Islam and the Humanities

Conference 2014

Nathan Brown

Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University

Islam and Constitutionalism in the Arab World: The Puzzling Course of Islamic Inflation

Between the time the first written constitutions were written in the nineteenth century and the Arab uprisings in 2011, most countries experienced what might be called “Islamic inflation”–that is, a gradual increasing textual focus on religion and vague (sometimes unenforceable) commitments to Islamic religion, identity, and law. In 2011, a novel set of constitutional experiments in several Arab countries led to a departure from the past practice of existing regimes drafting constitutional documents. For the first time, constitutions were to be written with serious democratic mechanisms by political systems that were in flux. Islamist movements were often critical participants in that process. Yet paradoxically the expected effects–longer and more detailed provisions of a religious nature–often did not occur.  In this paper, I explore the course of Islamic inflation after the Arab uprisings of 2011.

Nathan J. Brown is professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University and nonresident senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Brown’s scholarly work over the years has focused on Egypt, Islamist movements, Palestinian politics, Arab law, and constitutionalism. Brown’s latest book, When Victory Is Not an Option: Islamist Movements in Arab Politics, was published by Cornell University Press in early 2012.

In 2009, Brown was named a Carnegie scholar by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. For the 2009–2010 academic year, he was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.  In 2013 he was named a Guggenheim fellow. In addition to his academic work, Brown has served on advisory committees for Human Rights Watch and the committees drafting the Palestinian and Iraqi constitutions. He has also served as a consultant to USAID, the United Nations Development Program, and several NGOs. Brown is the author of six books, among them Resuming Arab Palestine (University of California Press, 2003);Constitutions in a Non-Constitutional World: Arab Basic Laws and Prospects for Accountable Government (SUNY Press, 2001); and The Rule of Law in the Arab World: Courts in Egypt and the Arab States of the Gulf (Cambridge University Press, 1997).