Part of the problem trying to figure out what Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood or Tunisia’s Ennahda party would do if they got into any future power structure in their countries is knowing what kind of Islamists they are. The label “Islamist” pops up frequently these days, in comments and warnings and (yes) news reports, but the term is so broad that it even covers groups that oppose each other. Just as the Muslim world is not a bloc, the Islamist world is not a bloc.
I sketched out a rough spectrum of Islamists in an analysis today entitled Concern about Islamists masks wide differences. This topic is vast and our story length limits keep the analysis down to the bare bones. But the overall point should be clear that any analysis of what these specific parties might do that ignores their diversity starts off on the wrong foot and risks ending up with the wrong conclusions.
While reading and talking to experts about Islamism these days, I either had the television on (zapping between BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera English) or listened to radio stations like BBC and NPR. When the Muslim Brotherhood came up, there were often suggestions — explicit or implicit — that it would seize power in a Leninist-style coup or whip up the masses to install a theocracy in a replay of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. Experienced generals sometimes end up fighting the last war. Clever analysts can reach for the wrong historical parallel to the situation they’re tying to explain. Could it be that reflexes like these are clouding our view of what the Brotherhood and Ennahda actually are?