Thousands of Indonesian Islamists attend a rally in Jakarta on December 2, 2018, to commemorate the second anniversary of a demonstration which led to the fall of Jakarta's then Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. (Photo: Prananditya / AFP)

The 212 Movement: Flagging Political Fortunes

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The decline of the 212 Movement in Indonesia could well portend the decline of political Islam.

Indonesia’s 212 Movement staged a mass event on 2 December 2021, despite the government of DKI Jakarta and the National Police not granting permission for the gathering. Compared to the 2016-2017 period, when Muslims linked to the movement turned out in droves to demand the arrest of Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama on the grounds of blasphemy, the 2021 reunion was a lacklustre affair. It was not as consolidated, was scattered across different places in the capital and did not receive visible backing even from Anies Baswedan, a former ally of the movement and the incumbent governor of DKI Jakarta.

The 2021 event could indicate the decline of political Islam in Indonesia. The Reuni Akbar (Great Reunion) 212 was held to commemorate the series of actions related to Aksi Bela Islam (action to defend Islam). The 2016-2017 gatherings were of political and religious significance nationally because they involved many Muslim groups and political parties. 

A major reason behind the relative failure of the 2021 event could well be Basuki’s departure from the political scene. Basuki served as Joko Widodo’s deputy when he was the governor of Jakarta, and is now the presidential commissioner of state-owned energy firm Pertamina. The lack of a bete noire meant that the 2021 event drew less support from on high. It seems that the DKI government was reluctant to approve using public spaces for the reunion because of existing Covid-19 mobility restrictions. In addition, the National Police had also firmly stated their decision of not granting permission.

This movement also appears to be losing public support. The reunion coordinator stated that they would move the event from Jakarta to Mosque al-Zikra in Sentul, Bogor, but the board of the mosque rejected that proposal. The national political figures who usually supported the activities of the 212 movement seemed to be in two minds this time around. They might have already predicted that this reunion would not attract much public attention and hence held off from providing their full support. National figures and politicians were also not present on the field on the day of the reunion, even though they gave public statements through their social media.

A major reason behind the relative failure of the 2021 event could well be Basuki’s departure from the political scene. Basuki served as Joko Widodo’s deputy when he was the governor of Jakarta, and is now the presidential commissioner of state-owned energy firm Pertamina.

The ailing fortunes of the 212 Movement are not for want of trying. Since 2016, despite not attracting a large crowd, the 212 movement has organised a regular reunion among those who participated in a series of Aksi Bela Islam. The goal is to solidify brotherhood among the alumni of the movement. The reunion was also held to show the public that they remain in existence and continue to consolidate their alumni. With the reunion, they want to be regarded by the public as a strategic pressure group. This strategy has failed to gain traction. Refly Harun, a lawyer and former ally of President Joko Widodo, has endorsed the group and stated that the government of Indonesia should issue permission for the reunion because it could be regarded as an iconic Islamic festival. He suggested that the city of Jakarta should be closed for one day for this gathering. His request was not granted. Bahar Smith, an Indonesian Muslim preacher of Arab descent, also justified this idea by stating that the reunion will unite Muslims and non-Muslims. He said that in an attempt to get support from non-Muslims. He was not successful in the end. 

However, many Muslim figures assumed that the reunion had more political than religious motives. Sunanto, the leader of Pemuda Muhammadiyah (Youth Muhammadiyah Organisation), expressed his suspicion that the reunion was not purely held in the interest of Umat Islam (practitioners of the faith). He recommended holding a virtual reunion rather than an in-person public gathering, since Indonesia is still dealing with the pandemic. Syamsul Ma’arif, the leader of DKI Jakarta’s Nahdlatul Ulama, also rejected the idea of holding the reunion. He expressed concern about the politicisation of this event. He added that as the Jakarta people have already had a Muslim governor, Anies Baswedan, the reunion should not be held because it would bring back the memory of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian. 

The showing of the reunion can be explained in three ways. First, the movement is no longer considered an important event in Indonesian politics and political Islam. Its diminished stature and low popularity means that the movement is of little or no value to political parties. Second, the movement cannot leverage on important political events such as general elections to increase its popularity. Besides, during the pandemic era, the movement did not have enough allies from opposition groups to the government. Finally, the movement itself is now facing an internal crisis of its leadership. Their key leaders, such as Rizieq Shihab, Amien Rais and Munarman and others, did not present themselves in the field as in the previous events. The movement leading figures such as Slamet Ma’arif (coordinator of Alumni 212), Novel Bamukmin (Deputy Secretary General of Alumni 212) and Bernard Abdul Jabbar (Secretary General of Alumni 212) are also less prominent and charismatic than their predecessors. 

At bottom, the future of the movement is questionable. The popularity of the 212 movement has declined in the last three years and during the pandemic era that started in early 2020. Besides that, the enactment of State Law No 2/20017 on Mass Organisations has also affected the popularity of the movement. The law banned organisations such as Front Pembela Islam (FPI) and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) that restricted their supporters to the movement, further decreasing its influence. Consequently, the movement has lost many members at the national level. 

To resurrect its fortunes, the 212 movement would need big-scale political events, such as presidential elections, to revive its influence. Even then, the movement can only reconsolidate if an urgent matter appears in the 2024 presidential election, such as the nomination of a non-Muslim as a political leader. This looks unlikely for now; in fact, the failure of the 212 movement could well portend a decline of political Islam in Indonesia. 

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Syafiq Hasyim is a Lecturer of UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta and a Visiting Fellow at the Indonesia Studies Programme, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.