Firebrand cleric Rizieq Shihab, founder of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), played a pivotal role in the 2017 Jakarta governor’s race, but has done little politically in the lead up to the 2019 presidential election. Being a fugitive from Indonesian law enforcement hiding in Mecca definitely plays a part in that, although the ruling PDI-P party of President Joko Widodo said just last week they would be open to Rizieq’s support.
Although Rizieq never formally respond to PDI-P’s wooing, it’s now pretty clear that he’s going to be sticking with the opposition. In a new video from Mecca, posted to Rizieq’s Twitter account and FPI’s Youtube page, Rizieq calls for a “jihad” against the persecution of the government.
“Our concern is the emergence of paid thugs who persecute ulama (Islamic scholars), public figures, activists, even against women. This should not be allowed,” Rizieq says in the video.
“We call from the holy city of Makkah al Mukarromah for all the people, the whole nation, all citizens, to unite in jihad against the paid thugs who want to divide the people, who want to cause chaos in Indonesia and who want to break the peace,” he continued.
Rizieq was referring to the #2019GantiPresiden (#2019ReplaceThePresident) controversial opposition movement that has been supported in large part by hardline Islamic organizations.
A #2019GantiPresiden rally that had been scheduled for Sunday in the East Java capital of Surabaya was not given clearance by the city’s police over concerns it would disrupt the peace. Supporters of the opposition movement gathered during Surabaya’s Car Free Day event anyways, despite attempts by the police to disperse them, and eventually they clashed violently with counter-protesters.
Since then, many political figures from the opposition have accused President Joko Widodo’s administration of being repressive and using state force to silence a legitimate political movement. Rizieq takes it further in his video, accusing the president’s supporters of using paid thugs to attack their side and demanding that his followers rise up in revolution against the government.
SAYA SERUKAN KEPADA SEGENAP UMAT ISLAM;
(Persiapkan diri kalian..)
— حبيب محمّد رزق شهاب (@RizieqSyihabFPI) August 26, 2018
One line of this poster reads: “If the police and preman (thugs) are already collaborating there is only one solution – revolution”
Despite Rizieq’s outsized influence on the 2017 Jakarta election, it seems unlikely that many will answer his call for jihad from Mecca. Most analysts predict that President Joko Widodo’s decision to pick Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) leader Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate will make it very difficult to attack the incumbent on religious issues as was done to devastating effect against former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama.
Messages such as this one could push Rizieq, FPI and the entire #2019GantiPresiden movement even further to the fringe. Not only does Ma’ruf symbolize MUI, the country’s highest Islamic clerical body, he is also a senior leader of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s biggest Islamic organization.
Indeed, NU members, particularly members of the organization’s youth wing, Bansor, seem to have played a major role in the #2019GantiPresiden counter-protests in Surabaya.
Also, despite the government dropping Rizieq’s suspect status in the infamous pornography case that first led to him fleeing the country, he has not announced any plans to return to his homeland in the near future (there are several other legal cases against him still pending). So this could be Rizieq’s last attempt at relevance, or the start of something much worse. We’ll see.