From my new essay up at Foreign Policy‘s Democracy Lab.
To be sure, new Muslim democracies in Egypt and Tunisia face similar challenges as Indonesia did when it emerged from authoritarianism….but one major difference between Indonesia and its North African counterparts exists. Whatever the excesses of the brutal and corrupt New Order regime, Suharto presided over remarkable increases in the material well-being of the Indonesian people. By contrast, Ben Ali and Mubarak oversaw developmental debacles in Tunisia and Egypt: economic stagnation, ineffective development policymaking, and state decay. In such environments, Islamists thrive because their ideas resonate with a natural constituency of disenfranchised, disempowered, and frustrated citizens who expect more from their governments.
This is a short-n-sweet version of my longer essay on the limits of the Indonesia model (PDF) which lays out the point in more detail.