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Can a government be both Islamic and a republic? The question is an important one, remembering that the Islamic part refers to laws being determined by clerics based on their understanding of God's word, and the republic part means that power derives from the people. This was not an acute problem in Khomeini's day, when revolutionary fervor was higher. Today's Islamic Republic of Iran is in crisis, however, as its population more and more finds that its wishes are not the same as what the ruling clerics insist is God's way.

How Khomeini reconciled Islamic government with the people's rule, and how his successors are failing in that task, is a fascinating story that Brumberg of Georgetown University tells. He concludes that Khomeini was more skillful at selling the message of clerical rule but was also much more careful to craft his policies to fit with what the people would tolerate. Brumberg's analysis of the post-Khomeini period emphasizes some often overlooked moments. In the chapter on the 1992 Majlis elections, he describes how the leftist-but-culturally-modern "radicals" (as they were called in Iran) were purged by the hard-line-but-culturally-traditional "conservatives," showing that while domestic Iranian politics are sharply divided between factions, all of them advocate policies profoundly antagonistic to the West.

Unfortunately, Brumberg buries his ideas in obscurely-worded political-science theories about complex routinization, dissonant institutionalization, multiple shared imaginations, and multiple biographies. Also, much of the study is not new, as Brumberg relies heavily on the standard works in English on Khomeinism, such as books and articles by Ervand Abrahamian, Hamid Algar, Baqr Moin, and Amir Taheri.