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“There are exceptions that we have to take into account, but it doesn’t mean that every electoral process will lead to a Hitler and likewise in the Middle East.”

Ms. Silvestri advocates a cautious approach by Western governments, allowing time for Islamist parties to develop.

“Western governments are right to be fearful because of lessons they have learned from the past when attempts to engage with Islamist politics have created violence and defiance,” she said. “[But] there will be more to lose by condemning or ostracizing Islamic voices. It could cause resentment and grievances among the Muslim audience.”

Mr. Gerges said the political parties rising in the wake of the Arab Spring appear more democratic than the Islamist movement that emerged after the 1979 Iranian revolution.

“What happened [in Iran] was a revolutionary rupture of the whole system; [the Arab Spring] is a revolutionary transition,” he said. “It is an unfolding political struggle. [Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood] have denounced violence and have been laboring hard to get legal legitimacy.”

In the meantime, Egyptians are preparing to vote this month and next in the second and third stages of parliamentary elections. A final result is expected before February.

“The West always thinks of radical Islamists, and the Western imagination is dominated by image of groups such as al Qaeda that don’t really apply,” said Mr. Gerges. “I don’t think people should worry that the Islamists will hijack the awakenings. They have been obsessed with issues of morality, alcohol, [the way people dress]. I think we are going to see a lot of debate.”

Louise Osborne reported from Berlin.