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 very hectic and eventful year. This piece is a reflection of my experience of blogging and more importantly it is my reflections on the events that occurred in the Maldives in 2012.
For years I have been writing and speaking to friends and family about socio-political problems in the Maldives and the experience of writing a blog has provided me a different platform to engage in such discussions with a wider audience. Interestingly, this blog has also allowed me to test the boundaries of freedom of expression in the Maldives. The experience of writing about the Maldives has taught me a few lessons. One important lesson has been that freedom of expression is still just an idea, albeit a popular one, in the Maldives but is not yet held by all - political parties and their supporters are still far from embracing the norms and behaviour congruent with a genuine democratic society in the Maldives. I have received threats due to some of my writings, which show the mentality of some people in the country and reminds me of the limitations of freedom of expression in the Maldives.
This blog is not a consequence of the events of February 7th 2012, but the events of that day had us all looking for answers. I wrote a tribute to former President Nasheed because I respected him and believed he should have been allowed to complete his term despite his shortcomings. Following the Commission of National Inquiry (CONI) report and a number of other investigations from different sides, it is clear that the legitimacy transfer of power can be argued in different ways. My conclusion now is that the transfer of power ticked all the legal boxes and therefore, can be claimed as a legal transfer of power and not a coup. But, did it tick all the boxes expected of a democratic society? Clearly it didn’t, because otherwise we wouldn’t have so many outraged factions across the country. More importantly, the legality of the transfer of power does not remove agency from the actors who set back the democratisation process of the country and incited lawlessness and violence in the country prior to February 7th. I am guessing that the events of the day will keep us debating for many decades to come.
Unfortunately, President Waheed does not seem to have any set policies or strategies apart from fulfilling the demands of the people that brought him to his position. I don’t know what direction he wants the country to go in - liberal, religious, modern? He is too busy cleaning up the mess that brought him to power and I remain convinced that he is only the ‘crisis president’ and that his presidency will only be remembered for how he came to power, not for what he did for the country.
I appreciate the fact that many Maldivians look up to Mohamed Nasheed as their leader, but over the past 7-8 months he has not helped the situation in the country. He is a public figure who wants to be in power in a deeply divided country, so excuse me for expecting more from him. I expect his commitment to his country to supersede his political ambitions, but he has failed to meet my expectations many times over the past several months. For example, his warnings to foreign investors about his own country; the recent declaration by him to attempt to overthrow the government from the streets; and asking GMR to stay despite a government ruling, undermines his own country, his party and his political position. Sadly, it just shows the lengths he is willing to go to return to power. He is an activist, not the peace broker and leader the Maldives desperately needs.
The murder of MP Dr. Afrashim Ali in October 2012 had a profound impact on us all. We lost an inspirational religious thinker who was brave enough to challenge extremist religious thinkers and smart enough to explain religious issues to the masses with extensive knowledge about his subject matter. His murder rang alarm bells across the country over the gravity of lawlessness and political violence prevalent in the Maldives, but these alarm bells did not last long. Even last week MP Alhan Fahmy was physically assaulted by an unknown group of individuals at a public gathering, and little has changed on the ground to bring law and order back to the streets.
One thing we have learned from the events of 2012 is that Adhaalath Party must be isolated. No party should align with this hate-preaching, misogynistic and anti-democracy group, regardless of the potential short-term political benefits of doing so. People ask me why I am so critical of Adhaalath Party and the answer is simple. They want to restrict my right to exist as an equal human being; they preach hatred towards anyone with different thoughts, beliefs and ideas; and they misuse Islam to spread venom across the country. Moreover, they have no policies, no plans and no solutions to our problems but only a determination to manipulate every incident and situation to meet their needs. Religious parties exist in all democracies and have a right to exist, but for anyone aspiring to have a peaceful democratic existence, such parties should never be empowered to dictate to the whole country, particularly in divided societies.
The government take-over of the airport from GMR was the right decision, difficult and controversial as it may be. Economic theory suggests that you should not privatise monopolies, particularly where there are no balances and measures to ensure consumers are protected in society. The longer the airport was under GMR control, the longer the conflict over it would have dragged out. The costs and benefits of the GMR deal can be debated but I won’t undervalue our sovereignty, especially following the Indian governments’ reaction to the take-over.
I still believe MDP might be the way forward in 2013 because if we look around the political spectrum of the Maldives, MDP is more likely to be liberal and perhaps genuinely believe in democratic principles. Their actions can be controversial but at least they aspire to be something I believe in. I’m not so sure about what drives PPM and the rest – religion, power, or a desire for positive change. I guess we have to wait for the manifestoes of 2013 to find out.
Another year has passed and we are still as far away as ever from realising our democratic dreams. 2013 will no doubt be eventful due to the election, and I shall remain optimistic about the future despite the challenges ahead. Politicians continue to fail us through their partisan approach to the problems we face, so the tenacity within us, the people, needs to be reinvigorated with a new determination to change our attitudes towards those who think differently from ourselves and most importantly, to put the country ahead of our individual alliances.
Happy New Year!