Reflections on 2012
It’s the end of 2012 and what a year it has been. Almost one year ago I remember having a conversation with someone who wrote a daily blog for 365 days in 2011 - he wrote pieces on his wedding day and even during his honeymoon! I was inspired by his commitment and although my blogging ambitions were different to his, I had a lot of fun writing whatever I could manage in what turned out to be a...
Enough with the ladheenee talk!
The term ladheenee is by far the most irritating tagline used in Maldivian politics at the moment. Ladheenee, meaning un-Islamic, irreligious or secularist (depending on the context), was popularised during the pre-2008 campaigns to ‘de-throne’ Gayyoom and more recently it has been used to delegitimize Nasheed’s administration in the run up to February 7th 2012. The religious hooligans in the...
Love Palestine, hate racism
The Maldives is probably one of the most faithful supporters of Palestine, and our relationship with the people of Palestine goes beyond diplomacy. Maldivians see Palestinians as their ‘Muslim brothers and sisters’ and as long as I can remember there has always been a prayer for the people of Palestine included in our Friday sermons. We have vowed to ‘stand shoulder to shoulder with Palestine’ in...
Two months on: Where do we go from here?
Two months after the coup we are still at a deadlock and many of us are still coming to terms with the events that proceeded 7th February 2012. Political rivalry continues to be fierce, with protests, party swaps, statement after statement by political groups and a few people who cannot grasp democratic politics resorting to violence. IMF, MATI and a number of economists are warning of economic...
Breaking the rules of democracy
We are fooling ourselves if we think that democracy is the only game in the Maldives because, given the events of the past three years it is fair to say that we are still a democracy in principle rather than in practice. The existing authoritarian and undemocratic enclaves prevalent within our socio-political system support this argument. By authoritarian enclaves I refer to the prevalent...
Colourless or colourful, don’t let it blind you!
I am very fortunate to receive varied and often thought provoking comments on many of my blog posts. One comment which I always find interesting is when someone says that my articles are ‘biased’ towards one political party or another. What does it mean to be biased in the current political climate of the Maldives? Biased towards what? As a society that aspires to be democratic, we need to...
Police or Protester: Still the ordinary man
Even as I write this there is a battle on the streets of Male’ between protesters and policemen – both fighting to be the master of our streets and adamant that they are doing their duty to this country. Whilst the police stand with their riot gear and weapons, protesters stand with their placards and unusual weapons, ranging from verbal abuse to bricks. What they both have in common is strong...
Lies, Manipulation and Protests: I want my country...
Democracy has become a facade. The media is a production of our politicians. The members of the security forces are bullied and attacked. Freedom of expression is no longer a given. Peace has become a pipedream. Our paradise has been cursed. Over the past week I have had mixed emotions over the political unrest in my beloved country and I am certain I am not the only one who is frustrated and...
Two days of chaos: Soul searching in the Maldives
The political unrest in the Maldives this week is likely to be imprinted on our memories for years to come. A democratically elected President forced to resign, a mutiny, a new government, violence, bloodshed and burning buildings – a lot to take in within two days, with only the downpour of 9th February providing some time to reflect on the events witnessed.
We can argue all day long, but President Mohamed Nasheed was removed by a coup d’état. That is a fact, plain and simple. What is not certain is the extent to which Nasheed’s removal was orchestrated in advance, or who was involved. Perhaps more importantly, the question of whether the overthrow of Nasheed is representative of the views of the general population or not, remains to be answered. Other countries such as Pakistan and Turkey have had bloodless coups a number of times, where democratically elected leaders were overthrown in order to maintain public order and to avoid a potential civil war. More recently, the overthrow of Gaddafi, Mubarak and Ben Ali in the Arab Spring have taken place through popular revolts in the Middle East. Coups can be justified and a necessity in some circumstances. I got a sense that there was an atmosphere of widespread relief, when Nasheed resigned but maybe I am wrong. It must also be remembered that the demonstrations leading up to 7th February had been building for weeks, so this was not just a spur of the moment movement.
There is no right or wrong answer here; what has happened has happened and now is the time for reconciliation and national solidarity.
Instead however, we see our politicians throwing clauses from our Constitution at each other, trying to legitimize and justify their actions. The Constitution was flouted by President Nasheed and the MDP when they kept a senior judge arrested, despite nation-wide criticism, but is now held up as a sacred document by MDP, Nasheed and everyone else to argue that the overthrow was unconstitutional! The truth of the matter is MDP or the opposition parties have no respect for the Constitution and have used the law as a tool to delegitimize each other time and time again.
As my last article suggested, I have great respect for Nasheed and I would welcome his return to politics. However, I, along with many others, was disappointed in the way he turned defeat into a cause for nationwide violence in our country. Violence was incited, invoked and aggravated by MDP supporters and all MDP factions should ask themselves, with honesty and without any political bias, whether they could have done more to stop the violence that occurred across the country on 8th February? It is a democratic and a positive thing to go out and protest in support of your party and beliefs, but NOT at the expense of public order, public buildings and the safety of people. In islands where infrastructure is still limited, what is there to gain by burning public buildings? I strongly condemn people who damage the country’s infrastructure in their political zeal.
I do not believe the security forces (MNDF and state police) are our enemies. Every single one of us probably has a relative or friend working in the Maldives National Defence Force or the Police. They are victims of this political unrest as much as any one of us and have been used as pawns by our politicians. Holding them solely responsible for reacting to the hoards of angry protesters - MDP or the opposition – as per their job role, and for the failures of the law-making bodies, is excessive. I am not saying that they shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions, but I do think the indiscriminate attacks on members of the security forces, their offices and the ongoing hate campaign against them is unnecessary.
Having said that, the security forces in the country have a responsibility to answer to the people for the use of excessive force, violent language and brutal attacks on MDP members (and their head office), wherever and whenever it occurred this week, as seen in the various videos and photographs circulating on the internet. I do appreciate that a country’s security force plays a crucial role in maintaining law and order, but they themselves are not above the law. Anyone who has seen the violent incidents of the last few days would question the motives and compassion of the security forces. On the day of the most gruesome violence it was hard to distinguish who was more of a thug! Security forces now have a responsibility to regain the public’s trust and have some real soul-searching to do.
In fact, maybe we all have some soul-searching to do.
For too long we have been manipulated by politicians for their political agendas. We need to remove our political party hats and think of what is best for the country and not for a particular political party or ideology. The only thing standing between the current situation and our country’s stability is YOU. You have the power to decide the fate of our country, not a few politicians who are squabbling over power. What makes Nasheed’s supporters think that even if Nasheed and MDP are reinstated (through demonstrations or any other means) our problem of disunity will be sorted? Do they think the opposition will just walk away? Similarly, what makes supporters of the opposition think they will achieve anything by sidelining MDP and their supporters from Maldivian politics? Our politicians need to stop squabbling over trivial matters and accept that there are Maldivians who admire Gayyoom and Nasheed. Clearly Nasheed’s regime sold themselves short, because even after 30 years of corruption and repression by Gayyoom’s regime, Nasheed and the MDP failed to gain an outright majority in parliament or within the country’s population. Nasheed was right when he recently stated that “it can take years to stamp out the lingering remnants of past regimes”, and so we need to work with such ‘remnants’. We need to judge, praise and back our politicians based on what they can offer to develop our economy, deliver political stability and solve social problems; not on whether they are remnants of Gayyoom’s regime or Nasheed’s regime. We need to accept that there is no majority in the country at present and learn to live and progress with divided opinions. This, my fellow countrymen, is the essence of democracy.
We will never be in peace if we keep suggesting short term solutions to a long term problem. By having a snap election and by halting all government operations we will achieve nothing. Both parties need to sit down and negotiate a re-election in due course (in 6 months, perhaps), when we have achieved some stability. I fully support Nasheed’s suggestion to have a re-election, but not in two months, as he demands. Elections have a propensity to cause violence and should be undertaken with the proper state apparatus in place and not hastily. The current President needs to ensure that an election takes place in due course to avoid further conflict. Dr. Waheed should remember that what we have at the moment is only a crisis government and not a government of the people. If civil resistance is the opted means of protest by the majority of people, please let it be non-violent. All factions within the political system have gravely disappointed us and have a lot to prove of themselves now. In due time, WE, the citizens of the country, will decide who will govern us by a free and fair election. The power of the ballot will speak for itself.
He was neither Mandela nor Mugabe: A Tribute to...
Whilst many Maldivians celebrate the recent forced resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed, at this critical juncture, it is also important to remember the role Nasheed played in transforming the social and political landscape of our country. Nasheed is the country’s first ever democratically elected leader and his rise to power marked the beginning of the democratisation process and most liberating era that the country has experienced in over half a century. Internationally, he is hailed as a crusader for democracy, the environment and his small island-nation, but opinion of him is strongly divided amongst his countrymen. Those who love Nasheed revere him as their Mandela, a man who sacrificed his freedom for a greater cause; but those that passionately wanted him deposed called him the ‘Mugabe of Asia’. One thing is for sure, he will be remembered as the leader who was avidly elected and expelled by the power of mass protest.
It is important to remind ourselves that before 2008, the Maldives was ruled under an authoritarian regime which had lasted for 30 years, and civil liberties such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly meant little to this regime. We should be indebted to Nasheed for setting the momentum for democracy in the Maldives and paving the way for the breakup of an authoritarian regime which had refused to leave, even after countless attempts to overthrow it. The attempts to oust Gayyoom during his 30 year presidency were never successful because there was no conviction, sacrifice or appeal in those movements; therefore it never gathered any momentum or mass support. What Nasheed did for us was to create a movement, a longing for a political change which would allow us to think, speak, write and elect freely. This is the greatest gift Nasheed gave us. It is this gift which ultimately paved the way for his own overthrow on 7th February 2012.
Nasheed’s fight for civil liberties began as early as 1990 – a period in which no Maldivian would dare to utter any criticism against the government, and political participation was a figment of one’s own imagination. Between 1990 and 1999 Nasheed was wrongfully accused of various crimes, arrested a number of times, subjected to solitary confinement and violence, all because of his criticism of the government. One cannot fathom the level of determination and resolve a young Nasheed would have had in the 1990s, to be able to take the risks he took with so little public support or courage.
Though still developing, the democratic provisions available in the Maldives today can be attributed to Nasheed’s efforts. The country’s first political party was established under his auspices and this consequently opened the political arena of the Maldives for participation and competition. The country’s first democratic election took place through the ardent campaigns and pressure fomented by him and many others who were inspired by him. Many civil liberties which we enjoy today were granted to us as a result of his tireless campaigns and advocacy.
True, Nasheed’s presidency was not without its faults, and his forced resignation was imminent for a number of reasons. Unfortunately his charisma and belief in democratic ideals did little to help his political immaturity and the lack of creative thinking within his party. He could have sustained his power and support base had he not made some fundamental political mistakes over the past three years. Firstly, for security he surrounded himself with cronies and relatives, many of whom fell short of political ingenuity, competence and the ability to create progressive policies. As a result, Nasheed’s regime failed to tackle the rising urban violence, corruption, economic problems and religious extremism in the Maldives. Secondly, he played into the hands of the opposition by focusing excessively on bringing down members of the opposition or members from the past regime, even if it meant defying the Constitution. In 2009 he ordered the army to take over the Supreme Court; in 2010 he ordered the arrest of two political opponents, Abdulla Yamin and Gasim Ibrahim; and most recently he ordered the arrest of the senior judge, Abdulla Mohamed. Such decisions caused the public to lose confidence in him as a law-abiding leader and created opportunities to mobilise anti-government support. Thirdly, the failures of his party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), played a significant role in discrediting his rule. The constant use of dangerous language by his party members such as ‘we will stay in power for the next 500 years at all costs’ or ‘we will arrest anyone where we deem it justifiable’ fomented an iron fist image of his leadership. The parliamentary bribery allegations associated with his party, the use of thugs by his party members and the use of inflammatory and hostile rhetoric by his party members in their public declarations and speeches only created further division within their support base, public mistrust and ample opportunities for Nasheed’s opponents to slam his government.
Forcing a leader we had democratically elected to step down is a failure of our state. There are no winners here. His departure has created a political vacuum which is bound to be exploited by the eagerly awaiting religious extremists and opportunists in our country. I hope Nasheed will take this defeat as a lesson and return to the political arena with stronger policies, better allies and more determination to safeguard the rights which he had fought for.
Whilst we all anxiously await the fate of our next political chapter, I will remember Nasheed for his positive contributions to our country. Despite his shortcomings, he was a true torch bearer for democracy and I will remain indebted to him for the freedoms he helped us attain. He is nowhere close to perfect and he is neither our Mandela nor our Mugabe, but he will be remembered as the man who planted the first seed of change on our country.
Maldivian Government: It’s a family affair
When President Nasheed won the presidential election in 2008 one of my great expectations from him was to eliminate the high level of corruption in the Maldives. His campaign slogans targeting the rampant nepotism and cronyism in the country engendered by three decades of authoritarian rule gave hope to thousands of people and many thought a new Maldives was on the horizon. Unfortunately, we were...
Historical view of Maldivian women :)
A British ethnographer, T. W. Hockley, visited Male’ in 1935 and expressed his views on Maldivian women: “Of the women of the place I saw but few during my sojourn in Male’. Although it is a Moslem country women do not go veiled, but, nevertheless, they seemed very shy and timid as deer, and run inside their houses on the approach of a stranger. The women as a rule are fairer than the men though...
Let us not be cultural slaves to anyone
There is a growing obsession with Arab culture amongst some Maldivians. Nothing is more pretentious to me than the sight of a Maldivian man wearing an Arab headscarf on his head and the Arab white long shirt. Other evidence of Maldivian obsession with Arab culture is seen in the way some people have begun to call themselves or name their kids using Arab terms such as ‘bin’ or ‘binte’. Some even...
Racism. Not a myth in the Maldives.
One of the most appalling scenes I have witnessed in Male’ was when I saw a group of ten Bangladeshi men treated as second class human beings at the Hulhumale’ ferry terminal. In the waiting area at the terminal, everyone was waiting for the arrival of the ferry between Male’ and Hulhumale’. Once the ferry arrived, the ferry service officer asked all Maldivians to get on board first and commanded...
For those who say there is no room for discussion...
13th July 2011 – Foreign Minister of the Maldives, Ahmed Naseem meets Hillary Clinton in Washington and states “Both the United States and Maldives have the same ideals, and we strive to create democracy in Maldives…. we have been successfully broaching the democratic transition (in the Maldives). I think that was the pivoting of the Islamic awakening … And we are working very closely on the – in...
Maldivians at a crossroads with religion
I was once at a presentation where someone stated that ‘today, Maldivians are at a crossroads with Islam’. Coming from a country that likes to claim that it is a ‘100 per cent Muslim’ country and continues to believe and enforce the idea of religious homogeneity, at all costs, I thought it was a very interesting and daring statement to be said in the public domain. Whilst some of us like to deny...
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