Friday, September 19, 2008

The Anwar Interview with VOX POPULI

After his release from prison in 2004, Anwar Ibrahim served as a faculty member at the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and was offered a tenure as visiting professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. The following article is an introduction to an excellent interview conducted by Eric Pilch for Vox Populi, staff blog of Georgetown University's newsmagazine, the Georgetown Voice.

Prof attempts Malaysian takeover
by Eric Pilch

Malaysia has entered a period of political turmoil and transformation as Anwar Ibrahim, a former Georgetown professor, seeks to take control of the government. Ibrahim, who served as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister of Malaysia in the 1990s, announced that he has secured the support of enough members of Parliament to remove the ruling National Coalition from power. If this transfer of support comes to fruition, Ibrahim will become the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

“We must reestablish the integrity of our judiciary and take an uncompromising stand against corruption and cronyism,” Ibrahim wrote in an email.

While at Georgetown, Ibrahim served as a visiting professor in the School of Foreign Service and as a faculty member at the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. He also taught a class called “Contemporary Islam in Southeast Asia.”

Georgetown professor Max Gross assisted Ibrahim while he was teaching at Georgetown and described him as “kindly,” “very learned,” and a “pious Muslim.”

“During the month of Ramadan, I came into the office with a cup of coffee and Ibrahim asked me ‘Aren’t you fasting?’” Gross said. “And it was a very nice way of saying, ‘Please don’t drink coffee in front of me’ without having to say it that way.“

According to John Esposito, Director of the Alwaleed Center and a friend of Ibrahim’s for 20 years, Ibrahim was once one of the most promising young politicians in Malaysia, but his career was disrupted after he was convicted of corruption and sodomy. Amnesty International said the charges brought against him were a pretext to discredit him and remove him from public life.

“No one believes those charges save the ones whose political longevity is dependent on my being clapped in the slammer,” Ibrahim wrote.

Current Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has rejected Ibrahim’s advances on the government and told the BBC on Tuesday, “The government is strong and here to stay.” However, Malaysia’s Justice Minister resigned last week to protest the detention of an anti-government journalist and blogger.

Badawi has repeatedly declined to meet with Anwar Ibrahim, despite frequent public requests. Ibrahim, in turn, has refused to release the names of his supporters until such a meeting is arranged, claiming his new legislative supporters would be detained or harassed if he publicly released their identities.

Ibrahim originally set Tuesday, September 16 as the date that he would come to power, but his plans were derailed when the government announced that 50 members of Parliament would be visiting Taiwan for a week. Ibrahim called this a transparent design to thwart his plans.

Anwar Ibrahim addresses a 20,000-strong crowd at the Freedom Rally, 14 April 2008, which marked his formal re-entry into politics.

“It has led the public to think that the government is a troupe of court jesters,” Ibrahim wrote.

On Tuesday, Ibrahim announced that he would give Prime Minister Badawi a week or two to resign and accept defeat.

“He thinks it will spell the death knell of his premiership. I’m trying to convince him that it’s more about national salvation than about the longevity or the lack of individual political careers.”

If Anwar Ibrahim is successful in his bid to become Prime Minister, it will be an historic transition of power, according to Georgetown Professor Pamela Sodhy, an expert on Southeast Asian politics.

However, both Esposito and Sodhy expressed doubt that. Ibrahim would be successful. Esposito cited the tumultuous political climate and excessive powers vested in the government through the Internal Security Act.

“It’s a difficult situation and a potentially dangerous one,” Esposito said.

If Ibrahim does become Prime Minister, he has expressed a commitment to economic reform and the removal of affirmative action policies for ethnic Malays. Either way, he wrote, his future would include Georgetown University.

“I’m certain to come back, but in what capacity I can’t say,” Ibrahim wrote. “Georgetown will long remain in my memory as an idyllic place that gave me a renewal at a point in my life when it was most needed.”

For a full transcript of The Voice’s interview with Anwar Ibrahim, go to