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Paperback Constitutions in a Nonconstitutional World: Arab Basic Laws and the Prospects for Accountable Government Book

ISBN: 0791451585

ISBN13: 9780791451588

Constitutions in a Nonconstitutional World: Arab Basic Laws and the Prospects for Accountable Government

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Book Overview

Nathan J. Brown is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University. He is the author of The Rule of Law in the Arab World: Courts in Egypt and the Gulf and Peasant Politics in Modern Egypt: The Struggle Against the State.

Customer Reviews

2 ratings

Interesting Theory, Good Discussion

Too often our discussion of rule of law and democracy have equated constitutionalism with a respect for rights. In this book, Brown suggests we distinguish between constitutional text and liberal constitutionalist ideals. For example, Brown makes the argument that often rulers are able to get away with authoritarian practices not in violation of their country's constitution, but because that constitution is already weak and illiberal. In many Arab constitutions, executive leaders and kings retained significant power, while legislatures were reduced to mere advisory boards. Furthermore, the executives creatively used ambiguity to further their power (for example, in an early Tunisian constitution, the sultan claimed the power to issue decrees with force of law since the Constitution did not address this issue). Brown's framework is useful beyond the Middle East. I hope Brown, or somebody following him, applies his framework to China, which is also increasingly trying to institutionalize an authoritarian order based upon an authoritarian constitution.

a finely nuanced reading

Brown's argument is impressively supported: although most Arab countries have constitutions, the constitutions themselves do not function as Americans would expect. However, the cynical rejection of these documents as cosmetic devices is flawed, as Arab governments do use these constitutions and they have real meaning, with some prospects for further development.With all the recent talk of 'democratization' in the Middle East, one would do well to read Nathan Brown and revisit the agenda. What is needed may not be democratization (as elections) but constitutionalism (as in legal restraints on power).Highly recommended, particularly for those seeking a nontechnical introduction that goes well-beyond the redundant, think tank inspired cheerleading that passes for scholarship on democracy.
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