FPI leader Rizieq Shihab touches down in Indonesia as supporters crowd Soekarno-Hatta Airport

FPI founder Rizieq Shihab. Illustration: @dpp_fpi / Instagram
FPI founder Rizieq Shihab. Illustration: @dpp_fpi / Instagram

Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab has finally returned to Indonesia, ending his self-imposed exile of more than three years in Saudi Arabia.

As scheduled, Rizieq touched down in Tangerang’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport at 8:30am on a flight from the Saudi capital of Jeddah. He’s expected to head straight to his residence in Petamburan, Central Jakarta, which is also the stronghold of the hardline Islamic group that he founded.

Thousands of Rizieq supporters flocked to the airport to welcome the firebrand cleric this morning. Police reported that the supporters parked their cars on the toll road leading to Soekarno-Hatta before heading to the airport on foot, causing near-total congestion in the area since the early hours of this morning.

Police have put up road closures from the airport to Petamburan in anticipation of crowds following Rizieq on his trip home. He has previously said that he and his family would rest for a few days after arriving in the capital.

Supporters of FPI leader Rizieq Shihab crowding Soekarno-Hatta Airport on the morning of his return on Nov. 10, 2020. Photo: Istimewa
Supporters of FPI leader Rizieq Shihab crowding Soekarno-Hatta Airport on the morning of his return on Nov. 10, 2020. Photo: Istimewa

Rizieq fled Indonesia as a fugitive in April 2017 when he was named a suspect by the Jakarta Police in a pornography case. Police eventually dropped his suspect status in that case but there are several other criminal investigations about his actions, including charges of blasphemy against Christianity and state symbols, that could be reopened.

Rizieq made a promise to return to Indonesia on seven different occasions, finally making good on his word today. He and his supporters previously blamed the government and Saudi authorities for putting up administrative obstacles for his homecoming.

The Indonesian Embassy in Saudi said that Rizieq was due for deportation for overstaying his visa, which expired in July 2018, and that Saudi authorities had refused to issue an extension. The embassy also said that Rizieq’s return coincided with Saudi waiving overstay fines amid the pandemic, which, in Rizieq’s case, would’ve been around IDR23 billion (US$1.6 million). Rizieq denied that he had any legal issues with the Saudi government. 

Rizieq will find the political landscape in Indonesia markedly different from when he left three years ago. Once an influential proponent of the opposition, he and FPI has severed ties with their major political allies after President Joko Widodo’s government all but gobbled up most of the opposition to form a supermajority government in the 2019 election. 

Rizieq was particularly chummy with losing 2019 presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, with the former able to use his influence to mobilize the country’s conservative Muslims against incumbent President Jokowi. However, that relationship seems to be beyond repair after Prabowo joined Jokowi’s cabinet as defense minister in 2019.

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CITY: JAKARTACATEGORY: NEWSSUB-CATEGORIES: POLITICS, RELIGION

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