Once the wait for President Barack
Obama's return was over, Indonesian anticipation turned to another
question: Would a conservative Muslim government minister shake the
first lady's hand?
He says he did, but not by choice. Footage on YouTube shows
otherwise, sparking a debate that has lit up Facebook, Twitter and
the rest of the blogosphere.
"I tried to prevent (being touched) with my hands but Mrs.
Michelle held her hands too far toward me (so) we touched,"
Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring told tens of thousands of
followers on Twitter.
While Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world,
the vast majority practice a moderate form of the faith. But
Sembiring has flaunted his piety, making a point of avoiding contact
with women who are not related to him.
The minister was among the dignitaries in a receiving line that
greeted the Obamas as they arrived in Jakarta on Tuesday - a
homecoming of sorts for the president who spent part of his
childhood here. Indonesians gathered around television sets across
the country to watch the American president touch down. Children at
the school he attended practiced a song dedicated to him just in
case he visited.
In footage of the official welcome, Sembiring appeared to share
his countrymen's enthusiasm. He smiled broadly as he shook the
president's hand and then reached with both hands to grasp
Michelle's. But later he said she forced their contact.
His denial was in a response to Tweets from Indonesians who noted
the handshake, saying it called into question his long-standing
claims that, as a good Muslim, he restricts his contact with women.
Many posts had a "gotchya" quality to them.
One female journalist - who said the minister had refused to
shake her hand - gleefully noted that now he would no longer be able
to wriggle out of it.