Book Review: Why Egypt has courts

Tamir Moustafa’s The Struggle for Constitutional Power: Law, Politics, and Economic Development in Egypt addresses an important paradox in the study of comparative courts: why do stifling authoritarian regimes such as Egypt’s sometimes create vibrant courts with judicial review? Through an in-depth case study of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court, Moustafa provides a nuanced and multifaceted answer, combining the regime’s need for legitimacy and its desire to attract foreign investment. In both cases, the courts acted as a credible commitment, through which even a government defeat could enhance the regime’s credibility. Moustafa provides a great review of the theoretical literature (at the time of publication at least), as well as a nearly blow-by-blow account of the Supreme Constitutional Court’s interaction with the political elites. I suspect this book will serve to generate theories about courts in authoritarian regimes, which I then hope other scholars will test using large sample studies. Highly recommended for scholars of comparative law and politics.

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