The political battle over another protest against Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama scheduled for December 2 continues to go back and forth, bringing into serious question whether the demonstration will actually take place. The police have said that they would not allow another massive protest like the one which took place on November 4, arguing that the people’s right to public order outweighed the rights of the protesters in this case. The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) came back arguing that nobody should worry because their next protest would not just be peaceful, but super peaceful.
Should FPI continue with their Dec 2 rally, they may find far fewer people joining the protest than the 100,000 plus that came out on Nov 4. That is because the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI), the country’s top Muslim clerical body, released a statement yesterday recommending that citizens who wanted to protest against Ahok for his alleged blasphemy not join in more demonstrations and instead voice their opinions through other channels.
MUI legitimized the crusade against Ahok by FPI and other hardline groups by issuing a fatwa declaring that the governor had indeed blasphemed Islam for his remark regarding the Qu’ran. Hardliners even called the organization they created to coordinate the anti-Ahok protests the National Movement to Guard the Fatwa of the Indonesian Ulema Council (GNPF-MUI).
But yesterday’s statement from MUI made it clear that they were not in fact party to GNPF-MUI. It includes the line “… MUI deems it necessary to assert that GNPF-MUI is not part of the Executive Board of MUI and that no formal structural relationship whatsoever exists between the two groups.”
The statement also asked that protesters who did come to the rally not use any MUI logos or attributes.
MUI strongly endorsed the November 4 rally and their logos could be seen on signs and banners throughout the protest. So what changed? It’s not clear, but pressure from the police and the rest of the government (particularly President Jokowi, who has spent the last week meeting with top military and political party leaders) may have had something to do with it.
Detik reported that FPI leader Habib Rizieq met with the executive board of MUI yesterday morning and that after the meeting he left in a hurry, without giving reporters any of his usual colorful commentary. MUI made the statement distancing themselves from the protest later that afternoon.
However, FPI is clearly not giving up on their plans for the Dec 2 rally yet, declaring today that there were three million people ready to join the protest.