President Dr Mohamed Waheed has today spoken of his concern that the “weakening faith” of Maldivians was allowing unspecified “foreign powers” to increase their influence over the country’s internal affairs.
Despite the number of differing political beliefs currently held by Maldivians, president Waheed called on the public to ensure that Islam and “national interest” were always their foremost priorities.
“Our national anthem, national flag, and national colours that symbolize the country should come first,” read an official statement quoting Dr Waheed that was posted on the President’s Office website today.
The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has meanwhile questioned President Waheed’s religious convictions, accusing him of being “double-faced” by trying to appeal to Islamists in the country for political gain, while claiming his comments more resembled the words of a “dictator”.
President Waheed made the comments today as he visited the island of Alifushi in North Maalhosmadulu Atoll as part of a tour to survey and break ground on a number of development projects in the area such as school and hospital constructions.
Speaking to local people on the island, President Waheed said that foreign powers would always seek to try and influence the country during times of conflict and instability.
Stressing the need for unity at both a national and community level, he therefore urged the public to try to prevent political views from coming between families.
President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad, who had not travelled with the president to Alifushi today, said he was not aware of the nature of the president’s comments when contacted this afternoon. Masood was not responding to calls for further clarification at time of press.
Meanwhile, MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor today rejected suggestions that President Waheed stood as a unifying force for Islam in the Maldives, accusing him of politicising the nation’s faith for his own gain.
“It is the mark of his total weakness in politics that [President Waheed] has put himself in this position,” he said. “There is no currency among the public in what he says.”
Hamid claimed that many Maldivians were aware that the president had sought to “play Islam” for political gain since he took office following the controversial transfer of power in February 2012.
President Waheed, who served as vice president under the former government, came to power after the resignation of former President Mohamed Nasheed following a mutiny by sections of the police and military.
Nasheed later alleged he had resigned under duress in what both himself and the MDP contend was a “coup d’etat”, despite a Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) later concluding that President Waheed had come to power constitutionally.
Hamid alleged that President Waheed remained a “coup leader”, who had been backed by key businessmen in the country linked to its lucrative tourism industry.
“What is most bizarre is that it was certain tourism oligarchs who brought him to power.”
Just last month, President Waheed announced he would be forming a coalition between his Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP) and the religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) ahead of presidential elections scheduled for later this year.
The AP, one of five parties in the country meeting a recently approved regulation requiring any registered political body to have 10,000 registered members, is part of the coalition government of President Waheed following last year’s change in government.
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 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”.
Earlier this week, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, former Foreign Minister under both the governments of former Presidents Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, alleged that anti-semitism, racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance were “deeply entrenched” in political parties currently opposed to the MDP.
Dr Shaheed’s comments followed reports in local media summarising US Embassy cables first published by Wikileaks in 2009, and discussed during the then-opposition parliament’s efforts to impeach the foreign minister.
In particular, the Maldivian government’s engagement with Israel was the subject of a parliamentary debate November 9, 2009, in which Shaheed narrowly avoided impeachment following a no-confidence motion.
Opposition to the Maldives’ recognition of Israel was seized by then opposition groups in December 2011 as a sign of the Nasheed government’s “anti-Islamic” policies.
However, Dr Shaheed claimed that “Growing extremism hurts the Maldives rather than anybody else, because whenever a state is unable to deliver what is in the public interest due to intimidation from others, it is the state that suffers.”
Meanwhile, a recent report on extremism in the Maldives published in US West Point military academy’s Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) Sentinel has warned that growing religious extremism and political uncertainty in the country risk negatively affecting the country’s tourism industry.
“Despite its reputation as an idyllic paradise popular among Western tourists, political and religious developments in the Maldives should be monitored closely,” the report concluded.