case using well-defined concepts and measures. He also presents some interesting statistics (Tables 2.2–2.4) on firm size in the manufacturing sector for each country; however, these tables do little to support the author's argument since the dates do not consistently cover the periods of liberalization in the three countries.
While Yildrim presents a clear discussion of the types of economic liberalization and connects these to his empirical case studies, the concept of the periphery, which is central to his argument and contribution, rests on unfounded assumptions and untested claims. The author defines the periphery in his theoretical chapter as groups excluded from economic and political power. For the author there are two key "elements" of the periphery: small- and medium-enterprise (SME) owners and Islamic masses (p. 25). At times the division between the center and the periphery seems to be geographic (urban vs. suburban and rural), at others, secular vs. religious, and still others, socioeconomic (p. 25). Of course it is possible to be all three, and the author assumes no variation in cleavage structures across the three cases; but is it reasonable to expect it to be in all three cases? Given the importance of the periphery and social cleavages to his argument, the author should unquestionably establish empirically which groups, beyond SMEs, constitute the periphery and the lines of conflict between the center and periphery for each case.
A second issue with the concept of the periphery is Yildrim's assumption that Islam "defines the contours of the 'peripheral' identity" (p. 25). For one, that the peripheral masses are religious, favoring Islam, is [End Page 694] an assumption that needs to be empirically validated. While certainly not a panacea, it was surprising that Yildrim did not take advantage of the wealth of survey data to illuminate the preferences of the so-called peripheral Islamic masses. In fact, he largely ignores "the masses" in the case study chapters; and it is never clear why the author restricts the empirical focus to only one element of the periphery, the SME owners. Yildrim does briefly touch on the impact of liberalization on the...