PM's speech about Indonesia's transformation at Al Azhar University

David Cameron spoke about Indonesia's transformation at Al Azhar University in April 2012.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon David Cameron

So my thesis today is very simple. Indonesia’s transformation is not just vital to its own future, prosperity and security; if Indonesia can succeed it can lead the world in showing how democracy can offer an alternative to the dead-end choice of dictatorship or extremism. Because I believe, and Indonesia is showing, that the vital aspirations that we all share are rooted in democracy.

And let’s be clear what we mean by that word democracy. Not the single event of holding an election, because elections on their own don’t guarantee democracy; indeed, they can sometimes just lead to an elected dictatorship. As I’ve always said, it is about a broader process, the challenge of laying the foundations, what I call the building blocks of democracy. The independence of the judiciary and the rule of law, the rights of individuals, a free media, free association, a proper place in society for the army, strong political parties and a proper, rich civil society. These things together make up a golden thread that can be found woven through successful countries and sustainable economies all over the world.

Now, none of this can be achieved overnight, but if the task of laying these foundations can be completed successfully it will mean that each person can enjoy the same freedoms, rights and responsibilities as citizens together. A citizenship that means access to justice and the rule of law is available to everyone. A citizenship that means that every individual has the same fair access to the services the state provides irrespective of their background, their religion, their ethnicity or their family ties. And a citizenship that means everyone has a fair chance to play their part in shaping society, making their voices heard, building schools, businesses and civil-society organisations.

These are powerful ideas, but wherever this vision of democracy and citizenship has been advanced it has always encountered dangerous foes, from slavery in America to the civil-rights movement a century later, from apartheid in South Africa to the situation in Syria today. This fight for freedom for the equal rights and responsibilities that should come with democracy and citizenship, it has been one of the defining strands of history. We don’t just ask whether countries are getting richer; we ask whether they are getting freer, getting fairer and becoming more open too.

But there are four groups in particular who will do everything in their power to defeat us. First, there are those who believe that in advancing security you need authoritarian leaders because only an autocrat can keep you safe. Second, there are the corrupt elites who want to hijack the system to win a bigger and bigger slice of the cake on the basis of wealth or privilege, not equality for all citizens. Third, there are the extremists, some of whom are violent, but all of whom want to impose a particular and very radical extreme version of Islamism on society to the exclusion of others. And this total rejection of debate and democratic consent means that they believe that democracy and Islam are incompatible. And fourth, the threat to our vision of democracy is the tribalists who want to exclude those who don’t share the right ethnic background or family group from having a stake in their society and a job and a voice.

For democracy to succeed, each of these opponents must be overcome wherever they are found in the world. And in each case I believe that Indonesia can help to lead the way. In each case Indonesia mampu memimpin dunia.

Let me take each of these four groups in turn. First, the authoritarians. There are those who argue if you want to maintain security and stability you have no choice but to accept an authoritarian leader. They said it of Gaddafi, of Mubarak, of Ben Ali. But in each case the Arab Spring has shown that denying people their rights in the name of stability and security actually makes countries less stable in the end. Over time the pressure builds up until the people take to the streets and rightly demand their freedoms. So where cries for reform are being resisted and where people are being repressed, just as they are today in Syria, we must oppose the authoritarian leader. Because the longer Assad stays the more dangerous things become for his people and the greater likelihood of a bloody civil war.

Now, where reform is beginning, like in Burma, we must get behind it. So let us pay tribute to those who for decades and at huge personal cost to themselves have fought for that reform and fought for that freedom, not least of course the inspirational Aung San Suu Kyi. Let us also pay tribute to the leadership of President Thein Sein and his government which has been prepared to release political prisoners, to hold by-elections and to legalise political parties that had previously been outlawed.

And let us show that when they have the courage to reform we have the courage to respond. And when the foundations of reform have been laid, like here in Indonesia, we must build democracy until it is fully established and unassailable. That is what you are doing. Under the leadership of President Yudhoyono, Indonesia now has a proud record of democracy in South East Asia and is helping to support reform in Burma.

The troubles of East Timor are over and the military is now playing its proper role: defending the country from external attack. That is a powerful signal to the world. The elections in 2014 will be another opportunity to show the strength of Indonesia’s democracy. And the responsibility will be for whoever wins those elections to continue to resist any calls to return to the old ways of the past, and to ensure that political and parliamentary institutions deliver the reforms expected by those who elect them. By showing the world the alternative to authoritarianism, Indonesia mampu memimpin dunia.

Second, the corrupt elites. Corruption threatens democracy and citizenship both economically and politically. It impedes the working of the market. It stifles competition so that contracts are won not by the strongest bid, but by the strongest vested interest. It means citizens are denied equal access to education and healthcare or getting a fair chance to a licence to start up a business or get a new road built in their local community. Corruption denies people their economic and political stake, the citizenship, the job and the voice that they all rightly want.

Worse still, corruption breeds a cynicism and a sense of rage. Instead of being seen as a force for good, politics instead becomes a way of abusing ordinary people and prioritising the needs of the privileged few at their expense. So if, for instance, you’re in a road accident with a powerful family, there is no fair way to contest that case in court. For Mohamed Bouazizi, that Tunisian fruit seller, it was corrupt bureaucracy which denied him the right to sell his fruit where he needed to that stopped him from earning a living, from supporting his family and that led him to take his own life.

In these ways corruption is not just economically damaging, but corrosive, deeply corrosive to the very bonds that should hold a country together. So how do we fight it? Here in Indonesia, President Yudhoyono is right to insist there can be, and I quote, ‘No compromise in fighting corruption.’ That recognition is a sign that Indonesia is determined to tackle this and you are making important progress. The Corruption Eradication Commission, it may have its critics, but it has brought to book an impressive array of wrongdoers, and your media highlights the issue relentlessly. In Britain, we have introduced a Bribery Act, so that companies which accept corrupt payments while operating abroad, anywhere in the world, will be prosecuted back at home. And we have resourced the police to make sure that stolen assets are returned to the developing countries in question.

In our aid spending, we’ve made it clear that aid cannot be linked to commercial contracts or commercial advantage for British companies. We’re ensuring there is real transparency and accountability over the way aid money is spent, so any non-governmental organisation that receives aid funding from the UK now has to publish what they do, where they get their money, and where that money is spent. This will enable people in the developed and developing world to ensure the money always goes to those who need it most.

Next, we will apply this principle to recipient governments as well, and we will increasingly use aid to fund anti-corruption measures, like corruption commissions and stronger parliamentary democracy, and to demand that recipient countries make measurable advances against corruption in return for aid. Because, in the end, rooting out corruption will make more difference to tackling poverty than decades of aid spending focused purely on its symptoms.

So, we’re keen to work with you in every way we can to tackle corruption through bi-lateral cooperation, but also through global cooperation with our shared leadership of the G20 working group on this vital issue. In taking on and in defeating the scourge of corruption, Indonesia mampu memimpin dunia.

Third, let me deal with the extremists who oppose democracy. Let me be absolutely clear: I am not talking about Islam. Islam is a religion that is observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people on our planet. And let me also be clear: extremism is not only found amongst Muslims. But we have to be frank: there is a problem across the globe with Islamist extremism, which is a political ideology, supported by a minority. Extremists, some of whom are violent, but all of whom want to impose a particular and very radical extreme version of Islamism on society, to the exclusion of all others. Their total rejection of debate and democratic consent means they believe that democracy and Islam are incompatible. They are wrong; but from Afghanistan to Iraq, and from Bali to London, we have seen all too often that this extremism feeds prejudice, persecution, and dreadful acts of terror and violence.

These extremists try to turn Islam into a closed and warped ideology that is opposed to democracy. But what Indonesia shows is that in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, it is possible to reject this extremist threat and prove that democracy and Islam can flourish alongside each other. That is why what you’re doing here is so important, because it gives heart to those around the world who are engaged in the same struggle. Indeed, Indonesia’s discreet and sensitive response to Egypt’s request for assistance in its own transition shows just how important your journey is.

Because in Egypt, it is vitally important to show, to ensure that democratic success of the Muslim Brotherhood’s party strengthens democracy, and does not in the end undermine it. The choice of the Egyptian people must be respected, and we must all be ready to work with the government that the Egyptian people elect. But at the same time, we’ll demand that in pursuing their political views, the elected government is not denying the rights of citizenship to those who do not share their specific religious views.

So the world will expect them to live up to the commitments they’ve made: to protect the rule of law for all citizens; to defend the rights of Coptic Christians and minority groups; and to accept that democracy means they will be held accountable in the courts. And they should not pervert the democratic process to hold onto power, should the will of the people change.

Here in Indonesia too, you’ve enshrined the rights of all individuals in your constitution. This reflects the vital importance of standing up against the despicable violence and persecution of minorities, whether Christians, Ahmadiyyas, or others; and ensuring that people have the right to live their lives, and practise their religion in the way they see fit. In doing so, again, Indonesia mampu memimpin dunia.

Finally, there are those tribalists who threaten democracy by discriminating against people on the basis of their background, their race, their ethnicity, or their religion. Sometimes this means social discrimination, where people are denied the best education, job opportunities, housing, or public services. Other times it breaks out into destructive acts of violence or even full-scale and destructive conflict. My own country has seen how poisonous this way of thinking can be. We suffered many decades of conflict in Northern Ireland, and we’ve seen on our continent the terrible ethnic violence of Bosnia, Kosovo, and the wider Balkans. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesian forces are serving in the United Nations mission to keep the peace and stabilise of that country, in the wake of an ethnic conflict that has cost millions of lives.

For a country like Indonesia, with its incredible diversity, protecting the rights of citizens from ethnic discrimination is vitally important. So, we applaud the steps Indonesia continues to take to guard against ethnic discrimination and conflict, especially in Aceh. You are of course all rightly proud of which part of Indonesia you’re from; but at the same time, you can be equally proud of the democracy that gives all Indonesians the same status under the rule of law. Once again, it is through commitment to genuine democracy and the rejection of tribalism that Indonesia mampu memimpin dunia.

So Indonesia’s transformation has been extraordinary. But as your President said very frankly to me yesterday, the painstaking work of building democracy is not yet finished. By rejecting authoritarianism, continuing your work to tackle corruption, and rejecting the forces of tribalism and extremism, Indonesia can complete its journey. The people of Indonesia can show, through democracy, there is an alternative to dictatorship and to extremism; that here in the country with the biggest Muslim population on the planet, religion and democracy need not be in conflict; and that following your example, young Muslims across the world will be inspired to choose democracy as their future. That will be the greatest defeat that Al Qaeda or Jamaat-e-Islami could ever suffer, and that is the prize that is within your grasp - the prize for Indonesia, but the prize for the world. The future is in your hands, and I’m confident you can seize the moment, and that Indonesia mampu memimpin dunia.

As-Salāmu `Alaykum. Thank you.

Published 12 April 2012