July 11, 2011


The path from dictatorship to democracy: Indonesia has asked in recent years to be more involved in Middle Eastern affairs by playing the role of mediator and peacemaker. (GIORA ELIRAZ, 07/10/2011, Jerusalem Post)

[T]he main reason for Egypt’s addressing Indonesia seems to be an understanding that the latter has succeeded in solving its 1998 political crisis in the wake of the Suharto regime’s downfall. The Egyptians also seem to be aware of the high relevancy of the Indonesian case. Amazing similarities exist between Egypt’s current circumstances and those of Indonesia in the late 1990s and early 2000s. To mention just a few of them: Two countries with a dominant Sunni majority experienced a massive democratic protest, mainly by the middle class, against an authoritarian regime headed by an ex-general who had ruled for about three decades. In both cases, the ruler eventually lost the crucial support of the army.

The preliminary years of the post-Suharto era were marked by deep political turmoil that included manifestations of religious extremism and violence, sectarian conflicts, awakening separatist aspirations, the growing voice of radical Islam, increasing religious militancy and threats of terror.

Many observers watched gloomily, fearing that the just-born democracy was liable to crash soon. It was only in 2004, after the second parliamentary elections and first direct presidential elections, and after Indonesia had surmounted many obstacles, that observers started to believe the Indonesians were displaying the attributes of a consolidated democracy.

Hence it is no wonder that the Egyptians dig into the Indonesian case. Last May, a workshop initiated by the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD) took place in Jakarta under the title “Egypt-Indonesia Dialogue on Democratic Transition.”

Indonesia established the IPD in 2008 to support the Bali Democracy Forum (BDF), which it had established in the same year for promoting democracy in Asia. This initiative has been carried out in cooperation with Australia and was praised by the US. Officials from some Arab countries were invited to the meetings of this forum even before the Arab Spring.

Both men and women participated in the May workshop, among them political leaders, democracy activists, academics and representatives from NGOs and the media.

The workshop addressed the following main issues: the role of the military in the transition, and its place in a democratic society; constitutional and political reform; election laws and management; the role of political parties and civil society in building a representative democracy; Islam, politics and the state; the role of the media in consolidating democracy; and ensuring the full participation of women in the political process.

The IPD intends to hold a second workshop in Cairo that will involve a wider range of Egyptian participants and bring Indonesians into closer contact with the current debates in Egypt. It should be noted that certain Egyptian academics and activists have already been exposed to Indonesia’s democracy in recent years, through conferences and seminars. During the Mubarak era, Egyptian journalists and op-ed writers in opposition newspapers even made pointed references to Indonesia’s transition to democracy.

This process, in the home of the largest Muslim community in the world, provided hope for political change and evidence of the compatibility of Islam and democracy (see Giora Eliraz, “Democracy in Indonesia and Middle East countries,” The Jakarta Post, November 30, 2007, and “Will Indonesia’s breeze of democracy reach here?” The Jerusalem Post, April 5, 2008).

It’s likely that when Egypt first asked Indonesia for help, it was already well aware of the latter’s lessons for building democracy. The Indonesian model has so far frustrated Islamic political parties hoping to achieve a leading position in the post-Suharto era. The voters have actually proved, through fair democratic elections, their loyalty to a basic Indonesian state principle of separation between state and religion.

Posted by at July 11, 2011 5:53 AM

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