The academic community also saw it as important to distinguish the Muslim Brotherhood from the al Qaeda strands of extremist Salafi-jihadism that were the focus of the "war on terror." The Brotherhood had a different ideology, a different conception of its place within the broader Egyptian public, a different strategic vision, a different social constituency, a different view of controversial concepts such as jahiliyya and takfir, a different view of the legitimacy of violence. Brotherhood and Salafi-jihadist figures argued with each other constantly, denouncing each other over ideology and tactics. Lumping together the Brotherhood with al Qaeda would have been a major analytical error with serious policy consequences. Academics helped to sort out such confusion, and were right.
I also played some role in drawing attention to a new group of young Muslim Brothers who were blogging, getting involved in anti-Mubarak activism, and opening up public discussion of the Brotherhood. They always represented a small group, far more open-minded and pragmatic than the majority of their peers, and many of them ultimately left the Brotherhood. But they were a real phenomenon, important at the time. I remember being attacked at the time for casting these individuals as "bloggers" rather than as a Brotherhood propaganda campaign. But the performance of the individuals I profiled over the last few years speaks for itself: For example, Ibrahim al-Houdaiby has become an influential intellectual, Abdel Rahman Mansour was one of the secret administrators of the "We Are All Khaled Said" Facebook page, Mostafa Naggar become a spokesman for Mohammed el-Baradei's National Association for Change and won a seat in Parliament, and Sondos Asem became part of the @Ikhwanweb Twitter team. But it's also true that most were forced out of an organization that frowned upon such independence.
But getting the Brotherhood's pre-2011 ideology and behavior basically right is no cause for comfort given the dizzying and disturbing developments since the revolution. It has become clear that the Brotherhood was more profoundly shaped by its inability to actually win power than has generally been recognized. Almost every aspect of its organization, ideology, and strategy was shaped by the limits Mubarak placed upon it. The revolution removed those boundaries -- and the Brotherhood has struggled badly to adapt. Its erratic, incompetent, and often incomprehensibly alienating behavior since the revolution comes in part from having utterly lost its bearings in a new institutional environment. The chance to rule forced it to confront a whole range of contradictions that Mubarak's domination had allowed the group to finesse.
The greatest surprise in the Brotherhood's post-2011 performance has been its simple incompetence. The Brotherhood's behavior in power and in the post-revolutionary environment more broadly has been appalling, strategically inept, and enormously destructive of the broader social consensus. It is rightly blamed for much of the social polarization and institutional dysfunction that has plagued Egypt's transition. It has alienated most of those who once gave it the benefit of the doubt, from Salafis on its Islamist flank to liberals to revolutionaries. I recall sitting in Deputy Supreme Guide Khairet al-Shater's office in late 2011 being shown what appeared to be comprehensive, detailed plans for economic development and institutional reform. It seemed plausible at that point that a Brotherhood government would quickly get things moving again and establish itself as a centrist Islamist majority party, like Turkey's ruling AK Party. Yet it has utterly failed to do so. What went wrong?
One part of the answer lies in something else the academics got right: factional politics inside the Brotherhood. Put simply, the years immediately preceding the Egyptian revolution had produced a Brotherhood leadership and organization almost uniquely poorly adapted to the challenges of a democratic transition. The regime cracked down hard on the Brotherhood following its electoral success in 2005, arresting a wide range of its leaders (including currently prominent personalities such as Morsy and Shater), confiscating its financial assets, and launching intense media propaganda campaigns.