TRUE OR FALSE?: "AN ISLAMIST IS AN ISLAMIST"
Right-wing, Fox News dogma tells us "an islamist is an Islamist"--a view encouraged by the hard-line Israeli government. That is, all differences between Islamists are insignificant. I disagree. Here is my breakdown of critical differences, each of which has a huge impact on behavior.
DISAGREEMENTS ON HOW TO RULE: To the Brotherhood desires to create economic prosperity or win popular approval it has constraints on its misbehavior. Al Queda-style Islamists show virtually no interest in either and therefore face no restraints. (For Iran, a separate analyst follows).
RELATIVE TOLERANCE OR INTOLERANCE: Extremist jihadis have virtually none toward the outside world or toward fellow muslims. The Brotherhood is substantially more tolerant but not fully so (as in excluding women or non-muslims from serving as head of government).
ON ISRAEL: Neither has a high regard for Israel. For jihadis, Israel must go. The Brotherhood can tolerate Israel's existence and could probably live with Israel just fine if certain policies were modified--especially West Bank ethic cleansing ended.
ON MALLEBILITY: The ability to adapt to change in key survival trait in a world that changes so fast. Of the three Islamist movements, the Muslim Brotherhood easily leads here while Al Queda is dead last. Conceivably, the Brotherhood could eventually end up a secular party much like Germany's Christian Democrat Party. The IRI has twice showed evolutionary tendencies (the Khamenei Era, the Election of 2009) only to be stifled by Khamenei. Four years of solid repression has destroyed any chance of peacefully evolution.
THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN: A MIX OF BLATENTLY INCOMPATIBLE IDEAS
If the IRI weren't doomed by events since 2009, an incompatible mix of goals and means would assure its eventual demise peacefully or otherwise. Like the Brotherhood, the IRI would be happy to enjoy prosperity and popularity. Like Al Queda, it relies on brutality and force to stay on top. That approach greatly hinders prosperity while annihilating for good any chance of regime popularity.
We see the same schizophrenia in foreign policy. The IRI may not be as severely hostile to the West as Al Queda but it whips up xenophobia at every opportunity. In the muslim world, the mullahs are less tolerant of Sunnis and other minorities in Iran than Brotherhood is of Shia in Turkey and Egypt.
One consequence of regime attitudes are the endless covert schemes against the West and Sunni neighbors in which the IRI sometimes works hand in hand with Al Queda or equivalents (see Yemen, Africa and Afghanistan) and in other cases (Syria) opposes the latter.
Politically this has disasterous repercussions. Unlike most politically connected Islamist states linked to the Brotherhood, the Islamic Republic has become a pariah state. It is not so much an outcast as Al Queda but almost as tainted as North Korea. This is turn exacts an economic price.
By contrast, the Brotherhood enjoys a kind of probationary/provisional acceptance. It's not so deeply distrusted but mildly suspect and potentially on the way to full acceptance. Compared to Iran, Brotherhood-linked governments enjoys far better diplomatic and economic relations. Instead of sanctions, they often receive outright aid.
WILL THE BROTHERS HAVE TO MODIFY THEIR PLANS FOR SYRIA AFTER ASSAD'S FALL?
Despite earlier promises, the Muslim Brotherhood tried to impose an overly religious, authoritarian government on Egypt after Mubarek's fall. No doubt it once intended the same for post-Assad Syria despite a more secularized population. Three practical constraints are likely to force a change in any such plans:
1. The certainty that Syria's immediate economic problems will be more serious.
2. A high probability of civil war.
Any coalition government to which the Brotherhood is a major partner cannot afford measures that would fragment support in such a case. If the Brotherhood did not exist, Al Queda-style Islamists might actually have an easy time drawing support from the most pious. It's hard to paint a government in which the Brotherhood has a major role as a "western stooge?" The closest historical comparison would be the role of western social democrats in thwarting communist gains in the West.
3. The inhibiting example of Morsi's backfire in Egypt
Egypt has a substantially higher percentage of conservative muslims than Syria. What did not fly in Egypt will hardly fly in the even less favorable conditions of post-Assad Syria. I doubt the Brothers have missed that. By election day, as political opponents make Syrians well acquainted with the contrast between earlier Brotherhood promises and Morsi's behavior the Brothers could face a problem. Syrians will demand stability not divisive policies. Even if the brothers have changed to a more moderate line, will they be trusted after lying so often in Egypt?