Could Indonesia's democracy be Egypt's model?
Abu Bakar Bashir's trial demonstrates the struggles Indonesia faces a decade after transitioning from authoritarian rule to the world's largest Muslim democracy.
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“It could be a precedent for going after a lot of other firebrand clerics that are deliberately inciting people to violence,” says Sidney Jones, a senior analyst focused on terrorism issues at the International Crisis Group and leading authority on Islamist militants in Indonesia.Skip to next paragraph
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Embattled reputation for pluralism
But Ms. Jones remains wary of pinning too much importance on the aging cleric’s trial. Long considered the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional militant network bent on installing Islamic rule across Southeast Asia, Bashir has lost some of his support in recent years, as militant cells have morphed into a loose connection of small groups.
Terrorism, however, is only one form of extremism, and Jones worries that the government has foundered on addressing lesser acts of violence, such as words that lead directly to assault.
“There is no firm guidance from the state on how to protect its citizens,” says Syafi’i Anwar, the head of the International Center for Islam and Pluralism, a network of progressive Muslim activists. Mr. Anwar says the president is losing his grip on controlling radical groups – and that makes it increasingly difficult to defend Indonesia’s reputation for pluralism.
Indonesia's past in perspective
Despite current concerns about democratic backtracking, Jones says it is important to keep Indonesia’s past in perspective. “It’s because Indonesia has recovered some basic liberties that we can criticize the government for failing to act,” she says.
The takeaway for Egypt?
“Make all the reforms you can while the spirit for reforms is still high; get the military out of politics quickly, and lift all Draconian decrees,” says Jones. And do one thing Indonesia did not do, she adds – ensure that everyone, including police and other minorities, has an equal share in democracy.