It is heartening to note relations between Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates are getting better. During his recent visit to the UAE, Indonesian President Joko Widodo discussed with Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan a wide range of subjects, including G20 challenges and cooperation in renewable energy. Widodo pledged to promote moderate Islam. He also appreciated the UAE’s commitment to tackle climate change and its offer to host the 28th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2023.
Observers say Indonesia-UAE relations have improved a lot over the years. Their bilateral trade witnessed a 27.78 per cent upsurge to reach $215 million during the first seven months in the current year. In March this year, the UAE announced to invest $10 billion in Indonesia’s sovereign wealth fund. Last month, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority declared to commit $400 million to Indonesia’s biggest internet firm. Dubai’s port management and logistic giant signed an agreement with the Indonesia Investment Authority to explore investment in port infrastructure in Indonesia.
During the UAE Crown Prince’s visit to Indonesia in 2019, the two nations signed $23 billion worth of agreements, including a $270-million liquefied petroleum gas project and a $3-billion long-term deal on naphtha supply.
In recent years, Indonesia and the UAE have explored closer defence cooperation as well. There have been exchanges of defence attach and talks on potential cooperation in manufacturing drones, weapons, and munitions. They have also discussed collaboration in aerospace and cross-training in counterterrorism operations.
It is, however, to be seen if and how the UAE would work with Indonesia to promote moderate Islam. The UAE today does indicate its interest in popularising itself in Indonesia’s predominantly Muslim society. During his visit to Indonesia in March this year, UAE Minister of Energy and Infrastructure Suhail bin Mohammed Al Mazrouei laid the foundation stone of a $20 million replica of the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (founding father of the UAE) Mosque in Solo.
But the UAE is far different from Indonesia on front of religion. Indonesia officially called the Republic of Indonesia, is a pluralist, democratic and secular state. It has six official Religion-Islam, Protestant Christianity, Roman-Catholic Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Besides, there are about 245 non-official religions in the county. Indonesia’s influential Nahdlatul Ulama advocates pluralistic democracy, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reforms in orthodox Islamic jurisprudence.
The UAE has of late taken some steps to liberalise its earlier orthodox version of Islam. Today, Christians (9%) and adherents of other religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism (15%), can pray in the UAE. Those who employ non-Muslim domestic helpers must allow them to visit their worship places.
But the UAE still rejects democracy as a form of governance. Its constitution recognises Islam as the only religion of the state. The UAE propagates an interpretation of the faith that demands absolute obedience to its ruler. There is substantial discrimination against women in the country.
(The author is a Delhi-based journalist)