Wickham, known for her 2002 study Mobilizing Islam: Religion, Activism and Political Change in Egypt, continues to examine religion and political change in Egypt. This time she focuses on the era before the electoral win of the presidency by Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad Morsi, whose reign lasted just one year.
A political scientist at Emory University, Wickham published this study just as the Brotherhood's presidential star was falling. In nine chapters, she illuminates the early years of the Brotherhood's founding after 1928, its growth, how it coped with its branding as an illegal movement throughout much of its history,
and finally the trial and error of its foray into electoral politics. Wickham also spends some time on similar Islamist groups in Jordan, Kuwait, and Morocco.
Drawing on about one hundred interviews, Wickham concludes that none of the Islamist groups moved toward moderation, including the Muslim Brotherhood. She maintains that such groups resist easy categorization and indicates where "hybrid agendas" illustrate the collision between the concepts of democracy and those of the Shari'a (Islamic law).
The author proceeds cautiously, almost surprised by her insights: "Over the course of more than twenty years of research on the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the more I have learned, the more struck I've become how little we know about its internal operations. For example, we have yet to fully understand the Brotherhood's methods for recruiting and socializing its members; the size and regional, generational, occupational, and class composition of its base; the sources of its financing; the activities of its local cells and branch offices; and the mechanisms available to its leaders to promote conformity and limit the expression of dissent."
A next edition would be strengthened with more key Arabic and European sources. Transcriptions should avoid dialects (thawabit rather than thauwabet) and be exact (Islam huwa al-Hall not huwa al-Hal). Despite these minor concerns, Wickham's book provides a solid guide to the Muslim Brotherhood.