Indonesia and the promise of democracy in the Muslim world

With the wave of ‘revolutions’ sweeping North Africa and the Middle East and raising hopes of democratisation across these regions, many commentators have begun to turn to Indonesia, the world’s largest majority-Muslim democracy, for lessons as to what to expect in the months and years ahead. Indonesia, after all, experienced the non-violent overthrow of long-time president Suharto in 1998 and a shift to competitive elections in 1999, and now is widely regarded as a consolidated democracy which has succeeded to hold together a country famous for its ethnic, regional, and religious diversity. But Indonesia’s transition to democracy was also accompanied by a shifting pattern of religious violence, ranging from anti-Chinese riots to inter-religious pogroms to jihadi terrorist bombings, and, in recent years, violent persecution of ‘deviant’ Islamic sects. Against this backdrop, John Sidel of the London School of Economics, a specialist on Southeast Asia and on Islam in world politics, will speak about the lessons of Indonesia’s experience for other countries in the Muslim world undergoing democratisation today. 

John Sidel is the Sir Patrick Gillam Professor of International and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is the author of Capital, Coercion, and Crime: Bossism in the Philippines (Stanford University Press, 1999), Riots, Pogroms, Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia (Cornell University Press, 2006), and The Islamist Threat in Southeast Asia: A Reassessment (East-West-Center, 2007). He is currently beginning work on a new book provisionally titled “The Rise and Fall of Islam in World Politics”.