Current Trends in Islamist Ideologies

The Unfinished History Between America and the Muslim Brotherhood

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Research Professor; Fellow at Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University.
An Egyptian protester raises flags during the clashes between Egyptian police and protesters after declaring the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group in Alf Maskan district of Cairo, Egypt, December 27, 2013. (Getty Images)
An Egyptian protester raises flags during the clashes between Egyptian police and protesters after declaring the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group in Alf Maskan district of Cairo, Egypt, December 27, 2013. (Getty Images)

This article is an entry into Hudson Institute’s Current Trends in Islamist Ideologies.

On July 11, 2018 the U.S. Congress’s Subcommittee on National Security organized a series of hearings on “The Muslim Brotherhood’s Global Threat.”1 The purpose was to determine what dangers the Muslim Brotherhood poses to American interests around the world. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which has long been considered by scholars to be the “mother” organization of modern Islamism, was described in the congressional hearings as a “a radical Islamist organization that has generated a network of related movements in 70 countries,” including al-Qaeda. Many at the hearings clearly wanted the U.S. Government to officially designate the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. For years, the United States has labelled other Islamist movements, such as Hezbollah and the Brotherhood-offshoot Hamas, as terrorist organizations. However, so far no such steps have been taken by the U.S. Government regarding the Muslim Brotherhood.

For decades, the U.S. has known about the strongly anti-Western and anti-liberal ideological and political agenda of the Brotherhood and its principal leaders, including its founder, Hasan al-Banna (1906-1949). Even so, U.S. diplomacy has never entered into direct conflict with the Ikhwan (Arabic for the “Brothers”). Indeed, when Banna first established the Brotherhood in 1928 and formulated its ideology of Islamic reform and revivalism, his notoriously anti-Western views were in direct response to British imperial rule over Egypt. America, a democratic republic, has always sought for itself a different role in Middle East, with the goal of ensuring its national interests while maintaining stability through a network of alliances and partnerships with other sovereign nations. Because of this, the U.S. has periodically tried to engage with the Muslim Brotherhood for various reasons.

During the Cold War, in fact, the U.S. seemed to be cultivating a close, even instrumental relationship with the Ikhwan. For some Americans, the Brotherhood seemed potentially useful to the promotion of American interests in Egypt, the world’s largest Arab country, and elsewhere. Declassified State Department archives shed light on the interactions between the global superpower and the Muslim Brotherhood, revealing American fluctuation between deep reluctance and interest in engaging with the Egyptian Islamist movement.

“The Fanatic Ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood”

Although the Muslim Brotherhood was established in 1928, it was not until 1944 that the U.S. Embassy in Cairo produced its initial report on the Islamist movement. Apparently, the early years of the Brotherhood failed to gain the attention of America’s diplomats. In the 1930s, U.S. relations with Egypt were motivated primarily by a rather small set of economic interests. By the Second World War, business interests were unsurprisingly trumped by strategic considerations in Europe and North Africa, and U.S. diplomats in Cairo at the time showed little interest in social and religious trends in Egyptian society.

By the late 1940s, however, the Brotherhood had made itself known to U.S. diplomats. Brotherhood members sent no fewer than 320 letters to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, mostly protesting American support for the Zionist settlement of Israel/Palestine. They also voiced opposition to France’s granting of citizenship to some Algerian Muslims, as this was seen as a ploy by Paris to avoid granting independence to Algeria. These letters generated the first American diplomatic telegrams recognizing the rise of “a Fanatical Moslem Society” called “Ikhwan El-Muslimin (Moslem Brotherhood)”2 in Egypt.

In the early 1950s, when containing the spread of Soviet communism was foremost on the U.S. policy agenda, American officials continued to view the Muslim Brotherhood as a fanatical movement professing an ideology that taught followers to “hate all non-Muslims” and to advocate for the implementation of “the Koranic law.” The U.S. also worried that the Brotherhood could become violent. However, following the 1952 military revolution in Egypt and rise to power of the charismatic President Gamal Abdel Nasser, U.S. officials began to fear an Egyptian rapprochement with the Soviet Union. This led the U.S. to reconsider the Muslim Brotherhood, which came to be described in official cables not as fanatics, but as “orthodox believers.”

Subsequently, regular meetings were held at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo between the American Chargé d’affaires Frank Gaffney and the General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Hudaybi. By the mid-1950s, when relations between the Ikhwan and Egypt’s military rulers collapsed after an initial period of cooperation, the U.S.’s engagement with the Brotherhood came to be seen increasingly by American diplomats as a possible opportunity to pressure the Soviet-aligned military government in Cairo.

During the Cold War years, however, the Muslim Brotherhood never occupied a central role in U.S. diplomatic analysis and activities in Egypt. U.S. officials recognized the Ikwhan as an important religious and political movement in the country. But as a political actor, the Brotherhood was considered far less consequential and secondary compared to the military, the monarchy, the Wafd Party and the communists. It was only later, when the Brotherhood became the last remaining potential source of opposition to President Nasser, that the U.S. began to take more of an active interest in it.

Diplomatic reports do not suggest the U.S. had any specific policy regarding the Muslim Brotherhood, and they never clearly state that the Brotherhood could be a potential U.S. ally in opposing Nasser or Soviet communism. The archives do, however, highlight every occasion in which the Ikhwan opposed Nasser’s military regime. The fact that the Brotherhood’s rhetoric and demonstrations against the military regime in Cairo were systematically reported provides clear evidence that American diplomats were paying close attention to the growing antagonism between the two parties.

By the 1960s, after the Nasser government and the Brotherhood had finally turned against each other, the Ikhwan disappeared entirely from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo’s reports. At the time, thwarting Nasser’s growing influence certainly remained a top priority for the U.S. But getting access to members of the Ikhwan became significantly more difficult for American diplomats, particularly as the Cairo government intensified its repression and persecution of the Islamist movement along with its other domestic enemies.

This period of Nasserist repression, which came to be known by the Brotherhood as the “Ordeal,” generated ideological rifts in Egyptian Islamism and contributed to its further radicalization. Some members of the Brotherhood, including Sayyid Qutb, rejected the purportedly “gradualist” approach to Islamic reform and revival of Banna and the Ikwhan’s founding generations. They instead began to embrace an agenda of radical withdrawal from “un-Islamic” Egypt under Nasser, including violent struggle.

Despite this, Qutb is only mentioned a handful of times in American diplomatic records, even though he had emerged as the top Brotherhood ideologist of the 1950s. Qutb’s execution by Egypt’s government in 1966 was noted only in passing in the U.S. Embassy’s dispatches. American diplomatic reporting, in fact, seemed not to be aware of the rifts in the Egyptian Islamic movement, or of the growing radicalism in its ranks. Instead, the principal concern for the U.S. was the Brotherhood’s relative ability to exert pressure on Nasser’s decisions—this at a time when his regime’s relations with the Soviet Union were still close, but potentially vulnerable.

Interestingly, the Islamic character of the revolution in Iran of 1978-1979, which came to be led by Khomeini and Shiite Islamists, is never discussed in U.S. diplomatic dispatches from Cairo in the early 1980s. In fact, the dramatic events in Iran and the growing radicalization in Egyptian Islamism were regarded as separate, and U.S. officials in Cairo showed no apparent concern that the Iranian Revolution might trigger a wave of similarly inspired Islamic revolts in Egypt and other Muslim countries. Indeed, throughout the early 1980s, the Muslim Brotherhood was viewed simply as an Egyptian Islamic organization. The Ikwhan was not, in fact, seen as part of the larger, broad-based Islamic resurgence which transformed the political landscape of many Muslim societies in the 1970s and 1980s.

As such, after the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat, the religious affiliation of the president’s assassins—the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, an offshoot of the Brotherhood—was barely debated in U.S. reports from Cairo. In fact, the Brotherhood was never mentioned as potentially responsible for Sadat’s killing, nor was there any acknowledgment of Qutb’s (or the Iranian revolution’s) ideological influence on Egyptian Islamist radicalism. If anything, the Egyptian president’s murder was understood by many inside the State Department to have been a communist initiative, according to a former director of the State Deparment’s Bureau for Near Eastern Affairs. The communist aim was to weaponize Muslim political grievances to thwart the pro-U.S. turn that Egyptian policy took under Sadat.

Thus, during the 1980s, the idea of radical Islam never appeared in American diplomatic reports, nor in official U.S. policy statements about the Middle East. Interviews with top U.S. diplomats and policymakers confirm that the concept of a transnational Islamic movement or of “Islamism” was essentially absent in American thinking at that time.

Islamism and Islam in the American Debate after 9/11

This situation changed in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union as the principal threat to the U.S., and the failure of communism as a revolutionary ideology. Then, some American policymakers began to see the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and related movements that it helped to inspire—like Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), or Hamas—as part of a transnational Islamic ideological movement that, like communism before it, was capable of damaging America’s global interests.

Ambassador Edward Djerejian expressed this concern explicitly in his famous “Meridian Speech” on June 4, 1992. For the first time, a top U.S. official described “religious or political extremism” as a growing danger to stability in the Middle East and a threat to other American interests. From then on, “Islamic fundamentalism” was more frequently identified as an ongoing concern for U.S. diplomacy. At the same time, a new American debate emerged over the wisdom and utility of diplomatic engagement with non-violent “fundamentalist” movements like the Muslim Brotherhood.

As it happened, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo maintained contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the early 1990s. The Islamic movement was seen as an important player in the Egyptian arena and to the future of the country. However, the Brotherhood was also still outlawed in Egypt, and the authoritarian Hosni Mubarak regime vigorously protested when its American ally sought to engage with its domestic Islamist opponent. As a result, the U.S. ceased its diplomatic outreach to the Brotherhood in the second half of the 1990s.

Then came al-Qaeda’s September 11, 2001 attacks on the American homeland. That stunning assault profoundly enlarged and intensified the United States’ discussion about the threats posed by Islamism or radical Islam. Clearly, Brotherhood ideologists, such as Sayyid Qutb had directly influenced the growth of al-Qaeda. But there was also an ongoing dispute over ideology and strategy between the Brotherhood’s brand of “political Islam” and the transnational jihadist movement. As a result, intense debate raged within Washington’s circles of influence and beyond, assessing the dangers of the Brotherhood and its formative role in the emergence of modern Islamism. Two divergent views emerged in the American academy and among policymakers.

One perspective saw Islamism as a modern political ideology and movement which was unique to Muslims societies. In particular, Islamism was understood as a form of political (rather than religious) conservatism, which began with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and successfully spread around the world. While Islamism drew on Muslim identity, frustrations and grievances, it was not a religious movement per se, but essentially a modern political response to the intractable authoritarianism and other political woes afflicting many Muslim-majority societies.

Alternatively, other analysts began to see the 9/11 attacks as the violent expression not of a political ideology, but of the Islamic belief system, or of an essentialist Muslim interpretation of Islam, with all that entails for modern politics and violence. For example, in a 2003 Rand Corporation report, Civil Democratic Islam, political scientist Cheryl Benard explicitly linked the issue of democratization and reform within Muslim societies to the issue of secularization.3 In this view, the threat of radical Islam and the lack of democracy in Muslim societies could only be dealt with through religious, rather than political, reform.

These two views counseled two very different policy approaches to dealing with Islamism, including diplomatic engagement with the Brotherhood. President George W. Bush, for instance, emphasized the active promotion of democratic reform in Muslim societies. For many at the time, there was an over-arching belief that even a reactive political ideology like that of the Brotherhood could be gradually transformed and moderated through democratic enlargement.4 Under this democracy promotion rubric, American diplomats renewed their outreach to individuals and groups within the Brotherhood-inspired transnational movement of political Islam.

In contrast to Bush’s democratic idealism, President Barack Obama took a decidedly more “realist” view of the Brotherhood and Islamism. Before his election, Obama publicly revealed his suspicions about the Muslim Brotherhood, describing them as the “fathers” of political Islam and Islamist radicalism, "untrustworthy," "harboring anti-American views," and probably "not honoring the Camp David Peace Treaty with Israel.”5

For President Obama, Islamism or political Islam was a modern organic outgrowth of Muslim politics and culture, and in particular, of an essentialist and highly conservative interpretation of Islam. Later in his presidency, for instance, Obama stated in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that “there is ... the need for Islam as a whole to challenge that interpretation of Islam, to isolate it, and to undergo a vigorous discussion within their community about how Islam works as part of a peaceful, modern society.” In contrast to Bush, however, Obama did not believe this religious and political change within Islam could be imposed or catalyzed from the outside. Instead, it needed to occur from within Muslim societies and through the leadership of Muslims.

Increasingly, it appeared that many American scholars and leading officials from across the political spectrum shared Obama’s realist perspective on the Brotherhood and modern Islamism. There was far less agreement, however, on the issue of diplomatic engagement with the Brotherhood. Some still supported connecting with the Brotherhood, believing the Islamist movement might become more secular, pluralistic and democratic when operating in a freer, more democratic political space. Others, however, maintained that engaging the Brotherhood would not be a prudent policy unless the movement secularized and disavowed its anti-pluralistic, anti-Western agenda. Besides, the Brotherhood was still officially outlawed in Egypt and in other countries. This American debate remained frozen until the popular uprisings in 2011 known as the “Arab Spring.”

The Door Opens for the Ikhwan

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s power began to falter in January and February of 2011. That same year, after the outbreak of the revolution in Tunisia, many Egyptians expressed the desire to see their own president removed. In the early days of Egypt’s protest movement—in which hundreds of thousands eventually converged on Tahrir Square—U.S. officials were primarily concerned about Mubarak’s situation. However, by the time it became clear that his rule was unsustainable, Mubarak had handed over power to a military board of directors.6

The Muslim Brotherhood, the most well-organized group potentially able to fill the resulting political vacuum in Cairo, reignited the debate about political Islam, which had persisted at the highest level of the U.S. leadership for nearly a decade. Confronted with Egypt’s rapidly escalating protest movement (culminating on Friday, January 25, 2011 during the “Day of Rage”), the U.S. had to deal with the prospect of an Islamist-dominated government in Egypt, and this raised serious concerns. Would a Brotherhood government, in fact, listen to the popular aspirations of the Egyptian people, including non-Islamists? Or would a Brotherhood government seek to consolidate power around its own Islamist agenda? It was in this context that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in early 2011, “It's not America that put people into the streets of Tunis and Cairo.” Secretary Clinton added that “these revolutions are not ours. They are not by us, for us, or against us.”7 She noted, however, that the next Egyptian government needed to answer popular aspirations.8

During the months of March and April 2011, some U.S. policymakers and commentators warned about the Muslim Brotherhood’s possible rise to power.9 As political upheaval worsened, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explicitly began to open the door to the Muslim Brothers. In fact, between Spring and Autumn 2011, Clinton spoke frequently about the need for dealing with the Islamist movement. Several senior diplomats and Pentagon officials said that they held “encouraging….conversations with an array of opposition leaders, including the Muslim Brotherhood.”10 Later, the official position of the Obama Administration was clearly expressed in June 2011 by Secretary Clinton during a visit to Budapest:11

We believe, given the changing political landscape in Egypt, that it is in the interests of the United States to engage with all parties that are peaceful and committed to nonviolence, that intend to compete for the parliament and the presidency (…) And we welcome, therefore, dialogue with those Muslim Brotherhood members who wish to talk with us.

The Obama Administration’s diplomatic opening to the Islamists meant, by implication, that the U.S.’s previous support to friendly authoritarian rulers in certain Middle Eastern states was subject to criticism. Thus, in November 2011, Secretary Clinton said that “for years, dictators told their people they had to accept the autocrats they knew to avoid, the extremists they feared….Too often, we accepted that narrative ourselves.”12

After succeeding Clinton as Secretary of State, John Kerry elaborated on this policy. He announced that the revolution in Egypt required a thorough reappraisal of past U.S. policy toward the country, warning that,13

Given the events of the past week, some are criticizing America’s past tolerance of the Egyptian regime. It is true that our public rhetoric did not always match our private concerns. But there also was a pragmatic understanding that our relationship benefited American foreign policy and promoted peace in the region. (…)

The United States must accompany our rhetoric with real assistance to the Egyptian people. For too long, financing Egypt’s military has dominated our alliance. The proof was seen over the weekend: tear gas canisters marked “Made in America” fired at protesters, United States-supplied F-16 jet fighters streaking over central Cairo. Congress and the Obama administration need to consider providing civilian assistance that would generate jobs and improve social conditions in Egypt, as well as guarantee that American military assistance is accomplishing its goals (…)

Our interests are not served by watching friendly governments collapse under the weight of the anger and frustrations of their own people, nor by transferring power to radical groups that would spread extremism (…)

For three decades, the United States pursued a Mubarak policy. Now we must look beyond the Mubarak era and devise an Egyptian policy.

Throughout this period, it seemed the more American officials talked about the need to reform U.S. policy to deal with new realities in Egypt, the more the discussion about the Muslim Brotherhood itself faded into the background. Indeed, the more the Obama Administration insisted on the need for new political leadership in Egypt that would meet the people’s aspirations and govern inclusively, the less it focused on the question of Islamism alone.

Taming Political Islam

After the victories of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt’s 2012 parliamentary and presidential elections, the possibility that it would harm American interests in the region remained a burning concern. The Arab world was aflame, and the U.S. continuously collected information and scrutinized what the Brotherhood said and did. Ambassador Anne Patterson’s statements from this period make clear the U.S.’s distrust of the Brotherhood as well as the U.S.’s expectation the Islamist movement could become more moderate and democratic if the U.S. was able to find the right policy. In 2011, the ambassador stated she was "not personally comfortable enough yet with recognizing [the Brotherhood’s] commitment to economic freedoms.” She also highlighted concerns about the Brotherhood’s “less liberal stances on women’s rights," and its position on Egypt’s 1978 peace treaty with Israel.14

Nonetheless, engaging the Brotherhood remained the rule for U.S. diplomacy. Secretary John Kerry recognized the Muslim Brothers’ victories, while U.S. diplomats in Cairo clearly stated they wanted to work with the "winning parties” that emerged from the electoral process.

During this transitional period, the U.S.’s longstanding concerns about the Brotherhood’s history of extremism and anti-Americanism underwent some adjustments. Washington officials advanced the idea that supporting the elected Brotherhood government and working with it could serve as a model and help to rein in the spread of violent Islamist movements elsewhere. Jeffrey Feltman, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau for Near Eastern Affairs, elaborated,

We know that parties rooted in religious faiths will play larger roles. We do not yet know what the U.S. relationship will be over the long term with emerging governments, parliaments, and civil society in these countries. We do know, however, that it will be vital that the United States establish and maintain the types of partnerships that help us protect and promote our interests and that give us the ability to help shape and influence outcomes (…)

Our support for legitimate governments is the best means of countering violent extremism. The peaceful transitions in Tunisia and Egypt fundamentally undermine the extremist message that violence is the only path for political change. Providing an opportunity for an alternative, non-violent path to genuine political transition de-legitimizes extremist groups and reduces their appeal.

Subsequently, in the course of 2012, numerous high-level meetings between Brotherhood leaders and U.S. officials took place. In April that year, the White House hosted a delegation of Brotherhood representatives. This transpired only a few months after top U.S. representatives (including William Burns, responsible for relations with the Ikhwan) were received in Cairo.

Throughout these regular exchanges, the U.S. was clear about its hopes and expectations that the new government would govern Egypt inclusively and responsibly. U.S. officials highlighted that the Brotherhood’s leaders had “been very specific about conveying a moderate message—on regional security and domestic issues, and economic issues, as well."15

Thanks to the Brotherhood’s responsible conduct on economic reform and other issues, U.S. officials reported on their government favorably. During the Gaza conflict in November 2012, the Brothers’ ability to pressure Hamas was described as a “positive” by American observers. In turn, the U.S.’s financial, military and diplomatic arrangements with Egypt that were in force during Mubarak’s presidency were not changed. For example, the sum of 1.55 billion dollars, which Washington had historically allocated for military assistance to Egypt, continued to be paid. For American officials, this was intended to finance ongoing efforts to secure the Sinai region, which remained critical to both Egyptian and Israeli security.16

Then, in July 2013, intensifying unrest in Cairo and moves by the Brotherhood to arrogate more power to themselves to the detriment of the military prompted some U.S. officials to openly worry about a possible coup. Still, as the Brotherhood and military power struggle deepened, U.S. officials did not indicate support for the overthrow of the elected government. But, as Egypt deteriorated still further, the Egyptian military intervened, evicting the Brotherhood from power and arresting President Morsi. A few days after the army’s takeover, President Obama stated that,

We are deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to remove President Morsi and suspend the Egyptian constitution. I now call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process, and to avoid any arbitrary arrests of President Morsi and his supporters. Given today’s developments, I have also directed the relevant departments and agencies to review the implications under U.S. law for our assistance to the Government of Egypt. The United States continues to believe firmly that the best foundation for lasting stability in Egypt is a democratic political order with participation from all sides and all political parties—secular and religious, civilian and military.

After the coup and election of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the U.S. sought to establish a new modus vivendi with the Sisi regime while not closing the door on the Brotherhood. This was a complicated issue for U.S. diplomats, not least because Egypt’s military rulers had declared the Brotherhood “terrorists.” In a clear articulation of U.S. policy, Elisabeth Jones, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, stated that,

Mr. Morsi proved unwilling or unable to govern inclusively, alienating many Egyptians. Responding to the desires of millions of Egyptians who believed the revolution had taken a wrong turn, and you saw a return to security and stability after years of unrest, the interim government replaced the Morsi government.
But the interim government has also made decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy. We were troubled by the July 3 events and the violence of mid-August. The decision to remove Morsi, excessive force used against protesters in August; restrictions on the press, civil society and opposition parties; the continued detention of many members of the opposition; and the extension of the state of emergency have been troubling.

In September 2013, after Egypt’s military-backed interim government (later ruled the de facto government by President Sisi) officially declared the Brotherhood a terrorist group, an Egyptian court banned the Islamist movement and security forces dismantled its ideological and social welfare networks. Despite this, on February 12, 2014, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf affirmed that the United States would not designate the Brotherhood a terrorist organization. She also stated that Washington would continue to work with all sides and all parties in Egypt, including the Muslim Brotherhood.17


Since his election, President Donald Trump has shown an unabashed realism about the Middle East and the pursuit of American interests there. The Trump Administration has opposed the revolutionary Islamist regime in Iran and reinforced the U.S.’s alliances with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both of which have repudiated the Muslim Brotherhood as an extremist or terrorist organization. The U.S. and its Arab Gulf allies have also closed ranks in support of President Sisi’s authoritarian regime in Egypt, and they appear united in their efforts to check or roll back the Brotherhood in the region. Meantime, the U.S.’s ties with Qatar—a key U.S. protectorate and security partner in the Gulf, but whose rulers are also major patrons of the Brotherhood and its agenda across the region—have not yet recovered from the 2017-2019 intra-Gulf diplomatic crisis.

This situation, in turn, has prompted many in Washington to more aggressively call for the U.S. to officially designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Blacklisting the Brotherhood would ban its members from traveling to the U.S. and make it a crime for any American to aid the movement. Although a decision on this issue appears to be under consideration, the Trump Administration has not yet formulated a clear policy regarding Islamist actors like the Brotherhood. Given the U.S.’s present diplomatic alignments and priorities, not to mention President Trump’s essentialized and problematic views on Islam (“Islam hates us,” he said as a candidate), it seems that designating the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization is seriously discussed, though likely not something that can be achieved politically.

While President Sisi and others in the region want this to happen, such a policy would probably prove immensely complicated to implement elsewhere, given the transnational nature of the Brotherhood movement and the fact its affiliates are now ruling in Turkey (the AKP) and in the emerging democracy of Tunisia (Ennahda). Ennahda is a unique case, but so far it shows that when Brotherhood-inspired movements are in power, the goals of religious reform and renewal can be separated from and do not always have to contradict or undermine democratic governance and pluralism, as well as meaningful economic reform.

Alternatively, the U.S. could adopt a wait and see approach in its policy toward the Brotherhood in Egypt. If the U.S. chooses this course, much will depend on whether the remnants of the Egyptian Brotherhood will have the capacity to survive in an increasingly closed and repressive political system. The Islamist movement’s leadership has found refuge and a platform in AKP-led Turkey and elsewhere to oppose Egypt’s authoritarian regime, but the rest have been driven underground in Egypt. Given this situation, it is not clear yet whether the Egyptian Brotherhood will have any internal incentive or encouragement from inside or outside Egypt to secularize and promote a more pluralistic and democratic outlook. Already, some Brotherhood elements in Sisi’s Egypt have embraced violence (as elements did during the “Ordeal” of the 1960s). In the future, it is also possible the Brotherhood will re-emerge as a formidable political force in Egypt. In that event, the old U.S. debates about the Brotherhood and its brand of political Islam will become new once again.