‘Democracy Schools’: Can Egypt learn from experiences in Indonesia?
Following the transition to democracy starting in Indonesia in 1998, the Dutch multi-party organisation NIMD in 2005 started supporting the introduction of ‘democracy schools’ in different parts of Indonesia. The DIPD Director has visited Indonesia with a delegation from two Egyptian organisations to find out if this offers inspiration and guidance for a similar effort in Egypt.
The delegation visiting Indonesia was made up of representatives from NIMD, DIPD and DEDI – plus representatives from two Egyptian organisations already working with training on issues also covered by the Indonesian organisation.
The host of the delegation was KID – Komunitas Indonesia untuk Demokrasi or Indonesian Community for Democracy.
The two Egyptian organisations are:
- Egyptian Democratic Academy (EDA): Established by activists in 2009, building on liberal values and human rights. EDA runs a number of programmes focusing on women, youth, media and democracy, including a ‘political school curriculum’ teaching political concepts, human rights, electoral systems, the constitution, etc.
- Cairo Center for Human Development (CCHD): Working with committed professionals, CCHD offers training in topics like: a democratic political system, public policy, decentralisation, role of civil society and media. The organisation has published manuals on democracy and political concepts.
COMPARING INDONESIA AND EGYPT
Indonesia has often been mentioned as an example for Egypt with regard to how to manage the transition from an authoritarian government to democracy. After the revolution in January 2011 in Egypt there have been a number of efforts from Indonesian groups and authorities to share their experiences. Both countries have lived for decades with a strong authoritarian leadership; both countries have seen the military play an important role; both countries had been without a multi-party system to represent the interests of the people; and in both countries religion plays an important role in the form of Islam.
When you take a closer look it is of course also true that there are major differences. Indonesia was effectively a military dictatorship (hundreds of thousands were killed when the military overthrew President Sukarno), but following the financial collapse and the demonstrations that resulted in the start of the transition in 1998 it was very clear that the military had lost and would step aside.
Egypt was not formally a military dictatorship under President Mubarak in the same manner as was the case in Indonesia, and so far the military has not stepped aside. There are also indications that the military itself would like to play a role in managing the transition process and protect its interests in ways that will probably be different from what happened in Indonesia.
More than a decade after the transition started, Indonesia has not only been able to transition but also to transform. The financial and economic crises that hit the country before the undoing of the dictatorship has been overcome, and while many are still poor it is true that economic growth rates have been high and exports have continued to increase, thus creating jobs. Corruption both in economic and political life continues to be a major challenge, but at least the media is trying to uncover what is taking place, and some legislation has been put in place to deal with the cases.
In the 2011 Democracy Index from the Economist Intelligence Unit, Indonesia is ranked number 60 of 164 countries, which means that it belongs in the group characterised as flawed democracies. Indonesia scores highest on indicators related to the functioning of government and civil liberties, while the score is lower with regard to political participation and political culture. In comparison, Egypt is ranked number 115, scoring lower on all indicators than Indonesia. This means that Egypt belongs to the group called hybrid regimes – but It should be mentioned that Egypt just barely manages to avoid being in the group of authoritarian regimes.
BUILDING A FUNCTIONING DEMOCRACY
It was the recognition of the need for a long-term investment in the building of a democratic culture which in 2004 led to the establishment of KID with the support from the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD). A group of dedicated individuals who had been actively involved in the so-called ‘Reformasi’ since the toppling of the military dictatorship in 1998 and therefore had intimate knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the democratisation process decided to come together and start an organisation that could contribute to the deepening of democracy.
They spent a full year discussing how to do it, asking some of the difficult questions: Should the focus be on short training courses for thousands of people? Or should they rather invest in high quality and longer training of fewer people, who would then have the capacity to train, inspire and guide others? Should the curriculum primarily be on the theoretical aspects of democracy? Or should they link the principles of democracy to specific issues that Indonesians care about? Should training only take place in the capital and other major cities? Or would it be important to reach out to the very diverse parts of the large country?
At the end they decided on a strategy which emphasizes “quantity of participation and quality of discourse”. While building on the universal values of democracy as expressed in various conventions and declarations, they also felt that it would be important to make these values operational at the local level, taking into account local culture, local demographic structure, local economic challenges, etc.
KID also decided on a training format which for all the students admitted involves a total of 250 hours in the classroom and 150 hours out of class in the local community – so 400 hours of training in total. It was also decided that students should be recruited from four sections of society: the political parties, NGOs and civil society, government officials at various levels, and finally the business community.
A CENTER WITH IMPLEMENTING AGENCIES
Six years after starting the first schools in 2006, KID now has 8 schools running in different provinces of the country (there are 34 provinces in Indonesia), and more than 1.000 students have graduated with a certificate stating that they have undertaken schooling in democracy covering a 400 hour curriculum in 12 modules.
During the visit to Indonesia, the delegation visited the headquarter of KID in the capital Jakarta, where it met with some of the board members who were part of developing the concept in 2005; it visited a school on the outskirts of Jakarta dominated by factories and a large labour force; and it visited the city of Malang in the eastern part of the island of Java.
While all the schools are KID-guided, each school is run by a local organisation. When KID decides to set up a program in a certain location, it invites local NGOs to make a bid, and the decision is based on a very detailed vetting to ensure that the NGO not only has the capacity to manage the programme, but also has a vision and an ideology which KID can approve. In addition it is seen to be important that the NGO has a standing in the community which assures that it is seen as a legitimate and credible partner.
In the case of Malang, which is situated in an area of the country where hardline muslims have been operating, the local organisation called Averroes is founded (on 20 May 1998 – the day before President Suharto resigned) on a philosophy of moderate Islam, as well as the belief in the rights of minorities. It also believes in the necessity of pluralism to solve social and political issues in a consensual and inclusive manner.
Another issue which KID considers to be important are the criteria for selecting participants for the training. Each course will have 35 students, and in general there will be around 100 applicants. Only applicants in the 20-40 year age group will be admitted, and they have to provide detailed information about their schooling so far, state why they would like to participate, write an essay, and then go through an interview. The target for intake of women is 50 percent.
Democracy School Indonesia
One obvious reason for this is the rather high investment per student of around 3.000 US dollars when everything is included. This means that KID cannot allow students to drop out in the middle of the course, and they need to be sure that the students are highly committed and the probability of students actually utilising what they learn in an active manner afterwards is high. And the evidence is positive in this respect. Many KID graduates have reached positions in political parties, and several have been elected to local office and one to parliament.
And because of the out of school programme, many graduates end up playing an important role in the local community. Examples of activities students have engaged on are: supporting budget monitoring of councils; helping market vendors to get access to facilities; introducing a heath bill to the authorities; running a campaign for organic fertilizer.
WHAT CAN EGYPT LEARN FROM INDONESIA?
One major difference between the take-off of KID and the situation in Egypt is that Indonesia was 7 years into the transition process when the democracy schools were started. Political parties were established, parliament was operating, and the military had been sent back to the barracks.
This is not the case in Egypt. While the delegation was visiting the schools in Indonesia, it could follow the clashes between protesters and police in the streets of Cairo, following the people killed at the soccer match in Port Said. So despite the recent elections for parliament, the plans for a Presidential election later this year and the pledge of the military to withdraw from politics it is still not entirely clear how the transition will end up. It is also not yet clear how the Freedom and Justice party will form their government and utilize their newly won power.
But according to the Egyptian participants there are still important lessons to be learned from Indonesia. They were impressed with the strong long-term commitment of the approach of KID; they recognised the importance of linking the democratic thinking to concrete activities at the local community level; the ownership of the local implementing organisations was also seen as being important; and having a strong basis for the training in the curriculum developed by KID headquarters gave the democracy schools the necessary quality and credibility.
WHAT WILL DIPD, NIMD AND DEDI DO?
How to utilise the experiences and inspiration from the KID democracy schools will now be the challenge the two organisations from Egypt have to address. No doubt it needs to be approached in a different way in Egypt, and it could very well be necessary and wise to call it something else.
But as a group, NIMD, DIPD and DEDI is ready to support good proposals for how the concept of ‘democracy schools’ can be introduced and rolled out in Egypt, because we believe that Egypt as well as Indonesia will have to go through a long transition process where there will be a need to develop and deepen the democratic culture. Following a successful pilot period in 2012, we are ready to offer long-term support.
In this process, we are also ready to support cooperation between Indonesia and Egypt in the future. South-South cooperation is increasingly seen as an important dimension in this area of work, and this study tour was a good example of the usefulness of this.