An opposition supporter flashes the victory sign as he holds an Egyptian flag atop a lamp post near a mosque in Tahrir Square in Cairo February 7, 2011. (Yannis Behrakis/Courtesy Reuters)
As the chaos in Cairo builds to a climax, some outside observers are comparing a potential transition in Egypt to Indonesia in the late 1990s, after the end of longtime dictator Suharto amid massive street protests in Jakarta and other cities. As Thomas Carothers notes in the New Republic, in Indonesia the Clinton administration stuck with the dictator Suharto until long after his sell-by date, and then seemed confused about how to handle the post-Suharto situation. And as Carothers notes, despite its initial post-Suharto chaos, Indonesia eventually navigated a transition to democracy, and did not cut off its ties with the United States. In fact, today the Obama administration is building a close partnership with Jakarta.
Egypt should be so fortunate as to wind up where Indonesia is today. A little more than a decade after the fall of Suharto, Indonesia no longer looks like a chaotic and ungovernable state, potentially on the verge of disintegration. Instead, it is one of the democratic success stories of the past decade. Decentralization has led to greater local involvement in the political process; greater freedoms have birthed a vibrant media and civil society; the country has held several free and fair elections in a row; and it has resolved many of its outstanding insurgencies and territorial conflicts, such as Aceh. (Though not all – Papua remains a serious conflict.) The Indonesian military has gradually withdrawn from the center of power and from many businesses that it occupied under Suharto. Responsibility for some important tasks, such as counterterrorism, have been turned over to the police.
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