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Tuesday, 13 September 2011

A new world order emerging


Indonesia and Turkey – two great countries on the far reaches of the Islamic world – are benefiting from the freedom their people enjoy, boosting their international reputations.

WE HAVE seen how the Sept 11 attacks and Washing­ton’s subsequent missteps have led to a diminution of Ame­rican power and influence just as China was beginning its dramatic rise. Ten years on, the US is weighed down by debt and its failed dreams of global dominance.

Changes have also been taking place within the Muslim world. Indeed, in the aftermath of Sept 11, as well the more recent Arab Spring, the balance of power in and between these countries has shifted fundamentally.

In the past, Arab nations were considered pre-eminent. The revolutions in Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Libya have shattered the prestige of the Middle East’s autocratic rulers. The image of former Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak on trial has transfixed the world.

We now find ourselves asking the unimaginable – which Arab nation or kingdom will be next? Which redoubt of injustice, corruption and mismanagement will fall at the hands of its people?

As the Arab world – propelled by dramatic developments on the Internet, communications and social media – enters a period of turmoil and transition, other Muslim countries are emerging from the margins of history.

Most notable are Indonesia and Turkey, two great countries on the far reaches of the Islamic world. As fully-functioning democracies, neither need fear a repeat of the Arab Spring within their borders.

Indeed, their economies are benefiting from the freedom their people enjoy. This is boosting their international reputations while anti-reform Arab leaders appear morally bankrupt.

Indonesia has traditionally de­­ferred to Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, whose King is also the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. The relationship is also economic: some 1.5 million Indo­nesians work in Saudi Arabia as maids and construction workers. Indonesia is also a big importer of Saudi oil and gas.

Still, controversies over the ex­­ploitation and abuse of Indonesian migrant workers in the kingdom have soured their relationship.

The NGO Migrant Care reports that some 1,105 Indonesian workers died in Saudi Arabia from 2006 till last year. Under Saudi law, however, there’s little chance for aggrieved foreigners to seek redress.

Indonesian anger was further stoked by the execution of Ruyati Sapubi, a 54-year-old West Java­nese maid. She was convicted of murdering her Saudi employer, who she claimed was abusing her.

The mounting Indonesian anger culminated in protests in August by local activists and academics when the University of Indonesia conferred an honorary doctorate on Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah.

The protesters complained that the award was inappropriate, given recent events and Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record.

As Anis Hidayah, executive director of Migrant Care wrote in Kompas: “The conferral of an honorary doctorate on Abdullah is an insult to the nation, especially to the Indonesian migrant workers who have contributed to the country with their sweat and blood, often in the face of death.

“Indeed, they are more dignified and respectable than academics who have willingly sold out their integrity.”

Indonesia has thus suspended all migrant labour to Saudi Arabia until it signs an agreement on worker protection. The republic’s growing prosperity means that these shows of independence, and its determination to protect its citizens, will increase.

Meanwhile, on the far western flank of the Islamic world, Turkey is positioning itself as a regional power. Blocked in its attempts to join the European Union, Turkey has turned eastwards with great effect.

With its booming economy and dynamic society, Turkey is poised to seize a prominent role in Middle Eastern affairs – especially in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

Ankara, for example, has demanded an apology and compensation from Israel for last year’s raid on the Gaza flotilla. With neither forthcoming, Turkey has frozen ties with the Israeli military and expelled Tel Aviv’s ambassador.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has also maintained an independent stance on both Libya and Syria. He insisted on joining Nato’s Libyan intervention but demanded special terms – principally that the enforcement of the no-fly zone be led by the alliance itself and not France.

The Turks are charting their own diplomatic course. They are no longer content to remain mere allies of the West, or a silent, acquiescent Middle Eastern neighbour.

Indeed, Indonesia and Turkey are bidding for leadership, not only of their respective regions but also of the Muslim world at large. As members of the G-20 Summit, they demonstrate how democratisation and liberalisation can strengthen nations.

Malaysia, for its part, is now at the crossroads. Can we embark on the more difficult, but ultimately far more rewarding, path of reform?

Whatever we choose, democracy – even in the Muslim world – is on the move everywhere. We must ask ourselves: are we to become the victims of history or its victors?