Meanwhile, new secular opposition groups emerged to challenge the entrenched dictatorship. Megawati Sukarnoputri and her PDI shook things up in Indonesia up through 1996, as did the rise of the Kefaya ("Enough") movement and Ayman Nour's failed presidential bid in 2005 in Egypt. In both countries, however, the entrenched authoritarian regimes stubbornly resisted pressures for political change, inspiring frustrated middle classes to take to the streets against authoritarian rule. In Indonesia in 1998 as in Egypt in 2011, the entrenched military establishments equivocated in the face of popular protests, putting their own institutional and economic interests above the personal concerns of the presidents and their families.
What we have seen in Egypt over the past year, meanwhile, is oddly reminiscent of what happened in Indonesia after the fall of Suharto. There, too, military strongmen played a crucial role in overseeing -- and sometimes obstructing -- a transition to elections and civilian rule over the course of a turbulent year. Street protests continued, crime and disorder spread, and inter-religious tensions erupted into episodes of collective violence. (In Indonesia this took the form of Christian-Muslim pogroms in the Moluccas in early 1999, an episode that offers many parallels to the attacks on Coptic Christians in Maspero in 2011.)
In both countries, this uneasy interregnum began to draw to a close with the holding of competitive elections and the convening of a new parliament. But what one might call the "parliamentarization" of politics also spurred uncertainty. Parliamentary elections elevated Islamic parties and politicians to positions of unprecedented prominence and power, as the infrastructure of Islamic social institutions provided unique bases for the formation of new nation-wide political networks.
In Indonesia's first free election in 1999, Islamic parties won nearly 40 percent of seats in parliament, and politicians affiliated with prominent Islamic associations assumed positions as speaker of Parliament and chairman of the People's Consultative Assembly, the country's legislative branch and highest state institution. In October 1999, the head of another Islamic association, Abdurrahman Wahid, rose to the presidency.
Egyptian parliamentary elections over the past few months have followed similar lines. The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party won 47 percent of the vote, with the salafi Al-Nour party claiming an additional 23 percent. A former member of the Guidance Bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood has been elected as Speaker of the National Assembly. In today's Egypt, as in Indonesia in mid-1999, there is considerable anxiety about the dangers of an Islamist capture of state power, in addition to worries about the presidential elections yet to come and the future design of the constitution.
If Egypt is so similar to Indonesia, and if the transition from authoritarian rule to democracy in Egypt has, so far, been so "Indonesian," then what kind of future for Egypt do the years from 1999 through 2012 portend? How seriously should we take all the alarmism today about the various dangers said to be threatening democracy in Egypt?
First of all, the trajectory of Indonesian politics since 1999 suggests that the dangers associated with the rise of Islamic parties in Egypt today are probably exaggerated. In Indonesia, after all, Suharto's resignation was followed by the ascension to the presidency of B. J. Habibie, the founder and chairman of the Indonesian Association of Islamic Intellectuals. As noted above, the 1999 parliamentary elections gave Islamic parties nearly 40 percent of the vote, and since then Islamic parties have continued to claim at least as large a share of the electorate and a commensurate position in parliamentary politics.