During his nine-day visit to
Indonesia, the first by a Saudi Arabian monarch in 47 years, King Salman bin
Abdulaziz Al Saudi and his 1,500-strong entourage have lavished far more on
accommodation than the kingdom spent in direct investment to the world’s
largest Muslim country for all of last year.
That was a mere US$900,000, down
sharply from US$30.4 million the previous year and far less than the US$2.1
million it cost to install bulletproof glass in the presidential suite of
Jakarta’s Ritz Carlton Hotel where the 81-year-old king stayed before heading
to the resort island of Bali.
A fleet of six jumbo jets and a
Hercules cargo plane brought the delegation from Riyadh, carrying food, two
mobile lifts and other supplies weighing “459 Toyota Avanzas” – the media’s
strange choice of measurement that works out to be 546.7 tons.
For all that – and the presence of
10 Saudi ministers and 25 princes – the signing of a US$1 billion deal to fund
what were vaguely described as “various development projects” was a clear
disappointment for the expectant Indonesians.
Joko as driver for the head of a country that funds the very terrorists who kill Joko's citizens in terror attacks. The love affair Muslim Indonesians have for Saudis is shallow
That was a drop in the bucket
compared with the US$7 billion state-owned Saudi Aramaco oil company agreed to
invest in a half-share of a Petronas petrochemical complex during the monarch’s
state visit to neighboring Muslim majority Malaysia as part of a month-long
It was also a far cry from the US$25
billion in deals officials had said were to be signed during the visit,
including US$6 billion for the expansion of the Cilacap oil refinery on Java’s
south coast that had been the subject of a memorandum of understanding between
the two sides signed in May 2016.
Indeed, Foreign Minister Retno
Marsudi was left to lamely explain that Aramco and Indonesia’s state-run
Pertamina oil company had yet to even establish a formal joint venture to
expand the refinery’s capacity from 340,000 to 370,000 barrels a day.
Parliament was disappointed, too. It
had forked out US$500,000 on a lavish reception, complete with new carpets and
banks of flowers. Yet the king spent only 20 minutes there, during which he
delivered a brief two-minute speech in Arabic.
direct investment in favor of
acquiring stakes in Jakarta’s publicly listed companies. But those figures are
as opaque as the money funneled into charities for new mosques and religious
Spreading Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia’s
ultra-conservative version of Islam, clearly has a much greater priority, with
the kingdom pledging to build five mosques for the Defense Ministry and the
Indonesian military – part of a program to add one million mosques around the
It also plans to open new campuses
for the Saudi-funded Institute for Islamic and Arabic Studies (LIPIA) in the
South Sulawesi provincial capital of Makassar, in Medan, North Sumatra, as well
as the East Java port city of Surabaya.
LIPIA established its first and only
college in Jakarta in 1980. Its alumni since include jailed terrorist leader
Aman Abdurrahman and Farid Okbah, the country’s leading anti-Shia ideologue,
though hardliners are not the only graduates by any means.
Saudi Arabia has stepped up its
proselytizing since Indonesia embarked on an Islamic revival at the birth of
the democratic era in the late 1990s, with more women wearing the hijab and
Islamic principles playing a greater role in education and political life.
Historically, there were several
conduits for Saudi religious aid, although by the late 1970s worry about the
kingdom’s impact on how Islam is practised led to the former dictator Suharto’s
government directing that all external aid run through the Jakarta government.
One major charity, Al Haramain, was
closed in 2004 after allegations surfaced that it had channeled money to
militant groups then engaged in a bloody bombing campaign. Among the targets
were the Ritz Carlton and the JW Marriott, two of the four luxury hotels booked
out by the Saudi delegation.
Most Saudi funding currently comes
through either LIPIA or the home-grown Indonesian Society for the Propagation
of Islam (DDII), which has proved a key factor in Indonesia’s Islamic revival
and its interaction with Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.
Over the years, it has grown into a
strictly conservative organization with the sort of strong anti-Shiite,
anti-Christian and anti-Ahmadiyah views that dovetailed with the Saudi agenda
of countering Iran’s global influence after the 1979 revolution.
The DDII has built mosques,
hospitals, and orphanages, distributed Qurans and other Islamic materials,
aided local religious schools, trained religious leaders and awarded
scholarships to Saudi Arabian and other Middle Eastern universities.
Religious scholar Ben von der Mehden
says it has also sought links with other Islamic organizations at home and
abroad, including the Muslim Brotherhood, international Islamic youth groups
and even elements of the homegrown Jemaah Islamiyah terror network.
While LIPIA graduates tend to
gravitate toward mosques in urban areas and in university cities, they have not
normally been the advocates of violent Islam, who come mainly from a small
radical minority of the country’s 13,000 Islamic boarding schools.
Saudi Wahhabi-Salafi tenets may be
more widespread than they once were, but von der Mehden says there are
impediments to their expansion, starting with the rural tradition of melding
local beliefs into Islam, a syncretic mix to which the doctrinaire Saudis are
Many Indonesians also equate
Wahhabis and Salafis with fanning hate-speech, fanaticism and violence, while
local mass Muslim organizations such as Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama seek
to weaken their influence in the mosques and schools under their umbrellas.
Apart from the discomfort felt over
the so-called “Arabization” of Indonesia, attitudes towards the Saudis
themselves have not helped revelations in news reports of sexually abusive
employers ill-treating Indonesian maids and, more recently, the kingdom’s
failure to compensate the families of pilgrims killed in the 2015 haj disaster.
The countries will always remain
bound by their shared belief in Sunni Islam, the million Indonesians who work
in Saudi Arabia and the 221,000 Indonesians who will make the pilgrimage to
Mecca this year, the country’s highest quota.
The number of Saudis visiting
Indonesia is only a tiny fraction of that number, most of them heading for
Hindu-populated Bali, where the king’s delegation spent five days in an
environment whose only similarity to their homeland ends with the sea and the
But despite all the comforting talk
last week about tolerance, religious harmony and the evils of extremism,
moderate Indonesian Muslims are more worried about how Saudi Arabia’s
conservative teachings may be eating away at the country’s secular
In a society where conformity has
become the norm, once those beliefs have been implanted they are nurtured by
the same hardline groups that are trying to ensure the ongoing trial on
blasphemy charges of ethnic-Chinese governor Basuki Purnama will lead to his conviction.