Return of Indonesia's radical cleric

The Islamic Defenders Front killed Ahok’s political career. Will a Covid-19-stricken economy provide its leader with a new cause to test the government?

Radical Indonesian cleric Habib Rizieq Shihab gesturing to supporters as he arrived to inaugurate a mosque in Bogor city last Friday. With Indonesia entering its first recession since 1998 due to the coronavirus pandemic, Rizieq is well placed to convert his brand of religious populism into political power in the lead-up to the 2024 presidential election, says the writer. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The return of radical cleric Habib Rizieq Shihab to Indonesia last Tuesday after three years of self-exile in Saudi Arabia has re-energised his Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) organisation and posed a renewed challenge to President Joko Widodo's ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle.

The charismatic preacher was a leading force behind the mass Islamist mobilisations of 2016 and 2017 - the largest street protests in Indonesian history - which led to the fall of the ethnic Chinese Christian governor of Jakarta, Mr Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok.

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