Like Orwell’s 1984 society in which people ‘could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them,’ a large chunk of Maldivian society remains convinced that what happened on 7 February is nothing more than the replacement of one leader by another.
People are not wholly to blame for failing to recognise the ongoing authoritarian reversal for what it is. The new-old regime’s propaganda apparatus is a force to be reckoned with; at least in terms of audacity, if not professionalism.
It is clear, from the armed takeover of state broadcaster MNBC One by rogue police early on 7 February to the shutting down of stream.mv on Friday and the continuing efforts to revoke Raajje TV’s permission to broadcast nationwide, that using propaganda as a totalitarian state uses the bludgeon is a key strategy in the plans for regime change.
No facts, only interpretations
The only message the new-old regime allows in the media is: ‘what happened on 7 February is a good thing.’ Thus, Mohamed Nazim, Abdulla Riyaz and Mohamed Fayaz, the three civilians with no status, rank or right, who commandeered the country’s security forces and enabled their mutiny against the Commander in Chief become not traitors but heroes. Nazim is on video, Fayaz standing beside him, announcing his success in forcing the country’s first democratically elected president to ‘resign unconditionally.’ What law of the land sanctions such an act? Yet, their treason is valorised as patriotism. Nazim becomes Defence Minister, Abdulla Riyaz Police Commissioner, and Mohamed Fayaz Minister of State for Home Affairs. If the new-old regime is to be believed, these three men are the Three Brothers Utheemu reincarnated.
Mainstream media are glad to take up the theme. Here’s how Haveeru newspaper introduced Mohamed [Thakurufaanu] Nazim in a recent article: ‘Nazim, who played a lead role controlling and establishing order in the confrontation between police and military before President Nasheed’s resignation.’
In case rogue elements of the media refuse to convey the message as packaged, Nazim has taken it upon himself to explain his uncontrollable acts of ‘altruism’ via a personal blog. It is a fascinating world where has-been soldiers taking control of a country’s armed forces becomes ‘answering the call of duty’, and astrological signs are rendered vital for discerning a serviceman’s calibre. Nazim, people should be glad to know, is a Pisces. In the Maldives of 1984, knowing the country’s armed forces are in the hands of a patriotic peace-loving fish is all the reassurance people need that everything is all right.
Comical Ali comeback?
Adding to the surrealism is Dr President Mohamed Waheed’s increasing resemblance to Saddam Hussein’s Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, or Comical Ali, as he came to be known in 2003. As al-Sahhaf continued to deny American troops were in Baghdad even as they were clearly visible behind him, Dr Waheed denies any knowledge of a coup even as evidence of it circulates freely around him.
Beginning with the classic: ‘Do I look like someone who would carry out a coup?’ Dr Waheed’s protestations of innocence – and his actions – have only become increasingly incredible and inherently contradictory with time. He says he was not party to the coup, but there is an unbroken chain of evidence linking him to its planning, at least from 31 January onwards.
Then there’s the diplomatic doublespeak. Indian mediators left the Maldives mid-February with the impression there will be ‘discussions with all relevant parties to conduct elections by an early date’, but Dr Waheed’s office has since made clear Delhi was mistaken. All calls for early elections since, from all international actors, have been met with muted consent that translates into non-action at home.
When the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) suspended the Maldives until the outcome of an enquiry, Dr Waheed’s ministers told Maldivians no such thing happened. CMAG did not use the word ‘suspend’. It said the Maldives was being ‘held in abeyance’. For the layman, a small sidestep in vocabulary, for Dr Waheed’s government, a giant leap in interpretation.
When CMAG suggested international involvement in investigating the events of 7 February, Dr Waheed said he had already established such an ‘independent’ commission (with members of the old-new regime) for the purpose. Only it could decide whether international mediation was required or not.
On Thursday, Dr Waheed made such a mechanism redundant by announcing he, and his defence minister, already knew exactly who was behind it all: Allah.
Since then, it seems as if a new persona has taken over Dr Waheed. Where he was diffident before, he now pumps his fists in the air with anger and pelvis pumps in front of thousands. He is not only happy to share a stage with Gasim Ibrahim, Thasmeen Ali and Abdulla Yameen, opposition leaders whom many have accused of playing a pivotal role in the events of 7 February, but welcomes them with open arms and unhesitatingly hugs them close, pot-belly to pot-belly.
Where he once kept his faith to himself he now appears intoxicated by the same opium of the masses that has made his supporters so pliable. ‘This change in government is Allah’s will!’ he shouted on Friday. ‘A blessed triumph!’ And verily the pious were persuaded. They flocked to the sea to perform their ablutions and dropped to their knees in prayer then and there. It was as if by some miracle the tap water in Male’ suddenly ran dry, and the doors of all mosques all of a sudden jammed shut. And, from atop the mountain of love that grew for him among the supplicating people, Dr Waheed delivered unto them a special message—fear not beloved Maldivians, for blessed is this government of mine.
Lies, damn lies and statistics
Now that the strength of the dollar and military might have been ruled out as culprits and divine right confirmed as solely responsible for the ‘inevitable’ events of 7 February, what remains between facts and the ‘truth’ of the new-old regime are those refusing to surrender their right to choose their leader.
Thus began the numbers game—how many people want us and how many want them? There is a time-honoured instrument with which to accurately count how many people want a particular leader. It is called a ballot box. In the Maldives of 1984, however, where democracy is but another name for oligarchy, there is a new way of garnering how much support a leader has.
Watch the gatherings of those who demand democracy, estimate the daily crowd, and gather together—by whatever means available—a comparative number. This can be done by appealing to all who want ‘anything but democracy’ and may include supporters of theocracy, autocracy, monarchy, plutocracy, anarchy, etc and those who could not care less. Pen them all into a small area, take photographs using angles and lenses which best exaggerate crowd density, and compare with pictures (preferably taken when crowds are at their thinnest) of those who want democracy. For best results, enhance digitally. When doing an overall head count, if the numbers are less, add or delete a zero or two at the end as required. And there it is: Dr Waheed’s support is bigger than Nasheed’s. Ergo, Dr Waheed’s government is legitimate.
A coup? What coup? Since when was a coup necessary to bring about a divinely ordained government supported by the majority?
Azra Naseem holds a doctorate in International Relations.
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