Comment: Dr Who? Know thy President

This article first appeared on Dhivehisitee. Republished with permission.

Until Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik took oath of office as President of the Maldives on 7 February, most people did not know much about him, and even more could not care less.

The generally shared impression of Waheed was that he is an educated man who drily stuck to policy, the ex-UNICEF man with a PhD from Stanford. As Vice President he was delegated drugs and environment as focus topics, both issues of great national concern. He seemed to keep well out of the political intrigue and chaos that surrounded him; and, unlike most Members of Parliament and the increasing band of petty politicians, largely managed to stay out of newspaper gossip, and the extremely productive Maldivian grapevine.

He has friends in high places, even if of dubious credentials, like the vacillating British tycoon Sir Richard Branson who first criticised Waheed then admired him then suggested a middle-ground; and the mysterious ‘Malaysian consultant’, Dr Ananda Kumarasiri. Kumarasiri is a best-selling Buddhist author who, when he arrived in Male’ shortly after 7 February, was described as ‘a passing friend.’ But he was allowed to interrupt Waheed during an official press conference, and to speak for him in Sri Lanka.

Abroad, the general impression Waheed seems to have left is that of an affable, likeable man. Even when disagreeing with him, Waheed’s foreign acquaintances make a point of saying they like him.

Branson said, for instance:

It was a real pleasure meeting you and your delightful wife when I was last in the Maldives…

From knowing you, I would assume that you were given no choice and that it was through threats that you have ended up in this position.

And Mike Mason, Nasheed’s Energy Advisor, said this:

I don’t think Dr Waheed is a bad man – actually I like him a lot personally.

Perhaps these men see a side of Waheed that the general Maldivian public do not. Certainly, his interactions with the foreign press are rather jovial and quite the opposite of the dull occasions they are back home.

Truth is, the general Maldivian public did not quite know who Dr Waheed was, and nobody really cared. But, now that he has put himself in the Presidential limelight, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is substantial discord between the image people had constructed of Waheed and the details of his personality emerging since he assumed office on 7 February.

At an early press conference as President, for example, he was asked about allegations of a coup. Waheed replied,”Do I look like a man who would stage a coup d’état?”

Waheed’s belligerence towards those against his presidency came as a shock to most people. A popular recrimination of Waheed among Maldivians is that he is a quitter. In 1989 he ran for Parliament but quit and left the country in 1991 when the going got tough under Gayoom’s repression. He only returned in 2005. People call him ‘Fili Waheed’, ‘Waheed who fled.’

In the last 141 days Waheed has shown that this label no longer applies, if it ever did. He makes his determination to stay President until November 2013 crystal clear. He spelled it out for the BBC earlier this month. Even if CoNI [Commission of National Inquiry] finds that there was a coup on 7 February, unless his direct involvement was proven, he would not leave the post. Even if it means battling it out in court.

If they [the commission] find out that I have had a role in bringing about a coup, then I will definitely resign.

But if I have no role – if somebody else has done it – it doesn’t mean I have to resign, according to the law of the Maldives.

People were properly introduced to this new aspect of Waheed’s personality on 24 February when he gave a rousing speech in ‘Defence of Islam’ to a thousand-strong crowd of supporters. Gone was the refined gentleman of the world, the Westernised academic. Here was an Islamic warrior, calling everyone to join his Jihad and proclaiming Allah had made him President. Again, it wasn’t just words, but his actions; the whole package jarred sharply with the public perception of Waheed.

The previously placid Dr Waheed pumped his fists in the air and addressed his supporters as Mujaheddin. Where did all the rage, the Islamist vocabulary, the sheer bull-headedness, the pelvis-pumping, and the swagger come from?

Waheed’s attempts to deliver his presidential address on 19 March also show his determination to keep his job, and suggest that he quite relishes defeating MDP’s efforts to prove the illegitimacy of his government. Three times he was interrupted mid-sentence during his ‘inaugural address’. Where a less determined man would have crumpled, Waheed battled on and, in a credible impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenneger’s Terminator, told MDP MPs: ‘I’ll be back.’ He was. He delivered the speech.

Since becoming President, he has also shown himself to be remarkably thick-skinned to public humiliation. Led by Maldives Democratic Party (MDP), supporters of Nasheed and reformists have continued to oppose his rule on the streets of Male on a regular basis. When Waheed travels across the country, he has to send ahead armed police and military to line the streets and protect him from protesters.

Waheed has refused to let it get to him. Instead, he seems to have decided on a strategy of ignoring the protesters, claiming – and then sincerely believing – he has 90 percent support among the Maldivian population. He pretends not to hear the calls for early elections, and the public anger against him. When he cannot avoid angry democrats, he waves, smiles, and makes sure at least one smiling child is in the vicinity for a photograph that could be captioned as ‘my supporters love me.’

With time, it has also become clear that although Waheed has set up CoNI to look into the events of 7 February 2012 and Nasheed’s resignation, he remains absolutely convinced that Nasheed was responsible for his own demise. Details of an email exchange between Dr Waheed and Nasheed’s Energy Advisor Mike Mason published by Minivan News this month revealed that in Waheed’s opinion, Nasheed was under the influence of an illegal substance when he decided to resign.

“It would be nice if you listened to something other than Nasheed’s propaganda. He is free to go anywhere he wants and say what ever he wants,” Waheed wrote.

“Have you ever thought that Nasheed could have made a stupid mistake under the influence of what ever he was on and blown everything away? I thought you had more intelligence than to think that I am someone’s puppet and Maldives is another dictatorship,” the President said.

Is Waheed a puppet?

Since the coup, people have come to form a new impression of Waheed: that he is a puppet of political masters above him. In late February, an audio recording was leaked to the local media in which Waheed’s own political advisor was heard describing him as ‘the most incompetent politician in the Maldives.’ From Dr Hassan Saeed’s comments, emerged a Waheed who felt bored and irrelevant within Nasheed’s administration, spending his time playing games on social media networks.

Although it contradicts Waheed’s emerging Hard Man persona, it matches people’s perception of him as a coward and a quitter.

Many incidents have occurred in these 141 days of his presidency to suggest the accusations are not baseless rumours. Waheed’s speech was interrupted live by MP and tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim on 24 February. A President who is in command will only be interrupted in public if there is a national emergency (remember this moment?)

or, if someone else is in command.

And then there are the ‘little things.’ Like Waheed paying a courtesy call on Gayoom at Gayoom’s residence after becoming president. Protocol dictates the visit be the other way round. When President Mahmood Abbas of Palestine paid a visit, on invitation from President Nasheed, it was impossible to say who the official host was, Gayoom or Waheed.

Waheed also seems incapable of stopping involvement of the supernatural in law enforcement practices–a hallmark of Gayoom’s thirty-year rule–that have returned to haunt Maldivian politics in the last three months. The general impression of Waheed as the well-travelled ex-UN-official cannot be easily reconciled with a Commander in Chief who lets his armed forces pursue, prosecute, and punish people for ‘practising sorcery.’

Another factor that further indicates Waheed is far from being in control of the government is his relations with the Islamists. Perhaps because he worked in Afghanistan, and saw first hand the dangers of extremist religion in the twenty-first century, countering Islamism in the Maldives seemed to be of some concern to Waheed. In October 2010, for example, he told Indians that ‘rising extremism‘ posed a challenge to the Maldives.

Yet, he gave that 24 February speech about the Mujaheddin, and allowed himself to be criticised for attending a ceremonial service at St Paul’s in London marking the British Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

In May, convicted terrorist Mohamed Ameen who detonated a bomb in Male’s main tourist thoroughfare was released from prison, while this month Islamists attempted to murder the country’s only openly gay rights activist and campaigner for a secular Maldives, Hilath Rasheed. On 7 February itself, extremists vandalised the National Museum and destroyed age-old Buddhist relics.

Waheed has remained silent on such critical incidents while key members of his cabinet have told the international community that threats from Islamism in the Maldives are exaggerated.

Also, thanks to a purple-prose column published on Haveeru [in Dhivehi] recently commemorating the 25th aniversary of Dr Waheed’s PhD degree, the public has come to know that his dissertation was on the subject of political influence over national education curricula. Yet, he has not made a stand against the Islamist Adhaalath Party’s continuing efforts to meddle with the national curriculum. And he most certainly did not stand up against Adaalath, and key political figures, for their criticism of Nasheed as anti-Islamic when Washington Post reported that:

While he [Nasheed] was in power, he says, he changed the school curriculum to make it “more balanced and not so Islamic” and proposed a new penal code less dependent on Islamic sharia law.

It is surprising that a man so proud of his academic credentials that he thinks its 25th anniversary is an occasion deserving of national attention, fails to stand up for the core arguments of his own work. Such weakness of principles does suggest a corresponding weakness in character, making it very plausible that Waheed is, indeed, a puppet being controlled by an unspecified master or masters.

Despite his many weaknesses in the face of the varying demands and beliefs of the so-called Unity Government, should Waheed really be dismissed as a mere puppet?

It is just as, if not more, plausible that his ‘inability’ to take action is precisely the terms of the deal he agreed to with the so-called Opposition Coalition in the early hours of the morning of 31 January 2012.

The rewards for Waheed the President, even if a very short-term president, are rich. Apart from the usual perks of travelling the country and the world in full national honour, influence and global profile, there are also the many benefits for his nearest and dearest.

Almost all members of his family in Male’ and of working age are now in high-ranking government positions or in lucrative positions as board members of various national and international businesses and associations. His son Jeffery Salim Waheed, was promoted from an Intern at the Maldives Permanent Mission to the UN to First Secretary shortly after Waheed assumed office. Salim Waheed was previously a vocal campaigner for democracy but has now become a crusader for his father’s cause.

Judging from what other key players in the Opposition Coalition have said, Waheed’s deal with them also includes a promise that he will not run for presidency in 2013. Umar Naseer, the outspoken Vice President of Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has told the media several times that he ‘knows’ Waheed will not run in 2013. So far, Gasim Ibrahim from the Jumhooree Party (JP), Thasmeen Ali from Dhivehi Rayyithun ge Party (DRP) and Nasheed have declared their intention to run in 2013. Waheed has stayed silent.

The silence suggests Umar Naseer, as usual, is speaking from first-hand knowledge of the behind the scenes strategising by the Unity Government. Waheed’s share of the pie for helping topple Nasheed seems to be twenty-one months as President, and full immunity from prosecution at the end of his term with full benefits and privileges accorded to former presidents. A life of luxury abroad–preferably in America and desirably inclusive of frequent socialising with the Obamas, and perhaps working the lecture circuits à la Clinton and Blair, is what Waheed is looking forward to once he completes his part of the deal.

This suggests that Waheed is more pragmatist than puppet. Someone who knew exactly what he wanted–the Presidency of the Republic of Maldives–and got it. It mattered little to him how. Dismissing Waheed as a puppet would be a mistake.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


31 thoughts on “Comment: Dr Who? Know thy President”

  1. This is well written propaganda article by Minivan for the sake of the dictator Anni.

    No matter how hard you tries to tarnish waheed image and he is the who is going to be elected as our next president.

    Nasheed can dream and will never be able to come back to power ever again.

  2. In a proper democracy all leaders are puppets to a certain extent. One could call the parliament as the puppet masters.
    It is only in a dictatorship that the leader gets to do what he wants.

    As for not him standing up for Nasheed for being accused of anti Islamic, why should he? Nasheed is a man who is not Islamic and we all know that so why should Waheed put his head on the block for him?

    Azra forgets that we are a Muslim country and our constitution is based on Islam so any President is obliged by law to defend Islam and Waheed is no exception.

    I may not know the man personally but definitely his stand in the opening of the Majlis gives him the moral right to stand tall.

  3. The first youtube video shows a guy whose a bit tipsy with gay impressions !

    There is no way that he did not had a drink that day to be talkative! you can see it from his face !

  4. The idea that an incumbent President will not contest because of an understanding given to his allies is just baloney.

    My instinct says Waheed will contest with the backing of some major parties and will most probably win.

    That's just how Politics works in our part of the world.

  5. @jameel on Sun, 1st Jul 2012 6:45 PM

    "Azra forgets that we are a Muslim country and our constitution is based on Islam ..." blah blah...

    What's your evidence? Can you prove that we are "a Muslim" country? What are the hallmarks of Islam? What are the duties of a Muslim? Does the Maldives qualify to be called "a Muslim country" by any criteria that characterises Islam and Muslims?

    Now, in order to "defend Islam", one must know what he's defending. What exactly is Waheed defending?

  6. I truly feel sorry for Azra.

    Her talents are wasted on this tabloid fare.

    No use commenting on or responding to this article.

    The whole affair seems like an argument between schoolkids over whose father is taller.

  7. Well done Azra! Talk about damning delightfully with the faintest of praises. Please keep going, good to know some of us can fuse intellect and wisdom. Those who criticise your writing for its cleverness should maybe dump the insecurity and get working on their sense of humour failure instead? Thanks for conveying so well the nuances of our dear Dr Waheed's personality, the pragmatist behind the puppet and the confusion he leaves in his wake. We humans are so complex and reality. as always, comes in shades of grey. And none come greyer than Dr W, inside and out. In the meantime, what do we do? Look ahead to the days when Dr W (ahem, BMW) gets on the lecture circuit with Blair et al, Tweeting away in airport lounges, and instead, focus on our own futures and who is in charge of them, today - and more importantly tomorrow? Thank goodness for the unsophisticated vocals of some of those currently in power. Such a help. Good to know some things just don't change:)

  8. A well researched, fact based intellectual piece of journalism to enlighten the closed mind of Maldivian.

    Azra Naseem should be in Parliament.

  9. Brilliant article that combines fact, fiction, and imagination. Who is our new president? What are our presidents like? What are Maldivians like? Read Azra Naseem and develop your under-developed hearts and brains. Thank you for writing. Continue doing so. Thank you.

  10. minivan publishes only comments glorifying their master, seyku anni!

  11. i'm an american who just saw "the island president" and i've been reading about maldives' politics since.

    from what i can see, nasheed was kicked out by the more pro-islam influences in the country. the buddhist statues smashed around the same time he was kicked out. he seemed like a good leader, from what i could tell from the movie. he was at least passionate about taking care of his country.

    here's my american view:
    what a shame. the pro-taliban, hardcore islam crowd have no respect for decency. they're only animals and they can only destroy: democracy, ancient buddhist cultural artifacts, progress. but what can they build? what can they create? hah. they are worse than dogs.
    islam is a wonderful religion when people actually follow the koran. like "there is no compulsion in religion".

    so, go ahead. take the country back to the middle ages, if you can. watch the foreign investor capital and tourism money vanish.

    see how far you get on your own.

    personally, i'd like to see anni back in power, if confirmed by election. otherwise, let these militant a-holes run the country into the ground

  12. In islamic dictatorships all religious nut jobs are slaves of their own Burumaa Gasims.

  13. How many Adalath sheiks go to Bangkok on weekends to do relaxing exercises.

  14. Its scary how this man touch and looks at children. parents should keep watch.

    He doesnt look like a coup leader, yet he did it. only God knows what else his next secret.

  15. American. I doubt that you are american and infect you had seen the " the Island president" .

    This movie is all about the dictator propaganda to become " man of the century" and self promotion. Many of those things addressed in the movie are not true and it was just a movie .

    Dictator Anni is the one who had invited Taliban to come to Maldives and hosted the Thaliban leaders in this country and not the other way around.

    What ever the extremism happened during the dictator period and prior that it was more controlled and those fundamentalist had no place on our solid but this guy again to get some medal had let it slip from his fingers.

  16. You only mentioned in your article that in 1989, "he ran for Parliament but quit and left the country in 1991 when the going got tough under Gayoom’s repression. He only returned in 2005. People call him ‘Fili Waheed’, ‘Waheed who fled.’

    To be fair and to be balance, you should have included in your article that Waheed was in fact elected to the Parliament, unseating Gayoom's favoured candidate. He quit much later.

    And, despite being the quitter who keeps fleeing, in my opinion, it is also worth noting, Waheed's contribution to strengthen Maldives Democratic party (MDP).

  17. Another well-written opinion piece by Azra Naseem, and one that helps shed light on another Maldivian enigma: the pragmatic puppet. The strings holding this puppet are real, but the puppet may in fact be doing its own dance, while leaving enough tension in the string to provide a comfortable illusion of control for the would-be puppet masters.

    Waheed has been described, by many people who know him, as an amiable chap, fairly easy-going and liberal. These same people are now confused by the changes they see in him – less tolerant, more belligerent, adopting the same extremist rhetoric that he spoke so earnestly against in the past.

    These same people spoke, almost as if in unison, at the driving ambition of his wife who, according to them, is the one who really holds the strings, and also the driving force that pushed him back to seek the Presidency every time he fled. When I enquired whether it was apron strings they were talking about, one wit replied “Yes, but only Waheed wears the apron!”

    Now, I've heard similar stories in the past in relation to the former President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. During his time, it was rumoured that his wife was the real power behind the throne. In fact, the machinations and the bitter rivalry between the relatives and in-laws seem to have largely determined policy and principle in Gayoom's regime, as Gayoom skilfully juggled alliances, rivalries and accusations around, always making sure he remained calm and serene within the eye of the family storm.

    I have not (yet) heard similar stories about ex-President Nasheed's better half. However, I know from a former boss in her office that she was extremely capable, experienced and able to work with difficult and unpredictable people (qualities sadly lacking in her husband), while at the same time looking after a young family and holding it all together, loyally standing by him while her husband was locked up and tortured by Gayoom's regime. She also reportedly got on well with Waheed and family, a critical failure on Nasheed's part, as events have proven. However, the same source, and many others as well, confirmed that she ensured she had no involvement in the political activities of her husband before and after he was elected.

    After hearing all this, I cannot help feeling that, had Nasheed allowed his wife to help run and/or influence his administration, as Gayoom and Waheed have done, and spent more time with his children, instead of surrounding himself with incompetent sycophants and trying to play politics with people far more experienced and cunning than he ever could be, the Maldives would be in a much better position today.

  18. Fascinating article, excellent read, enlightening comments...

    Well, you don't know someone until you know someone,

    For me, this goes for Anni as well, as a typically ethnocentric and naive Westerner, I worshipped Anni, only to learn that he was not as perefect as I thought either...

  19. mode,

    i can prove i'm american.
    watch this:
    my girlfriend and i thought the maldives were in the pacific somewhere before i watched the movie on my apple tv.
    i know it's just a movie and i have no way of knowing what's true or false. it just seems that the jihadists are trying to take over.

    that's not just my opinion.
    See this:

  20. A
    And for the American person who says Nasheed cares about his country as shown from the film,he's the one who was thinking about bringing and keeping dolphins in a captured status in our seas, i think in closed tanks for the tourists.all our local environmentalists were so angry and deeply concerned and Nasheed for the saarc summit destroyed a whole ecosystem in Addu city to build a centre which up until now maldivians haven't got a clue on how to use it etc etc.
    lets see whether minivan publishes my comment

  21. At first the thought was that azra is trying to point out how incapable Dr Waheed is, then again she highlights the pure determination of Waheed to uphold his position. later azra is trying to relate all the "bad qualities of Waheed"(that is in her view) to islam and 'Mujahidheen'(and by the way azra, you can't call this to a person unless you have proof that they are(in my view the real 'mujahidheen' of this country lies within MDP as they are the ones calling to kill and hang people, in broad daylight and in parliament- i don't see any sheikhs calling for that)(what level of discrimination is this)for your information, anni also came to power with the help of these so called "Mujahidheen" in 2009 and i don't think azra knows much about Maldivians as it would be quite difficult for any candidate to come to power without their help.

  22. So whats your focal point azra??Is Waheed a puppet or not? who gives a damn as long as he can deliver something Anni could'nt .one thing is for sure. Waheed is very determined unlike Anni who could not withstand a little pressure from the addition i don't think azra (the know it all) knows the meaning of democracy.isn't this why she is hellbent on Waheed working with so many political parties.let's wait and see what happens!

  23. thank you minivan you did it.good for you and freedom of expression

  24. I still think he is a incapable puppet. I dont think the intellectual minds like Blair, Clintons and Obama's can cope too long with Waheeds dry brain. He is just a lucky bastard who landed on gold after a couple of try. I think his future is very bleak , in his old age and death bed I wish he realize his horrid greed for power and ask the people of Maldives for forgiveness. Am not sure I will ever forgive this man.

  25. well Ash, America accepted Waheeds government within 24 hours. and lucky bastard, think he's filthy clever keke.


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