Participants at international workshop (Photo: Courtesy of IPD)
The Indonesian capital Jakarta has played host to a workshop organised by Institute of Peace and Democracy (IPD) under the name "Egyptian-Indonesian Dialogue on Democratic Transition: Islam, the State and Politics," covering the Indonesian experience on the state-religion relationship. The event coincided with the continuing Arab Spring in several Arab and Muslim-majority states — a revolutionary wave that has led to the fall of several long-established autocratic regimes.
The workshop chiefly discussed the compatibility of Islam and democracy and the nature of an exemplary Islamic model that guarantees equal opportunities to all political actors across the spectrum. The discussion came amid the palpable rise of political-Islamist currents in Egypt and their sweeping victory in recently-held parliamentary elections. A number of Indonesian, Egyptian and Tunisian political experts and members of parliament attended the workshop.
The executive director at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Jakarta, Rizal Sukma, mentioned that Indonesia managed to balance the political demands of all social and ethnic sects of society, despite an Islamist-secular debate on the nature of the state following the collapse of Suharto's regime.
Asem Mozadi, a prominent Islamic thinker and the secretary general of the International Conference for Islamic Scholars, argued that the interpretation process of Islam should not disregard social conditions that differ among Muslim countries.
"Advocators of Islam in Indonesia succeeded to deliver their message through peaceful dialogue, methods of persuasion and dealing with the population's original culture; this is why it survived," Mozadi said.
Mahmoud Amer, a member of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political wing of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, backed the idea of a civil state with an Islamic frame of reference. Amer stated that the Prophet Mohammed never established an Islamic state. Rather, he created a socio-political construction based on the Shura (consultation) principle.
Amer also stated that Muslims and Christian Copts in Egypt deserve to be granted equal rights, as social justice and freedom are a religious obligation.
The Egyptian political sociologist Ammar Ali Hassan rejected the notion of fusing state and religion. He explained that Islam as a religion embodies a "spiritual and moral project," not a political one. "We are in the biggest Islamic country in the world in which Islam does not represent the cornerstone of the political system; this situation proves my point," Hassan stated.
Egyptian parliamentarian Abdel Moniem El-Sawy said that the major role of the Islamist majority in Egypt is to solve the daily problems of citizens, instead of raising fears about losses to freedom. "This is why people chose them; it is their duty," Al-Sawy said.
Faisal Goiwaa, Tunisia's deputy foreign minister, pointed out that debate over the relationship between politics and religion was banned prior to the Tunisian 2011 Jasmine Revolution. Goiwaa asserted that building new political parties, civil society movements and an efficient network of state institutions requires greater attention than "ideological debates" that might hinder post-revolutionary democratisation.