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Could Indonesia's democracy be Egypt's model?

Abu Bakar Bashir's trial demonstrates the struggles Indonesia faces a decade after transitioning from authoritarian rule to the world's largest Muslim democracy.

Militant cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, center, talks to journalists from inside a holding cell before the start of his trial at a district court in Jakarta, Indonesia, Monday.

Achmad Ibrahim/AP

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The similarities between Indonesia a decade ago and Egypt today are striking: a Muslim majority, a popular uprising, and the ouster of a long-running strongman. Indonesia's strides after driving Suharto out of power in 1998 make it a potential model for Egypt, which is trying to build a post-Mubarak nation.

Many have praised Indonesia for its swift transition from a period of domestic upheaval to a state that boasts Southeast Asia's largest economy, as well as a vibrant media and civil society that has twice participated in open elections. The international community has also praised Indonesia's success in cracking down on terrorism.

But accountability remains weak, illustrated by a web of corruption trials in which suspects have been acquitted or sentenced to short jail terms. Despite economic growth of more than 6 percent last year, the wealth gap has barely budged, and recent attacks on religious minorities largely ignored by the police have some worried about growing intolerance.

This nation's struggles in making everyone accountable before the law, as shown in the upcoming trial of Indonesia’s famed hard-line cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, is a reminder of the difficulties in building and maintaining democratic institutions long after the end of authoritarian rule.

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