The Islamists, however, have learned from the mistakes of the past and now adopt a more democratic rhetoric and espouse nationalist goals. This evolution has been accentuated by the global war on terrorism, which has raised international pressure on the more radical groups, making political participation a necessary protection.
"Islamists have made strides. Most mainstream Islamists are talking about constitutional change and about accommodation with regimes," says Alistair Crooke, a former British intelligence officer and former security adviser to the European Union. "The most fundamental change is that Islamists don't say it's inconsistent to be Islamist and nationalist. So we now have a very potent mix of demands for popular reforms and nationalism. You can't offer an alternative programme against this."
Mr Crooke, now director of the UK-based Conflict Forum, has been advocating dialogue between western officials and some of the radical Islamist organisations. Last month, he took a group of Americans and Europeans, some of them ex-officials and intelligence officers, to Beirut to meet representatives from Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizbollah. "If you incite expectations of change and you demonise and delegitimise all protest movements that aren't secular and western, then don't be surprised if it all erupts in violence," he says.
I point this out because Crooke is an interesting character and his Beirut initiative is, I suspect, part of what the Egyptian regime is scared of when it talks of contacts between Islamists and Western officials. But the article as a whole is worth reading while you can, before it becomes subscription-only.