Comment: Don’t walk like a Maldivian – what Egyptians can learn from us

Egypt has us all riveted. The images of its revolution are particularly poignant for Maldivians: some of us are reliving moments when a dream came true; others are having nightmares about when their ambitions for perpetual rule ended. We see reflected in Egyptian faces the same passion with which we wanted change, we identify with them. The shared political trajectory of Gayoom and Mubarak, the Egyptians and us, has been the talk of the town for the last few days.

Let us hope though, for the sake of the Egyptian people, that once they manage to remove Mubarak and replace his regime with democratic rule, we part ways – the Egyptians and the Maldivians. If not, what we see when we look at us now, is what they will see happening to them in the next few years. Seen in the hindsight we can offer as foresight to our Egyptian counterparts, their future bears very little resemblance to the ideals motivating their present:

The dictator will be gone from office, but his old regime will retain power by occupying a majority of both the legislature and the judiciary, as well as other positions of influence within society. Having negotiated immunity as a condition of departure from office, the dictator, his assets, and that of his family and cronies, will remain untouchable by law. Not satisfied, he will keep trying to return to office, his fists feeling the absence of power like an amputee feels the missing limb.

It is not he, however, who will ultimately succeed in diverting the winds of change. That will be accomplished by the remaining elite of his regime – the businessmen, politicians, family members, and civil servants in the gigantic public sector he built – who benefitted [and benefits still] from the structures he left in his wake. They will deliberately and systematically murder the hopes that lived and breathed in those clamouring for democracy.

They will turn the parliament into a stock market, buying and selling votes, legislation, and people’s rights. They will increase their own salaries, and pass legislation giving themselves immunity from prosecution, freedom from past convictions and privileges beyond the common man’s most uncommon dream. They will come to regard the parliament as their own property to such an extent that building high walls and barbed wire fences around its premises will seem natural, justified and right.

In the judiciary, loyalty to the old regime will be the main criteria for deciding an individual’s fitness for the bench. Rules of the dictator’s handbook will be what count as jurisprudence. Many called to the bar would have been groomed for a particular purpose: to manipulate the letter of the law – to knot every i and twist every t – until whatever project the new regime has planned can be interpreted as void. The spirit of the law will be long dead. Reform will not just be a dirty word, it will lack legitimacy and can be lawfully thwarted.

Meanwhile, the executive, headed by the new president who is the human symbol of the change that people agitated for, will become a prisoner of his own success. The manipulations of the other two branches of power will put him in the position of a lame duck president so often, it will seem natural to dive into water to sign some of his most radical agendas into policy.

He will still remain passionate about democracy, he will believe in it, and he will want to put it into practice. He will come to realise, however, that the autocue does not have the power of a megaphone; government announcements do not read like dissident pamphlets; and words, when spun by political machinery, does not have the same power to move as when spoken from the heart. He will be forced to accept, like many other leaders before him: it is often easier to instigate democratic reforms from within the bars of a prison cell than from within the confines of executive office.

To complicate matters further, religion – entirely outside of human reason on which liberalism rests – will be added to the mix. With the support of the old regime that only concerned itself with faith in so far as its ability to transform worshippers into voters, politico-religious players will come to the forefront of the battle over change. What the dictator had wanted was total control, what the self-appointed ambassadors of God will want is total submission. They will re-cast every act of reform as a secular sin until the new regime is forced into shelving yet another reformation project for a later date, perhaps until such a time as the hypothesis of evolution is proven beyond all unreasonable doubt.

In the aftermath of the violent American project for Enduring Freedom, Egypt, and the rest of the Arabic countries in revolt, have taught the world a valuable lesson: democracy cannot be forced on people with superior military might, political coercion or harsh punishment. Democracy can only come, and comes only, when people want it.

What the Egyptians can learn from us is that democracy, once won, can only be sustained if people continue to want it badly enough.

For Egypt and the Maldives to continue sharing the same page in political history, one of two things has to happen: Egyptians will have to allow their revolution to be hijacked by the old regime; or Maldivians will have to rekindle the fires of their own revolution and reclaim the democracy we fought for.

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21 thoughts on “Comment: Don’t walk like a Maldivian – what Egyptians can learn from us”

  1. Well written article. Never underestimate the intellect and sheer courage and determination of nasheed

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  2. It appears DRP will still lead the votes in the councel election. Nasheed needs to realize people of the Maldives:
    - does not yet fully grasp the idea of social protection and development etc etc that you informed about in your campaigns
    - is largely uneducated and playing religion is still more powerful than reasoning with modern developments.
    - needs a reformed education system which teaches the values of progress and rational and critical thinking:)

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  3. The parallels between the actions of Mubarak in the past 13 days and Gayoom when riots broke after the custodial killing of Evan Naseem by prison police in September 2003 in Maldives should not be underestimated by anyone fighting for democracy and human rights.

    If the Egyptian pro democracy protesters make a deal with the US to allow Mubarak to stay until September it is their worst mistake. Allowing the regime to stay further would be to prevent functional democratic institutions, allow free and fair elections, maintain rule of law, a smooth transition to democratic governance and finally to economic empowerment and development.

    I just hope the sacrifices made by those who died during the protests will get paid off soon.

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  4. Not to mention,
    The new democratic Egypts's president will be inexperienced who hands over large contracts to his cronies, make unachievable promises, holds hostage the state media and continuously make stunts with his own cabinet

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  5. Nasheed dragged the Maldives to democracy - sometimes reluctantly. There is much for him to do and it will take more time - and strong and decisive leadership on his part is more important than ever in the next years.

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  6. Read the article yet I dont see the parrallels between our two countries the way Munirah sees them, the first thing that Munirah forgot to mention is the Coalition of opposition parties which represented a large cross section of the people when coming to power (people power) yet once Anni was in power he was king and is he goin to rule by concenus as what is supposed to happen, never. Its back to Anni trying to emulate and surpass Gayoom, Anni and MDP hijacked the revolution my dear Munirah.

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  7. I have read this article ( so far only once ) with great interest. It is not written by a Maldivian. Maldivians simply do not have that kind of depth of understanding of political events and they also do not have sufficient language skills to express their thoughts.

    I have been glued to the TV, and the BBC World. Full of admiration for the way the British report from Cairo and the rest of Egypt, I am also filled with passionate interest in what is unfolding now in Egypt.

    Egyptians ( and the world, even the Muslim World ) have nothing to learn from Maldives, but everything to learn from Egypt.

    Egyptian population is one third of the 300,000,000 strong Arab population in the world.

    Egypt is the most educated Arab country, and a key influence in the Muslim World including the tiny and relatively unknown Maldives, which is the country in which I was born.

    What happens in Egypt is quickly received with great interest in far-away countries like Thailand and Phillipines which are not even Muslim countries.

    As for Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed had no administrative or government experience when he became president. Ideological innovation and foreign support was not proven to be sufficient to sideline a dictator of Maumoon's stature and experience instantly.

    There was an attempt to potray the period of Nasir's rule as a Golden Age of Maldivian Democracy which sounded hollow to many older Maldivians like me who saw and knew Nasir very well.

    Maldives, compared to Egypt, has no past and no present into which Nasheed could dive and come out to inspire the people.

    Maldives is one of the backwaters of Islam and does not have the number and quality of thinkers who can propel the country into a more modern future.

    Nasheed and the MDP have exaggerated their success against Gayoom and they are trapped in their limited success and failure to find new models that are different from Gayoom and Gayoomism.

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  8. Michael Fahmy wrote:

    "I have read this article ( so far only once ) with great interest. It is not written by a Maldivian. Maldivians simply do not have that kind of depth of understanding of political events and they also do not have sufficient language skills to express their thoughts."

    **** off!

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  9. Michael Fahmy wrote, among other things: "...not written by a Maldivian. Maldivians simply do not have that kind of depth of understanding of political events..."

    I presume you are a Maldivian; and you having the capacity to undermine people (among other things?) and dissect and interpret politics better than "normal" Maldivians it simply puts you on a higher intellectual level than the rest of us. Bravo! You've simply proven your point.

    Btw, that was sarcasm (if you didn't get it).

    Kudos to the writer of this Article. The low turn-out for the current council elections seems to be proving a point here of how hopeless and drained the society is becoming in affairs relating to politics. I personally think Maldivians regard politics as the dirtiest game that can be played which necessarily doesn't have to be so. Maldivians need to rekindle the spirit for which they fought for change (or doI dare say democracy?).

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  10. I was all for the change when it came to the Maldives and I'm all for it in Egypt. Because no one ruler should be in power for that long. Not because I think the next person coming to power is a god. So I think that's where the Egyptian should be careful too. For the first source for independent news in Maldives this article is very biased. The maldivians did not vote for mdp. If that was the case drp will still be in power. We voted for a positive change. That was a turning point for a country like ours and instead of turning it into a great thing we are seeing the country being split even more. So hopefully that will not happen to Egypt. Or maybe it needs to go through this struggle for power yet again too. Its very frustrating for the average person like me who just wanted a good change. Ahmed 6.33 u said it well.

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  11. The article as well as many of the comments it generated are indeed interesting and fascinating. In particular, the comment which implied Maldivians' eternal inabilty to think and analyse and articulate, seems to stand out! Are there still people who think like that??? It brings back to memory a certain attitude held by certain elements of the Maldivian ruling elite of the early twentieth century, according to which, ordinary Maldivians must not be properly educated and must eternally remain ignorant. The author of that comment seems still to live in this period and appears to assume that ordinary Maldivians are of a lesser human breed and do not have the capacity to think or acquire language skills which he, being of a higher breed, had acquired. Well, it may be of help to you to move away from being glued to the TV and do a little bit of research on how human beings develop intellectually and that this is not confined to a particular group or ethnicity. Pray you get enlightened on that soon!

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  12. Who are you Michael Fahmy?!You really do not think we are capable of this? Just **** off

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  13. Well said.
    Maldives has its' lessons for Egypt and not fall for the trap of dividing up in greed.
    A Co-alition to oust His Excellency Gayoom, but oh no! not to govern, for each wants power.
    Why are all those numerous politicians unaware there's a State yet to be buil? A completely new one to the one they, and we, are used to?

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  14. As long as I can maintain function, I will continue the long fight to crush the last remnants of Maumoon's tyranny.

    Yes, I know they're a strong enemy - they had the opportunity to squander the wealth of Maldives for more than a decade.

    Stronger enemies have been crushed by fewer patriots.

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