Islam in the Balance: Ideational Threats in Arab Politics

Islam in the Balance: Ideational Threats in Arab Politics

Islam in the Balance: Ideational Threats in Arab Politics

Islam in the Balance: Ideational Threats in Arab Politics


Islam in the Balance: Ideational Threats in Arab Politics is an analysis of how ideas, or political ideology, can threaten states and how states react to ideational threats. It examines the threat perception and policies of two Arab, Muslim majority states, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, in response to the rise and activities of two revolutionary "Islamic states," established in Iran (1979) and Sudan (1989).

Using these comparative case studies the book provides important insight about the role of religious ideology for the international and domestic politics of the Middle East and, in doing so, advances our understanding of how, why, and when ideology affects threat perception and state policy.

Rubin makes clear that transnational ideologies may present a greater and more immediate national security threat than shifts in the military balance of power: first because ideology, or ideational power, triggers threat perception and affects state policy; second because states engage in ideational balancing in response to an ideological threat.

The book has significant implications for international relations theory and engages important debates in comparative politics about authoritarianism and Islamic activism. Its findings about how an Islamist regime or state behaves will provide vital insight for policy creation by the US and its Middle East allies should another such regime or state emerge.


“YA akhi [my brother],you know, the Shi’a are really just interested in dominating the whole Middle East. Their religion is a deviation from Islam.” This was the response I got from a retired Egyptian military officer in 2005 when I asked if Iran’s nuclear program presented a threat to Egyptian national security. This former career soldier continued: “After 30 years, Iran still wants to export the revolution.” Later that week, I asked another official what he thought was Egypt’s greatest national security threat. He responded, “Iran. They spread extremism and violence wherever they go.” At the time of these comments, Iran’s brazen noncompliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s requests was well underway.

The broader regional context is important here. in the run-up to Iraq’s first democratic elections, Jordan’s King Abdullah warned that a “Shi’a crescent” would emerge if Shi’a pro-Iranian parties came to dominate Iraq’s new government. King Abdullah’s warning went beyond Iran’s influence in Iraq’s domestic politics and even a purely sectarian religious issue. He claimed that the emergence of a Shi’a crescent could “alter the traditional balance of power between the two main Islamic sects and pose new challenges to us interests and allies.” At the core of this statement was a fear that Iran’s regional ambitions sought to marshal an arc of ideological allies aimed at destabilizing Arab Sunni regimes. Over the next few years, a number of other Sunni Arab leaders followed suit and warned of Iranian “meddling” in domestic politics in even harsher terms.

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