In November 2022, Malaysia’s king appointed Anwar Ibrahim as the country’s prime minister, after an inconclusive general election in which no single party scored the majority necessary to rule alone. The unexpected outcome capped off Anwar’s decades-long trek through the wilderness of political opposition, which saw the 75-year-old endure two spells in prison on politically motivated sodomy charges.
Few know the new Malaysian leader as well as his biographer Noor Amin Ahmad, who worked with Anwar in numerous capacities, including as an MP for Anwar’s People’s Justice Party (PKR) from 2018 to 2022. The first volume of Amin’s planned six-volume biography of the Malaysian leader was published last year, covering Anwar’s early years from his birth to the age of 18.
Amin recently spoke with The Diplomat’s Southeast Asia Editor Sebastian Strangio about what we can expect from Anwar’s government, the impact of his family background and early life in Penang, the challenges he will face in overcoming Malay identity politics, and the role of Islamic values in Anwar’s reformist politics.
What prompted you to undertake such an ambitious biography of Anwar Ibrahim?
Since my serious involvement in politics, it has been my aim to fully understand the leader that I support: his personality, upbringing, and more importantly his struggles for our country.
Back in 2014, I was quite fortunate to be offered a job to support him in my role as manager of the Center for Reform (Diwan Reformasi), which was launched by Anwar to promote reforms, democracy, and social initiatives. So when he was imprisoned in 2015, although I had lost my job, within me, I felt a strong calling to do something significant not only so that people will continue to remember Anwar and his struggle, but more importantly for people to get to know him, as a person, a good human being, and as the inspiring and visionary leader that he is.
I feel that much of this sad story of injustice in our modern history is not known to the new generation, and so they can’t really appreciate it as a cornerstone of Malaysia’s ever changing political landscape until now.
So I began with a series of articles about Anwar on the party’s newspapers. I completed 23 articles that equated to around 150 pages of a book. It was the story of Anwar Ibrahim from when he was born until the night of September 20, 1998, when he was taken away from his family and supporters, beaten while he was still handcuffed (which a professional medical officer mentioned could have killed him), stripped naked, and many more uncommon practices that inflamed a foul cry toward the establishment at that time – and henceforth began the campaign for justice for Anwar and to save Malaysia.
The original book draft became thicker when Anwar provided quite lengthy additional personal and handwritten notes to supplement it. I then endeavored to locate his many friends from school, university, NGOs, and politics, as well as members of his family. I also invested in many precious old reference materials, including pictures and books related to Anwar.
When I realized it had become too thick – the book will be at least 1,000 pages – I then decided to publish it in several volumes. I started this project in 2015, published the first volume in 2021. I am targeting to publish the second and third volume this year. Hopefully I can publish another one next year and another two volumes by 2025.