None of this denies that Suharto was ironfisted, brutal, venal, spectacularly corrupt...the list goes on. The New Order regime can rightly be charged with plundering Indonesia's economy and eviscerating public trust in state institutions -- although its predecessors (from the Dutch East India Company through to Sukarno's Guided Democracy regime) share part of the blame for the latter as well. Development under the New Order was certainly unequal, with only a fraction of the population able to benefit from gleaming new malls or international airports. Nevertheless, under Suharto, even ordinary Indonesians prospered in ways that they never had before. By the 1990s, when Indonesia joined the ranks of newly industrializing economies, millions of Indonesians could still remember the hyperinflation and polarized political atmosphere of the early 1960s. They could also remember how Suharto brought both to an end, the former through skillful macroeconomic management, the latter through the mass bloodshed that accompanied the extermination of the Indonesian left.
As a consequence, although Islam became increasingly visible in the Indonesian public sphere in the New Order's later years, this was a compliant, state-managed form of Islam. It was an Islam that supported the New Order regime's essentially nationalist (rather than religious or sectarian) foundations. Islamists either joined with the New Order (sacrificing their ability to serve as effective regime critics) or remained in the opposition (and subject to state repression). Groups patterned after the Muslim Brotherhood or drawing on tarbiyah movements made some inroads on university campuses and in urban areas, but that was it.
In turn, when Indonesia's 1997-98 economic meltdown ultimately drove Suharto from power, Islamists in Indonesia -- unlike Ennahda or the Muslim Brotherhood -- had neither a latent constituency hungry for an Islamic alternative to the New Order, nor the mobilizational networks needed to turn out voters at election time. Facing the regional Asian economic crisis rather than slow-moving developmental debacle, there was no particular reason for Indonesians who were angered by the abrupt end to decades of economic growth to think that a turn to Islam would solve their country's problems. It is no accident that even today, the image of the New Order as a period of dynamism, optimism, and material progress remains powerful for many Indonesians.
In sum, we should attend to the differences between the growth of political Islam in Indonesia versus Egypt and Tunisia. The crisis of the Arab secular states that Khoury first identified three decades ago had no counterpart in Indonesia. As a result, Islamists have never found the same mobilizational base there, and today, they struggle to present an alternative to mainstream non-Islamist parties in the democratic era.
The central implication of this argument about developmental debacles and the rise of political Islam is that authoritarian legacies matter. The idea of Indonesia as a template for other post-authoritarian Muslim states, or as a model that can be imported to understand transitions in the rest of the Muslim world, must be combined with an appreciation for the model's limits. In Egypt and Tunisia, priorities such as military professionalization, judicial reform, party system design, and others will usefully draw on Indonesia's experience, which has much to teach us about the likely course of these reforms during democratic consolidation and the various obstacles and challenges along the way.
But observers and practitioners also care about Islam in these new democracies, and understanding ideological cleavages in newly democratic polities requires a more nuanced analysis of the social and economic legacies of authoritarian rule. Islamist messages do not resonate the same way for all Muslims living under corrupt and repressive regimes, and the counter-hegemonic ideas that emerge under authoritarianism shape the movements that mobilize, and subsequently, their post-authoritarian electoral fortunes.
Note: This is an abridged version of a longer essay entitled “The Limits of the Indonesian Model.”