The recurring conundrum of whether Indonesia’s most divisive Muslim cleric Habib Rizieq Shihab, leader of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) self-defense group, would return to the country was resolved on Tuesday last week when he finally set foot home from Saudi Arabia. The religious flame-killer went into exile in Saudi Arabia in April 2017, following two legal proceedings against him. At least 51,000 of its followers welcomed him at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, causing severe traffic jams and delaying other flights for up to three hours.
Rizieqs’ return comes at the right time, as the Islamists prepare to participate in the presidential and legislative elections to be held in 2024. Veteran Islamist politician, Amien Raislft, the Center Party of the National Mandate (PAN), which he founded in 1998, to create a new Islamist party called Partai Ummat (Party of the Islamic Community). Personalities who claimed to be the ideological children of the Masyumi Party, a major Islamist political party of the 1950s and banned in 1960, this month resuscitated the party from its long hiatus with a slogan: Masyumi Reborn.
As preparations for the 2024 elections are in full swing, what is the implication of Rizieq’s return on Islamist politics and its prospects for the 2024 elections?
Rizieq was known like someone who ran a small group of radicals, who frequently attacked restaurants and bars serving alcoholic drinks during the holy month of Ramadhan. His stature rose sharply among poor urban Muslims after leading a large sectarian movement against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known as Ahok), then governor of Jakarta, on blasphemy charges between 2016 and early 2017. The movement was eventually supported by various currents of Muslims. and Ahok, a Chinese-Indonesian and Christian, was then jailed for one year and eight months.
Rizieq fled Indonesia in April 2017, after charges were brought against him fortexting of pornographic images with a woman and defamation of state symbols. He has since spent his time in self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia and influenced Indonesian politics through video conferencing.
Some emerging political groups have called on Rizieq to establish political partnerships to expand their constituencies. Other Islamist politicians, including more established political parties, only cautiously welcome Rizieq.
Rizieq returned to Indonesia amid a weakening of Islamist politics. Islamists were demoralized after their political boss, Prabowo Subianto, left the alliance to join the Joko Widodo administration as defense minister. Islamists have been quiet as they continue to be scrutinized for criticizing the government.
Rizieq’s return is tantamount to an effort to energize the Islamist policy of this bad fortune. Leaders of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), a quasi-state institution known for its conservative stance, believe that Rizieq, with his penchant for combative and sharp criticism of Joko Widodo, will be a powerful political weapon for Islamists to challenge the current. diet. MUI executive Anwar Abbas argued that Rizieq is a phenomenal figure, with a large following, with unmatched skill in launching political coups against the establishment in the country.
Some emerging political groups have called on Rizieq to establish political partnerships to expand their constituencies for the 2024 elections. The Save Indonesia Coalition (KAMI), a large mass organization made up of many prominent government critics including Islamists, said they were ready to work with Rizieq to defend justice, truth and fight oppression. The Masyumi Party also asked Rizieq to join them, given their common political and ideological aspirations. The warm welcome shows that the Islamists have high hopes of his return.
Yet other Islamist politicians, including more established political parties, such as the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), only cautiously welcome Rizieq. These politicians understand that his influence grew following the Ahoks blasphemy incident in 2017. While they appear to be in favor of his return, Islamist politicians are keeping their distance with the fiery killer cleric.
A cadre of the Ummat party declared that his party decided to launch the logo of the parties in place of Rizieq’s arrival in Indonesia because it symbolizes the struggle of the clerics in the struggle against oppressive powers and the establishment of justice. In a similar tone, PKS Chairman Ahmed Syaikhu urged the government not to criminalize Rizieq. These statements reflect a positive attitude of Islamist politicians towards the return of the Rizieq. However, none of them made any concrete offer of political alliances with the religious in order to achieve their common political goals.
These Islamist politicians understand that there are risks in building formal political alliances with Rizieq or in merging their organizations with the Rizieqs organization (FPI). Rizieq’s combative, confrontational and uncompromising style could be a handicap for them. While such tactics may appeal to poor and uneducated urban Muslims, they will not impress the larger constituencies, which are more comfortable with a more moderate political tone.
By partnering with established Islamist parties, Rizieq could help broaden their political base, but his presence could inadvertently alienate existing constituencies.
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