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Suharto in Cairo

Gamal Eid

Suharto in Cairo  

You wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that Suharto is in Cairo, or that Mubarak is in Jakarta! For those who have taken an interest in the revolution, they will be hard pressed to find any real difference between Mubarak and Suharto, just as they won’t find much of a difference between the Egyptian revolution and its counterpart in Indonesia.

In both countries it was the youth who first rose up against dictatorship. It was they who drove the revolution and made up the largest percentage of its martyrs, however it was also they who were the first to be excluded from the political process.

The military gave up power in both countries, but they initially persecuted people while acting as the representative of the old guard. In Indonesia, the military was composed of Suharto’s supporters, just as in Egypt the military was made up of Mubarak’s men.

After both revolutions the military assumed control of the country, and there emerged a third power whose hidden hand was responsible for sowing the seeds of chaos and committing crimes against its citizens.

Supporters of Mubarak and Suharto returned to the ministries they had previously worked in. In the month following both revolutions, the military formed a temporary alliance with the Islamists, and within a year disagreements had crept up between the two sides.

Repression against protesters worsened, with military trials and people being murdered by unknown assailants becoming standard, with most people scared to mention the name of the third party that ruled the country.

Conflicting calls to either write a constitution first or elect a president first could be heard, as the rift between those who supported democracy and those who supported religious rule grew.

Those who supported religious rule triumphed, and the role of the military began to wane after cutting backroom deals with the Islamists, whom they considered the most organised and most fit to run the country.

The dreams of Defence Minister Suharto, or ‘General Wirantu’ as he was known, came to fruition when he became president of Indonesia. However protesters continued to mobilise, and he was eventually demoted to vice president. Demonstrations eventually worsened to the point that by the end of his term, the best Suharto could hope for was to be able to leave power without receiving punishment for his crimes.

For that reason, before handing over power, the Islamists were required to promise the third power that they would not be prosecuted for their crimes.

Moderate Islamists rose to power after forming an alliance with the country’s more radical elements, which led the nation into a new stage of struggle between those in power and the revolutionaries who demanded freedom and democracy.

The burden the revolutionaries were forced to bear became heavy, however their demands increased despite the fact that they remained in the opposition. In addition to demanding freedom and justice, they also began to call for the trial of those responsible for killing protestors in the name of an illusory stability.

The constitution was not released on schedule, and the moderate Islamists began to radicalise for the purpose of highlighting the country’s religious identity. This was done with no consideration taken for the ethnic, religious, cultural and political cleavages that existed within the country.

Although the revolutionaries were a minority in Parliament, they did have the loudest voice on the street, however they were constantly burdened by the legacy of dictatorship, Islamist rule and the systematic liquidation of their leaders.

They did not surrender, they stayed in the streets, continued to call for social justice, and continued their struggle for the sake of the revolution. The Islamists tried to pass symbolic acts of change. However the reaction of the revolutionaries to such empty gestures was described by one young Indonesian revolutionary: “We need bread and freedom not hijabs and beards!”

That being said the Islamists didn’t last long; in the following elections they received too few votes to stay in power.

Although Indonesia is not a perfect example of democracy, it is a country that is shared by all of its citizens, regardless of their religious or political affiliation, and it does boast a great economy.

Simply seeking to put Suharto on trial is not enough. Indonesia is now a democracy, governed by the rule of law, something which provides Indonesians with many opportunities to try him for all of his crimes.

Is there a big difference between Indonesia and Egypt?

Although the revolution is not over yet in Egypt, all that has been said until now points to the fact that there is in fact not a large difference between the two countries.

We need to study the Indonesian model.

About the author

Gamal Eid

Gamal Eid

Gamal Eid is a prominent Egyptian human rights lawyer and executive director of the Arabic Network of Human Rights Information (ANHRI)


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