President Mohamed Waheed has pledged to continue working with the religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) and has said he remains unconcerned about radicalisation in the Maldives.
Waheed believes excluding Adhaalath from mainstream Maldivian politics risked marginalising the party, which would have a “negative long-term effect”.
“We believe we can work with them (Adhaalath), we believe we must work them, because not working with them would be to marginalise them,” Waheed told the AFP.
“Rejecting them would have a more negative long term effect. Inclusion is better than exclusion. It is better to take them on board. Better to work with them,” he added.
Waheed described some AP members as having “extreme views”, however he believes most have “moderate Islamic beliefs”.
“I don’t worry too much about this [radicalisation]. There will always be a few extremists everywhere, even in Europe and the America,” said Waheed.
No attacks have been blamed on Islamic extremists recently, according to Waheed, but he noted that the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has accused extremists of destroying the entire collection of 12th century Buddhist artifacts at the National Museum in Male’ during the political unrest last February.
Waheed pledged that despite pressure from his coalition partners to adopt stricter Sharia Law punishments, the Maldives would remain a bastion of tolerance.
Meanwhile, recent local media reports have suggested the AP is considering backing out of Waheed’s coalition due to a lack of campaign activities, however the party has yet to overtly raise concerns over the manner in which President Waheed is campaigning ahead of September’s presidential election.
In addition to the AP, Waheed’s coalition consists of his Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP), the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), and the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP).
Both Adhalaath and GIP do not presently have any elected members in parliament.
The religious conservative party was previously a coalition partner in the government of former President Mohamed Nasheed, later leaving the government citing concerns at what it alleged were the irreligious practices of the administration.
This led the AP in December 2011 to join then fellow opposition parties – now members of Waheed’s unity government – and a number of NGOs to gather in Male’ with thousands of people to “defend Islam”.
During the same day, Nasheed’s MDP held their own rally held at the Artificial Beach area in Male’ claiming his government would continue to practice a “tolerant form” of Islam, reminding listeners that Islam in the Maldives has traditionally been tolerant.
“We can’t achieve development by going backwards to the Stone Age or being ignorant,” Nasheed said at the time.
Shortly after coming to power in February 2012, flanked by members of the new government’s coalition, President Waheed gave a speech calling on supporters to “Be courageous; today you are all mujaheddin”.
In December 2012, shortly after the protests led by Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla under the self-titled ‘national movement’ against GMR concluded, the government of President Waheed abruptly terminated the agreement and gave GMR a seven day ultimatum to leave the country.
Subsequently, Imran has been accused of attempting to influence the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC)’s investigation into alleged corruption in the previous government’s aborted airport privatisation deal, a commission member alleged to local media outlet CNM this June.
The ACC’s findings, which were published in June, concluded that there was no corruption in the airport privatisation deal, days prior to GMR claiming US$1.4 billion in compensation for “wrongful termination” of its 25 year concession agreement.
Meanwhile, Chair of Adhaalath Party’s Scholars Council, Sheikh Ilyas Hussain was recently summoned to Parliament’s Penal Code Committee after alleging he had made misleading comments about provisions of Penal Code bill during a religious sermon.
According to local media, on March 22 Sheikh Ilyas held a religious sermon dubbed the ‘Purpose of Islamic Sharia’ at the Furuqan Mosque after Isha Prayers, where he swore to God that the new Penal Code was “made to destroy the religion of Islam”.
In February 2013, the Adhaalath Party declared that the 15 year-old rape victim who was recently sentenced to 100 lashes and eight months of house arrest “deserves the punishment”, as this is the penalty for fornication under Islamic Sharia. While, in 2011, the AP issued a statement calling on the state to implement Islamic Sharia and execute mothers who abort their children.
In September 2012, the Islamic Minister, the party’s senior member Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed, sent a circular to all government institutions banning the holding of any mixed gender dance events.
Despite these past objections, the AP and Waheed’s coalition held multiple campaign events – including a music show and barbecue – targeting youth in June 2013, to launch the first of its pledges and policies.
Adhaalath Party representative Hussain Wafeer said the party’s involvement was only with the policy launch, and distanced the party from other events.
Asked about the party’s official stand on the music show events being carried out under the name of the coalition they were part of, Wafeer said he would confer with party leaders as to their stand on the matter. Minivan News was later unable to contact him.
Rising religious fundamentalism is negatively impacting women in Maldives, a study published this week, the “Maldives Operational Review for the ICPD Beyond 2014”, conducted under the supervision of the Department of National Planning (DNP) in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) determined.
“Even though, the Maldivian Constitution guarantees equal rights and freedom for all Maldivians without any discrimination, prevailing traditions and socio-cultural norms have limited women’s participation in the workforce and in the community,” the study stated.
“The increasing level of religious fundamentalism and conservative thinking has worsened the situation,” it added. “The sudden growth of religious fundamentalism and conservative thinking is an emerging challenge, particularly for women and young girls.”
“There has been an increase towards certain trends such as preference for home schooling and refusing vaccination and other medical services for women based on religious beliefs.”
Meanwhile, religious conservatism and extremist violence have been increasing in the Maldives over the past decade, while incidents of Maldivians joining overseas jihadist groups are becoming more common, according to a report published in the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) Sentinel, a publication based out of the West Point military academy in the US.
“The country has already suffered one terrorist attack targeting foreign tourists, and a number of Maldivians have traveled to Pakistan’s tribal areas to receive jihadist training. Moreover, evidence exists that jihadists tried to form a terrorist group in the country in 2007-2008,” the report states.
“This has coincided with a number of violent attacks on liberal activists and other citizens who have expressed outspoken support for moderate religious practices,” the report notes.
If current trends continue “extremist incidents may rise, with violence targeted against the country’s more liberal citizens,” it added.
Asked to clarify the President’s remarks on radicalisation, GIP Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza told Minivan News yesterday (July 9) he was “not aware of this” and “did not have any comment” on the matter.
The Adhaalath Party was not responding to calls at time of press.