Egypt reminds us of Indonesia riots

Posted by David Khoirul

Indonesia and EgyptI was still a kid when the May 1998 riots happened in Indonesia. The riots -- occuring in several parts of Indonesia, including Surakarta and Medan, and notably in the capital city, Jakarta -- were triggered by economic problems like food shortages and mass unemployment. The riots led to the fall of Suharto, who finally resigned on May 21, 1998.

The same thing currently happens in Egypt. With more than 200,000 people marching into Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egyptians protest against the government and demand the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, the president for nearly 30 years. This case is similar to what happened in 1998 in Indonesia.

In Indonesia, a dictator who had ruled for more than two decades -- holding himself out as the only guarantor of his nation ’s stability and serving as Washington ’s steadfast ally -- tumbled from power after a brief but intense surge of protests led by students and a smattering of NGOs that had managed to survive in the narrow margins of Indonesian political life. The Clinton administration stayed with the aging tyrant almost to the bitter end, issuing tepid calls for reform, refusing to believe he could fall so quickly and worrying deeply about what might follow -- chaos, an Islamist takeover, or an actual breakup of the country.

Yet, despite its abrupt, unprepared transition, absence of any deep experience with democracy, entrenched security forces with blood on their hands, and location in a largely undemocratic neighborhood, Indonesia navigated a shaky but remarkably successful passage to democracy. Today, it is the largest democracy in the Muslim world, enjoying rapid economic growth at home and actively supporting democracy in its region. Four Islamic political parties are represented in Indonesia ’s parliament and the president’s cabinet, but their vote share has diminished over the past ten years, dropping below 30 percent in the last parliamentary elections.

For almost a week, telephone networks and the internet had been shut down before it restored on Wednesday. Indonesians, especially students, who live in Egypt started to go home yesterday, arriving at 4 p.m. in Jakarta.

[via TNR]

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