British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies
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Islamic Democracy and its Limits: The Iranian Experience since 1979 Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi
St Antony's College, University of Oxford, UK
Version of record first published: 14 Sep 2011.
To cite this article: Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi (2011): Islamic Democracy and its Limits: The Iranian Experience since 1979, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 38:2, 267-269 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13530194.2011.581824
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British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, August 2011 38(2), 267–286
Islamic Democracy and its Limits: The Iranian Experience since 1979 Tawﬁq Alsaif London, San Francisco, Beirut, Saqi, 2007, 255 pp. In recent years there has been a ﬂurry of literature dealing with the relationship and reconcilability of Islam and western models of democracy. Islamic Democracy and its Limits by Tawﬁq Alsaif aims to contribute to this rapidly growing ﬁeld of inquiry in the context of post-revolutionary Iran and its experience of popular participation and elections over the last three decades. Alsaif, to his credit, dexterously synthesises a mass of material into the 200 or so pages which comprise his study, covering everything from the evolution of Shi‘ite political theory over the course of several hundred years to the trials and tribulations of the Ahmadinejad administration. The breadth of its coverage is arguably amongst the book’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. In covering so many diverse and undeniably complex issues in what is after all a relatively short book, the central thread of Islam, democracy and democratisation in post-revolutionary Iran is from time to time hard to discern. For example, in Alsaif’s account of political factions in Iran (Chapter 6), it is not entirely clear how such an exposition feeds into the central problematic of democracy and democratisation in Iran besides providing a very useful and informative breakdown of all the main political contenders from Jame‘eh Rohaniat-e Mobarez (Society for Combatant Clerics) to Jebhe-ye Mosharekat-e Iran-e Islami (Islamic Iran Participation Front). Some scholars such as Arang Keshavarzian (2005) have compellingly argued that elite factionalism in fact operates as a formidable obstacle to democratic transition. Besides being told in Alsaif’s conclusion to the chapter that the mere existence of such factions has hindered full-ﬂedged totalitarianism from setting in (we are left in the dark as to what Alsaif means by ‘totalitarianism’), one is left wondering as to the reasons for Iran failing to develop a party system, let alone a meaningful and competitive one. That being said, his account is undoubtedly very useful and provides details...