President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has appointed Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed as Islamic Minister, and Dr Mohamed Muiz as Environment Minister.
Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s daughter, Dhunya Maumoon, was also appointed State Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Sheikh Shaheem was ranked one of the world’s top 500 most influential Muslims in 2010 by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre (RISC) in the Kingdom of Jordan.
He resigned from his post as State Minister of Islamic Affairs under former President Mohamed Nasheed’s government, in December 2010.
His resignation followed the burning of the Israeli flag in Republic Square over opposition to a visiting delegation of Israeli eye surgeons, whom Islamic NGOs had accused of coming to the Maldivies to illegally harvest organs. Shaheem was one of the speakers at the event, along with current Vice President of Gayoom’s Progressive Party of he Maldives (PPM), Umar Naseer, voicing anger at the acceptance of aid from Israel.
Former Press Secretary for Nasheed, Mohamed Zuhair, told Minivan News at the time that in light of a recent number of protests against government policy allegedly involving Shaheem, “it was possible that the State Minister may have decided his position was untenable”.
Sheikh Shaheem was subsequently employed as a lecturer at Villa College, owned by Jumhoree Party (JP) MP and resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim.
Shaheem has been an outspoken proponent of the study of comparative religion at higher secondary level, stating that “it is important for both Muslims and non-Muslims to compare their religions and cultures, and to compare philosophies.”
However he also warned against a move by the Education Ministry to make Islam and Dhivehi optional at higher secondary level.
Presenting himself as the face of moderate Islam in the Maldives, in early 2010 he became the first Islamic scholar from the Ministry to visit the UK with a government delegation.
He attended discussions on counter-terrorism with a range of relevant authorities, including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Cabinet Office, Home Office and heads of counter-terrorism in the Justice Ministry, and met with Abbas Faiz of Amnesty International.
“The main objective was to discuss rapidly growing concerns around extremism and terrorism with relevant stakeholders in the UK,” Shaheem told Minivan News at the time: “There was a lot of discussion on ideas, such as how to fight ideologies and radical ideas. It was a very nice trip.”
More recently, he was accused of sexual misconduct in a video broadcast by Raajje TV, although the allegations were never clarified as Raajje TV claimed the station could not release further footage “in the interest of public decency”.
Shaheem responded at the time that he did “not wish to comment on matters regarding my private life while I am waiting for evidence. I will issue my comment when the time is appropriate.”
All but a few of the cabinet ministers remain to be appointed by President Dr Waheed, and will need approval from parliament when it resumes on March 1.
The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has accused Dr Waheed of replacing the cabinet with mostly Gayoom supporters and senior opposition figures, particularly to the positions of Defence Minister (Mohamed Nazim), Police Commissioner (Abdulla Riyaz), Youth/Human Resources Ministry (Mohamed ‘Mundu’ Shareef, Gayoom’s spokesperson), Attorney General (Azima Shukoor, Gayoom’s lawyer), and Home Minister (DQP member Dr Mohamed Jameel).
Dr Waheed has dismissed the claims as misleading, saying that “Anything other than President Mohamed Nasheed’s government is now being painted as the old government, as a return to the old regime. In this country most of us grew up and got education during the last 33 years, and most of the well educated people in this country worked in government. The government was the biggest employer in the country and continues to be so.
“Therefore don’t be surprised that some people served in President Gayoom’s government. That doesn’t mean that anyone seen in the last 33 years has allegiance to a particular person. This is a very narrow way of looking at it. If you look at cabinet you can see I have been very careful in my selections.”