Despite observations that the group has become defunct, the 212 Movement has held a series of gatherings to display their opposition to President Joko Widodo. One thing is clear: the movement will not endorse presidential candidates endorsed by Widodo.
On 2 December 2022, the alumni of the “212 Movement” organised a reunion attended by its spiritual leader Rizieq Shihab. The fact that the gathering happened, especially after the group came under some pressure from the government of President Joko Widodo, suggests that the movement is alive and well.
Shihab was released on parole last July, after being sentenced to four years in prison for violating Indonesian quarantine rules and spreading false information during the Covid-19 pandemic. His organisation, Front Pembela Islam (FPI), was banned in 2020 by the Indonesian authorities.
The 212 Movement first came into the spotlight when it led mass protests against 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial candidate Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or “Ahok”, a Christian Indonesian-Chinese.
The movement’s annual reunion commemorates the 2 December 2016 event known as Aksi Bela Islam (Action to Defend Islam). Despite some observers suggesting that the movement is now defunct, the authors view the December 2022 reunion as significant. The group’s proof of life is evident when taken together with other moves, such as their orchestration of demonstrations last year against an extension of President Joko Widodo’s presidency, protests against increases in fuel and oil prices, and demands for Yaqut Qoumas’s replacement as the Minister of Religious Affairs. That the reunions have been held during the pandemic years (2020-2022) is a testament to the group’s strong instinct for political survival and resilience.
The 212 group has used their annual reunions as a forum to criticise and resist the agenda of the ruling regime. The group targets the Widodo government and political figures supported by the president, such as Ganjar Pranowo (the governor of Central Java and reportedly Jokowi’s favoured successor). Despite Widodo’s efforts to court them, the 212 group has remained steadfast in its opposition to him. For instance, Jokowi chose Ma’ruf Amin — an important person behind the movement’s early phase – as his vice-presidential candidate for 2019. This, however, failed to gain the group’s favour: at its 2018 reunion, the group publicly stated that it would not support Jokowi.
More recently, the Mujahid 212, a sub-group of the larger 212 Movement, alleged that Ganjar Pranowo is similar to Jokowi, in that both men tend to be hantam kromo (careless) in running their administrations.This statement should be seen as rebuke of Pranowo’s distribution of zakat (Islamic alms) to fund the renovation of a house belonging to the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) activists in Central Java. The movement’s view is that monies collected by the National Body of Zakat Collectors (BAZNAS) should not be given to political parties.
Essentially, the 212 Movement remains a factor in Indonesian politics, insofar as it has the capacity to periodically voice an Islamist contention against mainstream or secularist views.
Since 2016, their reunions have brought together like-minded folk with different agendas, including opposition elements and those from the Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS), Gerindra (the party of potential 2024 presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto), and Partai Demokrat (former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s party). Individual figures who are against the Widodo government were also seen at the 2022 reunion.
It seems that the Widodo government might be concerned about giving the movement too much leeway. Each year it has organised its reunion, but the government has rejected the application for a National Police (Polri) permit. For 2022, Polri denied permission for the reunion to be in Jakarta, but the group managed to hold it at the At-Tin Mosque, which is connected to the family of Suharto. As a symbol of the Suharto family’s support, Titiek Suharto attended the reunion.
The 212 group has used their annual reunions as a forum to criticise and resist the agenda of the ruling regime. The group targets the Widodo government and political figures supported by the president, such as Ganjar Pranowo.
From the authors’ field observations, around 5,000 people attended the 2022 reunion. Most of the religious figures who spoke focused on how to be a good Muslim and a good citizen of Indonesia. To its credit, the movement was astute in keeping a lower political profile to minimise any repercussions from the government. The leaders instructed that there be no overt political messaging, but there was one banner calling for justice to be served in the case of six former FPI guards the police killed while the guards were protecting Shihab’s car on 7 December 2020. The banner was likely referencing the South Jakarta district court’s March 2022 acquittal of two policemen who were charged with the killing.
The movement has used what may be described as “hard” and “soft” strategies. From 2016 to 2021, they largely used the former, with speakers insulting, mocking, or humiliating the government and associated political figures. However, in 2022, there was no talk of politics and only the performance of Islamic rituals such as zikir (also spelled dhikr, a form of meditation or recitation of the names of Allah) and reciting salawat (giving praise to the Prophet). This cautious approach might have been because Shihab is technically still on parole.
Their annual reunions represent a persistent effort to gain relevance by the 212 Movement. They are striving not only for a social and political existence, but also for resilience in facing up to what they see as the Jokowi government’s repression. It can be said that the 212 Movement remains flexible as the 2024 elections approach. The movement’s preferred presidential candidate would ideally be aligned to their form of Islamism. More significantly, the 212 Movement will not endorse a candidate supported by President Jokowi.
Syafiq Hasyim is a Visiting Fellow at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore, and Lecturer and Director of Library and Culture at the Indonesian International Islamic University.
Wahyudi Akmaliyah is a Ph.D. candidate in Malay Studies at the National University of Singapore and a Researcher at BRIN (National Research and Innovation Agency), Jakarta.