Many have argued that Saudi Arabia has long been growing its influence in Indonesia through means such as the funding of Islamic schools in Indonesia and scholarships for Indonesians to study Islam in Saudi. But the Middle Eastern kingdom has rarely been accused of directly attempting to influence Indonesian politics. However, a tweet from Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Indonesia in support of Sunday’s politicized 212 anniversary rally has caused major outrage, leading to calls that he lose his post and be sent home.
In a now deleted tweet, Saudi Arabian ambassador Osama bin Mohammed Abdullah Al Shuaib posted pictures of the Islamist hardliner organized rally, writing in the caption: “The act of millions of Muslims as a reaction to the burning of a flag carrying the tauhid text by a heretical organization.”
So, there’s a lot to unpack in that tweet because so much of it is inaccurate. First, reliable estimates put the number of participants at the so-called “212 Grand Reunion” somewhere between 40,000 to 100,000. Second, the rally was, first and foremost, a commemoration of the 2nd anniversary of the December 2, 2016 protests against former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama over highly politicized charges that he had committed blasphemy against Islam and not a about the infamous tauhid flag burning incident Usamah is referring to.
That incident concerns the most incendiary aspect of the ambassador’s tweet, the last part in which he says the flag burning was done be a “heretical” organization.
The organization he was referring to is Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia and the world’s biggest Islamic organization by membership. In October, a video went viral showing members of NU’s youth wing burning a flag they believed belonged to the banned Islamist organization Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) — a black flag that contained the tauhid, Islam’s sacred monotheistic declaration. The video led to mass protests in Jakarta declaring the flag burning blasphemous and demanding the perpetrators be punished — even though the flag burners had already been arrested and were eventually sentenced to prison.
Naturally, Ambassador Osama calling NU a deviant organization did not sit well at all with officials from the highly influential organization. Nahdlatul Ulama’s Executive Board (PBNU) has officially called for the Saudi representative to be severely sanctioned for the accusation and be forced to leave Indonesia.
“We are urging the Indonesian government to submit a directive to the Saudi government to repatriate Osama as sanction for his acts of recklessness by interfering with the Indonesian state’s political affairs,” PBNU head Said Aqil Siroj said at a news conference at PBNU’s office in Jakarta yesterday as quoted by Detik.
According to Said Aqil, what the ambassador wrote constituted slander, adding that those involved in the flag burning incident had already been properly sanctioned by NU.
In addition to officials calls from NU that Ambassador Osama be removed from his posts, many of the organization’s members and supporters have taken to social media to echo their demand with the hashtag #PulangkanOsamahSuaibi (which translates to “Send Osama Suaibi home”).
Time to go home sir @Os_alshuibi you are not wanted here. GP Ansor – Banser is an organisation that was on the frontline fighting for this Republic’s Independence and guarding this Republic’s value ever since. #PulangkanOsamahSuaibi pic.twitter.com/0ZgHaqfvSr
— Arnold Ong (@vertexian) December 3, 2018
— Ahmad (IPAY) Yani (@yani_salam) December 3, 2018
— Permadi Arya (@permadiaktivis) December 3, 2018
Dear Mr @Os_alshuibi you need listen the explanation Chairman PB @nahdlatululama KH @saidaqil, you have spread slander to the largest organization in Indonesia. Go home and never come back! #pulangkanOsamahsuaibi Cc: @Helmy_Faishal_Z @GPAnsor_Satu @qitmr @adtaufiq @AfifFuadS pic.twitter.com/jxjx1eWi8H
— #Ansorockboyo (@rizamsyafiq) December 3, 2018
In reaction to the outrage, Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has summoned the Deputy Ambassador of Saudi Arabia in Jakarta to give them a clarification regarding the ambassador’s tweet as Ambassador Osama is currently out of the country. The government has not given any indication whether they might take further action against the diplomat.
Some online have questioned whether Ambassador Osama is not-so surreptitiously supporting forces opposed to President Joko Widodo’s administration. When infamous firebrand cleric and 212 figurehead Rizieq Shihab, who is currently avoiding legal troubles in Indonesia by residing in Saudi Arabia, was questioned by authorities in the Middle Eastern kingdom for a tauhid flag that was hung on the wall outside his home (authorities believed it might be the flag of ISIS, which is banned in Saudi Arabia), the ambassador defended Rizieq and said he was being treated very well by officials in his country.
Also, while this doesn’t really prove anything, some have also noted that the only Indonesian figure that Ambassador Osama follows on Twitter is Prabowo Subianto, who is challenging Joko Widodo in the 2019 presidential election and spoke at Sunday’s 212 reunion rally.