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Missing the Third Wave: Islam, Institutions, and Democracy in the Middle East

Journal article
Authors Ellen Lust
Published in Studies in comparative international development
Volume 46
Issue 2
Pages 163-190
ISSN 0039-3606
Publication year 2011
Published at Department of Political Science
Pages 163-190
Language en
Keywords Islam . Democracy . MENA . Democratization . Authoritarianism
Subject categories Political Science


This article explores why some societies witnessed less political liberalization during the Third Wave of democratization than others, and importantly, the conditions under which opposition forces may refrain from pressing for political reform. Focusing on the Muslim world, it also presents a more complete understanding of when and how political Islam hinders democratization. Specifically, historical experiences with Islamists in the 1970s and institutional structures established by the 1980s created a condition of uncertainty that enabled some incumbents to thwart liberalization during the Third Wave. Incumbents exploited the fear of political Islam, convincing many secularist opponents that they were better off with the current regime than with Islamist rule. The extent to which incumbents could succeed varied, depending on whether or not Islamist movements had been allowed to mobilize openly and the extent that the regime based its legitimacy on Islam. The argument extends beyond theMuslim world.What is fundamentally at stake is not whether Islam exists as a mobilizing ideology, but whether democratically-minded opponents believe that nondemocratic opposition groups exist that would potentially subvert a democratic opening.

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