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Cablegate: Eid Holidays in Indonesia -- The Mass Exodus Begins

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OO RUEHBC RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHDT RUEHGI RUEHJS RUEHKUK
RUEHLH RUEHPB RUEHPW RUEHROV RUEHTRO
DE RUEHJA #1579/01 2610911
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 180911Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY JAKARTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3371
INFO RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNISL/ISLAMIC COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 JAKARTA 001579

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KISL KIRF ECON ID
SUBJECT: EID HOLIDAYS IN INDONESIA -- THE MASS EXODUS BEGINS

REF: JAKARTA 1465

1. SUMMARY: With the close of Ramadan fasting approaching,
Indonesia--the world's largest Muslim country by
population--is bracing for a mass exodus of millions from
urban areas to home villages. Almost 25 million people are
expected to head home during the two-week period surrounding
the Eid-ul-Fitr holiday. Talking a good game (and aware of
the political downsides), authorities say they have taken
robust measures to ensure that Indonesians enjoy a safe
holiday season. These measures range from adding flights to
making sure that there are adequate food and money supplies.
That said, snarls are expected. In the meantime, Indonesia
has begun to prepare for the Hajj in late-November. END
SUMMARY.

CELEBRATING AN IMPORTANT MUSLIM HOLIDAY

2. With government and many private offices closed,
Indonesia's over 200 million Muslims are preparing for a
major holiday. The return to one's hometown during the Eid
holiday is called "mudik." During this timeframe, almost 25
million Indonesians will flood out of metropolitan areas as
Ramadan comes to a close and the celebration of the end of
the fasting month begins. The holiday, known as
"Eid-ul-Fitr" or in Bahasa Indonesia as "Lebaran," is a time
to spend with family and friends and to share with those less
fortunate. The Eid holiday is slated to start on September
20.

TRYING TO ENSURE SAFETY AND THE FOOD SUPPLY

3. Aware of the political downsides, the government says it
is doing its best to make sure that the season goes
painlessly. In the past, the Eid-ul-Fitr travel period has
been plagued by a high number of traffic fatalities, travel
nightmares and food shortages. This year, however,
authorities promised to make the travel period as safe and
painless as possible. They permitted airlines to add 188
flights, increased the number of trains, deployed thousands
of additional police to ensure that rail lines are not
stolen, and inspected safety standards of shipping vessels
and ferries along the busiest travel routes. Authorities
have also added additional gas stations along major highways.
Trucks, unless transporting food, are banned from travel
during the four days before and two days after September 20.

4. That said, motorcycle travel is notoriously dangerous
during the Eid holiday. Last year, over three million people
traveled by motorcycle and around 400 people died in
motorcycle accidents. Authorities passed a much stricter
safety law this year that prohibits travel with more than two
passengers. (Note: In Indonesia, it is not uncommon for
families to travel with three or more people on motorcycles.)
It will be up to the police to enforce the new measure.

5. The government has also issued many safety warnings such
as: "Don't take too much luggage"; "Don't wear jewelry";
"Don't trust strangers"; "Beware of hypnotists" (this latter
warning is of somewhat obscure provenance); and, "Rest before
driving." The government has also delayed the sale of
economy train tickets until the day of travel in an attempt
to ensure that tickets are not bought up by scalpers thus
denying affordable tickets to many. (Note: Sometimes in the
press of crowds at train stations, people are trampled to
death or severely injured. This has occurred when potential
passengers cannot buy tickets and panic.)

6. Eid-ul-Fitr is a time for giving and most travelers will
be expected to give money to their families. The new Rp.
2,000 bill (approximately 20 cents) is in high demand--this
is particularly popular to give to children. Authorities
have worked with banks to ensure adequate supplies of small
denomination bills. The government has also worked to make
sure that ample food has been stockpiled. There is an
increased demand for basic food commodities during Ramadan
and Eid as Indonesian Muslims often host friends and families
for meals.

7. Somewhat controversially during a timeframe that is, in
part, about sharing, the GOI has taken steps to curb begging.
Large numbers of poor rural Indonesians flock to the cities
seeking handouts during the holidays. This influx prompted
the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) to issue a fatwa
(religious decree) outlawing begging and also banning Muslims
from collecting donations on street. In 2007, the Jakarta
administration passed a law forbidding begging on the
streets. Lightly enforced in the past, authorities have

JAKARTA 00001579 002 OF 002


applied the law this year and have been busy conducting daily
raids in which over 1,500 beggars have been arrested so far.
The main target of these raids, according to the GOI, are
organized crime syndicates which round up people from the
countryside and bus them into Jakarta to collect money. That
said, civil society groups have fiercely criticized the
government for being "heartless" and for ignoring the rights
of the poor.

PREPARING FOR THE HAJJ

8. As Ramadan comes to an end, Indonesian Muslims are also
preparing for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca known as the
Hajj. Making the Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam and an
obligation that must be carried out once in a Muslim's
lifetime. Indonesia, as the largest Muslim-majority country
in the world, sends more pilgrims to Mecca than any other
country. The Ministry of Religious Affairs announced
recently that all preparations for the 2009 Hajj had been
completed, from arranging transportation and housing to
issuing the controversial meningitis vaccine for the over
200,000 Indonesians who will travel to Saudi Arabia in
late-November.

OSIUS

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