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Regime toppling: the Southeast Asia-Middle East parallel

Can post-revolution Indonesia, Philippines guide an Arab world in upheaval?
Winn jakartariot 2011 02 22Enlarge
Angry Indonesian mobs burn cars as they plundered shops in Jakarta during 1998 street violence, which brought terror to the Indonesian capital. (CHOO YOUN-KONG/AFP/Getty Images)

"Thirteen years ago, I watched another aging autocrat suddenly challenged by a protest movement that seemed to come out of nowhere," writes BBC correspondent Jonathan Head on the news outlet's Web site. "The country was Indonesia, like Egypt a mainly Muslim nation and strategic U.S. ally."

With Egypt finding its way after a three-decade regime's toppling, and a contagion of revolts sweeping the region, many analysts and veteran journalists are recalling past tumult in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia, and the Philippines to a lesser extent, have both experienced ground-up revolutions with parallels to the ongoing uprisings in the Arab world. (Indonesians ended strongman Suharto's 31-year reign in the late 1990s while Filipinos forced out ruler Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 after two decades of rule.) Both countries pushed out entrenched rulers with military backing by pouring into the streets. The similarity runs deeper in Indonesia, a Muslim majority nation where Islamic groups were long suppressed.

In light of from Southeast Asia's experiences, what pitfalls can these newly democratic nations expect?

Here's a look at the regional media's analysis:

TAKE IT SLOW: A report in the Straits Times - Indonesia suggests Egypt should adopt democracy slowly rather than suddenly. One analyst interviewed by the newspaper warns that Indonesia had a more "active civil society" and more "political parties in waiting" than Egypt does today. A former foreign minister in Indonesia's reform government encourages "gradual transition" to build up institutions and inform the public how to make good decisions.

DON'T TRUST THE GENERALS: A former Indonesian reform government advisor tells the Sydney Morning Herald that "history has shown the military, no matter how honest and well-meaning, is not a good agent of democracy." Other analysts conclude Egypt has already endangered its democracy by allowing the army to supervise the transition of power. Indonesia tried the same thing in 1965 and ended up with a military-aligned dictator that wasn't removed for three decades.

HOLD EVERYONE ACCOUNTABLE: In the Philippine Daily Inquirer, a human right lawyer warns Egyptians to prosecute all wrongdoers -- especially those in positions of power. After Filipino strongman Marcos lost power, protesters were jubilant. But while their hard-won democracy stood the test of time, they failed to tame instability and a culture of political violence that persists today. The report suggests "promptly prosecuting those responsible for serious abuses, no matter how high up the civilian or military chain of command."

By the way, leaders in Southeast Asia's other large Muslim-majority nation, Malaysia, are telling citizens not to get any bright ideas from the Arab world's protests. "Don't gamble the future away by following the instigations of certain people," said Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. His government would not allow any copy-cat protests, he told the Malaysia's Star Online.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/egypt/regime-toppling-the-southeast-asia-middle-east-parallel

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