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Throughout the Arab world, Islamist political movements are joining the electoral process. This change alarms some observers and excites other. In recent years, electoral opportunities have opened, and Islamist movements have seized them. But those opportunities, while real, have also been sharply circumscribed. Elections may be freer, but they are not fair. The opposition can run but it generally cannot win. Semiauthoritarian conditions prevail in much of the Arab world, even in the wake of the Arab Spring. How do Islamist movements change when they plunge into freer but unfair elections? How do their organizations (such as the Muslim Brotherhood) and structures evolve? What happens to their core ideological principles? And how might their increased involvement affect the political system?
In When Victory Is Not an Option, Nathan J. Brown addresses these questions by focusing on Islamist movements in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Palestine. He shows that uncertain benefits lead to uncertain changes. Islamists do adapt their organizations and their ideologies do bend-some. But leaders almost always preserve a line of retreat in case the political opening fizzles or fails to deliver what they wish. The result is a cat-and-mouse game between dominant regimes and wily movements. There are possibilities for more significant changes, but to date they remain only possibilities.