Presidential selfie spurs debate on nationalism, unity, and transitional justice

The highlight of last night’s Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup match between the Maldives and Kyrgyztan was not the Maldives’ win by two goals, but a selfie between former Presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed.

The picture of the rivals went viral within minutes and spurred intense social media debates on nationalism, unity and transitional justice.

Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has accused Gayoom of torture during his 30 year reign and of ousting Nasheed on February 7, 2012 in a coup.

Meanwhile, Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) accused Nasheed and the MDP of attempting to destroy Islam and sovereignty during November’s presidential elections. Despite vitriolic accusations, the two presidents sat side by side last night and, accompanied by President Abdulla Yameen, reportedly only discussed sports and unity.

Gayoom has titled the selfie ‘Maldives United’ while Nasheed reportedly said the picture was “very nice.”

The social media response was largely positive from across the political spectrum, with Mohamed Azmee Moosa commenting: “Former presidents being alive and living with us is a new thing for Maldivians. The country is going forward slowly.”

The first President of the Maldives, Mohamed Ameen Didi was lynched by a mob after he was ousted in 1954 and the second president Ibrahim Nasir left Maldives to live in exile in 1978.

“If it is this much, we should plead to hold a tournament like this in Maldives every three months,” Shafy tweeted.

While many MDP supporters praised Nasheed for his appearance with Gayoom, others expressed a sense of betrayal claiming the nationalism propagated by the picture appeared to dismiss the real issues of police brutality and reversal of judicial reform in the aftermath of Nasheed’s ouster.

The fact that President Yameen has recently expressed that an intended outcome of hosting the football tournament in Maldives was “to forget the past and for friendly relations and unity” seems to have strengthened this perception.

“The video of [police] beating up [people] like wild animals on 8 February are still there. After giving promotions to the perpetrators of these crimes they are talking about nationalism.” Said Mujoo.

“I don’t want to revive nationalism after bringing about a coup and fornicating judges [in the judiciary]” He said in another tweet.

Where could this negative reaction towards supporting a national team possibly come from? Some commenters have highlighted the use of national slogans to divide and incite hatred in society in the lead up to the alleged coup d’état on February 7.

Others highlighted the state’s excessive spending on the AFC Challenge Cup and President Yameen’s pledge to present MVR1 million to the national team if they won the cup.

The Anti Corruption Commission has since announced it is investigating corruption allegations against the Football Association of Maldives (FAM) with connections to the AFC Challenge cup.

“I have no issues with the team, I also want our national team to win. But how they are doing things is my issue. They are wasting public money while there are other issues which needs to be addressed now, a lot things that we can spend money on including other sports,” said Ahmed Fauzan.

Others said they believe last night’s unity would only be temporary, highlighting the numerous social issues that continue to grip Maldivian society.

“I don’t think football can really unite us with all that is going on here. Cost of living is increasing, there are these issues with our judiciary,” noted Fathmath Sidhana.

“Perhaps it is in President Nasheed’s character to forgive, forget and move on. But I don’t think it will work now after the coup and all this. So they took a selfie together, and everything is supposed to be okay now?” she asked.

Commenters also called on Maldivians to direct the enthusiasm they have for football towards social issues.

The discussion then spiralled into questions about what nationalism and unity means and why it is important for Maldivians.

For Evan Amir, this unity brought about by football is good enough though he knows it is temporary.

“This whole thing has been politicised by some and we all know that, but all I am saying is that when the team start playing let us all be with the team.”

“It is a fact that sports unite people, and here in Maldives the most popular sport is football. Football is uniting us now. So regardless of whatever would happen after that, please don’t ruin it. Let’s not politicise the game,” said Evan, a football fan and supporter of President Nasheed.

Secretary General of the Maldives Olympic Committee and former football star Ahmed Marzooq also said unity and peace can be achieved through sports.

“The only thing which could make rivals to sit together and take selfies is football” , he tweeted.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Marzooq said: “It was a very good thing, and I am glad that FAM invited the three presidents. Sports is the most important tool for uniting and building patriotism is sports.”

“History has proven this, that unity and peace can be achieved through sports, and it should be utilised for that. We can all see that it is working here as well. I just think we should have focused on this even earlier during the promotion of the games, we should have used former players and spread the message of unity beginning at that stage.”

When captain Ali Ashfaq, nicknamed ‘Dhagandey’ [man of steel], saluted the three presidents on scoring a goal, many wondered which of the three president he had intended the salute for?

PPM supporters claimed the salute was in honor of President Yameen’s 55th birthday, but MDP supporters said it was for Nasheed as he was the chief guest at last night’s match. The dispute was only resolved when Ashfaq, on his official facebook page – liked by nearly 41600 fans – said that it was meant for all three presidents and that he looked forward for the support from everyone in the next game as well.

With all their reservations and criticism, there was one thing everyone agreed on – they are all with the national football team. Many believed the love for football and the national team will provide some level of healing even if it is does not cure the nation completely.

The explosion of unity and patriotism associated with football may be short -lived, but it is undoubtedly real and it could help patch up the nation’s political divide.


12 thoughts on “Presidential selfie spurs debate on nationalism, unity, and transitional justice”

  1. Look how evil Anni looks. Tells a lot about his character.

  2. This selfie would be hard for MDP thugs to digest because clearly they don't want a united country. instead they want a ''yellow'' country.

  3. @klyfer, MDP is not the party against unity. MDP is not the party that accuses people of "sowing discord within the country" when somebody disagrees with the them. You can guess which party does this....

  4. From most tweets on the 'selfie' are divided between theose with high preferance for individualism (like personal freedom which democracy encourages and naturally MDP leaning) vs those who value for community like national UNITY. Some do not want unity or a unified stand between Anni and Maumoon.

    So It is apparenet a lot of people in doubt as to which value (individual or community) that trumps in a society. Also the understanding of the societal value of community seems lacking in tweeks like from @Moyameehaa.

    Basically what is good for an individual is not good for a society. e.g., an individual may want all the resources, but its not good for society. So a compromise have to me be made.

    Maldivians need to know where the balance lies.. Perhaps this is the root cause of all the discount.

  5. Everybody would like to see a united country. Living in peace. Selfie shows the non- business of life.

    But this personal side, restricts revenue streams to some.

    The more guns sold, the more riots caused, the more fires started, the more furniture broken, the higher and better chances of more revenue, income to these people.

    So, peace is only sought where you want the family to spend their life, but violence/unrest/corruption is sought where your business/ income is formulated.

    It's a tidal system, string are constantly pulled at every conceivable angle.

    Once in a while we can dream of a peaceful life. This selfie gets you this brief moment in time.

  6. Klyfer: So the fight we are seeing within PPM for the majlis raees seat and the fighting we are seeing between PPM and Gasim is called unity? Haha...and PPM doesn't want a pink country? And Gasim a red country? Come on eh! I don't believe it's up to any political party to bring unity to this country, cause all political parties be it yellow, pink or red, have their own agendas. It's up to us, the people and as long as corruption and short term benefit takes precedence for individuals of this country, there will not be any unity. Stop blaming politics for everything, the problem lies with us, our thinking.

  7. Would probably not mind a seperate state for both factions, both definitely despises each other to that extent. And both are full of crap in their own ways

  8. The article written above by Mr Ahmed Rilwan has missed an important piece of information.

    President Nasheed was invited to the match as Chief guest.

    MAG just dropped into the scene at the last minute and seated himself next to the chief guest just because his brother Yameen is the President.

    Having said that, why is Dictator Gayoom sitting between Nasheed and Yameen?

    The whole photo shot is orchestrated by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (MAG) and his brother Yameen Abdul Gayoom (YAG) for obvious reasons.

    1. Both MAG and YAG wants to ensure the public and international community & potential investors that everything is fine and the country is running smoothly.

    2. MAG wants to fit the picture in line with the (I quote from the article above) "The fact that President Yameen has recently expressed that an intended outcome of hosting the football tournament in Maldives was “to forget the past and for friendly relations and unity” seems to have strengthened this perception."

    3. MAG steals the limelight of the teams effort.
    Nobody is talking about the players efforts.
    MAG is an opportunist and just can't stop himself from displaying his narcissistic cravings.
    MAG, according to one of my friends, displays all signs of Pathological Narcissist Disorder.
    I believe my friends observation.

  9. Why was President Maumoon Abdul Gayom sitting next to President Nasheed? President Nasheed was the chief guest. President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom had no business sitting there between the two. Shows his lack of respect for BOTH President Yaameen and President Nasheed. I am appalled that Presdent Maumoon violated protocol to sit next between President Nasheed and President Yameen. He would have never allowed something like that if he was President. Far from creating unity he has created dischord. And the saddest thing about it all is that once again it was ALL about President Maumoon. The poor team that worked so hard to win the game, all the lime light taken from them. Well guys thats MAG for you. This man has no boundaries, he is insane.

  10. Need Nasheed allege he was imprisoned and tortured during Gayoom's presidency. He alleges he was forced to eat food with crushed glass in it. And here he is, all matey like with Gayoom. Alleged is a good euphemism for lying.

  11. It was typical Maldivain reaction. Everything in this society revolves around politicians. And many people wonder why? Because you treat them as royalty. Its only way you sell the news in Maldives. I think soon politicians will be giving football commentary, acting as tour guides, teachers. There are no social leaders in Maldives all are politicians. Every one talks about Mandela and how he forgave whites. But in Maldives nobody does not know how to forgive and move on. PPM is fixated nasheed's short lived term in office and MDP fixated on MAG and FEB 7th. Non of these organisation are worried about nation or unity.


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