Jillian Schwedler from the University of Massachusetts spoke in the second plenary session at the 2013 ERF Annual Conference. After the session, we caught up with her and recorded this short video, to capture the key points of her presentation.
Schwedler focuses on what she thinks are the three key issues that Islamist parties are facing in relation to economic development.
First, these Isalmist parties are operating in an unstable institutional environment, where institutions are not clear, not well established, and where power is volatile. In this context of general instability, the policy-making process is very difficult.
The second challenge that Schwedler identifies is the challenge of organized labour: millions of people raising economic grievances where part of the Arab upraising and this can’t be ignored; especially because protesters are not afraid to go back on the streets when they see that their demands for employment are not met.
Finally the third challenge according to Schwedler is that ruling Islamist parties are pulled in different directions within the parties themselves. For example, a very organized business wing free market oriented is opposed by Salafis which are demanding a stronger role for the state.
Of these three challenges, Schwedler indicates that only the third one has to do with substantive issues of Islam, while the other two are normally present in any post revolutionary situation. Therefore she concludes that we should compare these governments, new regimes and new parties with other new parties in comparable institutional context and “let the Islam question come in later, rather than starting with the question that they are Islamist and what’s going to be problematic about them from that perspective.”