The Indonesian model

Indonesia’s example could greatly benefit Tunisia and perhaps other Arab societies in their struggle towards democracy.

Women attend a mass Eid al-Adha prayer in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, last October (photo credit: REUTERS)
Women attend a mass Eid al-Adha prayer in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, last October
(photo credit: REUTERS)
OVER THE past few years, Indonesia, home to the largest Muslim community in the world, has been conducting a dialogue on democracy with Egypt and Tunisia. It was largely triggered by Indonesia’s ambition to advance democracy in Muslim, especially Arab, states. By exporting its own successful model, Indonesia hopes to prove that Islam is compatible with democracy and modernity.
To this end, Indonesia’s Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD) has been hosting forums with Egyptian and Tunisian delegations on key subjects like Islam, state and politics; political and constitutional reforms; elections laws and management; the role of political parties and civil society; the role of the army in democratic society; and participation of women in the political process.
It is striking that the Egyptian side has been almost exclusively represented by unofficial political activists and experts, whereas Tunisian representatives of government branches also attended the joint meetings. Perhaps one of the reasons for the lack of direct Egyptian government involvement is the difficulty the dominant political actors in the post-Mubarak era have in identifying with the Indonesia model.
For the Muslim Brotherhood, the winner of the first democratic elections in the new political era, the Indonesian separation of state and religion is clearly extremely problematic; by definition, Islam is not recognized as the state religion and the shari’a has not been incorporated in the constitution.
Moreover, in all three Indonesian democratic parliamentary elections, parties of secular, national-oriented ideology won and in 2001, a woman, Megawati Sukarnoputri, was appointed president. This civilian model could also be difficult to swallow for the Egyptian army, a pivotal actor in the political landscape of the Egypt of the Arab Spring, especially after it ousted the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi.
As for Tunisia, one might have expected that the Islamist Ennahdha party, which won the first democratic election there, would also have strong reservations with regard to the Indonesian model. But that was not the case. On the contrary, Rachid al-Ghannouchi, the founder and the head of the party, actually mentioned it in a favorable light.
Indeed, one of the most striking differences between the current Tunisian and Egyptian political contexts is the identity of the leading actors paving the way towards potential democratization. In Egypt it is the army; in Tunisia, in sharp contrast, it is a quartet of civil society organizations, led by the powerful General Labor Union (UGTT). The UGTT sponsored a deal between the ruling Ennahdha and the secular political opposition leading to the formation of an interim government of independents and the formulation of a new progressive constitution, which seems to reflect a strongly shared interest in moving forward toward true democracy, through a pragmatic process of compromise on declared ideological positions.
Although the Indonesian context is very distinctive, Tunisia could benefit from its main lessons. For example, the importance of a large, pluralistic Muslim civil society, inspired and supported by strong, moderate Islamic organizations, to lead the transition to democracy; the importance of cooperation between the new democratic government and civil society in encouraging tolerance and pluralism; and the need to wage a war of ideas against religious extremism.
Last, but certainly not least, Tunisia, the country that sparked the Arab Spring in late 2010, could learn from Indonesia’s determined and effective fight against militant Islamist terror. The Indonesian case could sharpen awareness among major political actors in Tunisia of the severe threat growing violence and terror poses to a democratic vision.
Indonesia’s democracy is not yet full-fledged and still has significant shortcomings. Nevertheless, one cannot ignore the impressive success of Indonesian democratization over the past 15 years. Indeed, careful analysis of the Indonesian model could greatly benefit Tunisia, and, in the future, perhaps other Arab societies too in their struggle towards genuine democracy.
Dr. Giora Eliraz is a Research Associate at the Harry S. Truman Institute at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Affiliated Fellow at KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies in Leiden, Netherlands