Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Sunday, February 20, 2011

An Indonesian Twist on the Egyptian Revolution

As one of the two democratic Muslim-majority states in the world, Indonesia is supposed to be the beacon of the democratic movements, the proof that secular democracy can be and is compatible with Islamic values. Yet, surprisingly, only silence emanated from Jakarta weeks after the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts. In fact, something embarrassing happened during the celebration in the Tahrir Square: radical groups, comprised of paid thugs and criminals, attacked and killed several Ahmadiyah followers (a minority Islamic sect), churches were attacked in Central Java, and a Shiite group was attacked in East Java.

Let us set aside the debate on the relationship between the state and Christians and the Shiites for the purpose of this short essay, and focus on the Ahmadiyah problem. After an immense public uproar, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), the Indonesian President, declared that the government needed to get rid of radical groups. The FPI (Islamic Defender Front), one of the well-known thuggish groups, challenged the President, claiming that should the government decide to disband it and not outlaw the Ahmadiyah movement, the FPI would create an "Egyptian Revolution" in Indonesia and overthrow the government.

It is a bold claim, and in fact, a claim that many serious analysts here in Indonesia ridicule due to its overtly bold and far-fetched bravado. Any serious and competent analyst will find a huge difference between the situation in Egypt and Indonesia. In particular, careful analysis on the democratic movements in both Tunisia and Egypt will find that the movements in those countries worked because they were secular and non-ideological, allowing everyone to participate.

Any attempt by the FPI to foment revolution will end up in failure, simply because they are unable to garner much support aside from some paid thugs and a minuscule segment of the Muslim population. Even though many people are upset with the government corruption's and incompetence, they find the FPI to be a far worse alternative (in terms of behavior, the Ikhwanul Moslem, or in the West known as the Muslim Brotherhood, would seem like a group of choir-boys).

What is equally ludicrous is the government's response to the FPI. Instead of acting decisively to either arrest them as a threat to society or to just ignore these attention-seekers, dismissing them as all hot air, the government managed to show its incompetence in handling this problem. The President himself, on a national TV address, deplored any attempt to unseat him by a radical group, giving the FPI another 15 minutes of fame. (For our American audience, it is like Barack Obama taking the time to publicly tell a bunch of survivalists in Montana to stop opposing the government, when in reality a sheriff deputy would be sufficient to tame their activities). Patrialis Akbar, the Minister of Justice and Human Rights, contradicted the President, saying that it was difficult for the government to disband any organization (legally, he was right, but politically it was a huge blunder). Timur Pradopo, the National Chief of Police, contributed little to the situation (he was infamous for actually approving the FPI in his confirmation hearing in Parliament last year).

Still, what is interesting is how much the "Tunisian and Egyptian revolution" discourse has spread all over the Muslim world, especially to Indonesia. Even though Indonesia has been a democracy since the overthrow of Suharto in 1998, many people still act like Indonesia exists still under totalitarian rule. It is very rare not to hear any discourse of "impeachment" in Indonesia, even though the President was reelected by 62% in 2009 (making any attempt unlikely).

Regardless how ridiculous the discourse, I would argue that it acts as a warning signal, a check to the Executive Branch, that a president should not try to monopolize power, making himself or herself another dictator in either Sukarno or Suharto's mold. Impeachment threats, I hope, will be able to restrain leaders and keep opponents satisfied enough to discard the idea of overthrowing Indonesia's new democracy. Unfortunately, however, Indonesians probably have never heard the story of the boy who cried wolf. The locals will be so used to these threats and grow to dismiss them that any discourse of impeachment will be relegated to irrelevancy. The fact that a thuggish and unpopular group like the FPI used the "Tunisian and Egyptian Revolution" example just seemed to underscore this point.

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