Comment: The Maldives, Egypt and the revenge of the deep state

When Mohamed Mursi was ousted in Egypt in June, the Muslim Brotherhood decried it as the revenge of the “deep state.”

They said that in the days of the revolution in January 2011, they had managed to cut off the head of the Mubarak regime, but in the two years that followed they failed to pull out the roots.

And so a loose coalition of politicians, bureaucrats and security forces – the remnants of the old regime – gathered together and slowly hacked away at the new government.

The climax came in June, Mursi flinched and the forces of the deep state took their chance.

Today, Hosni Mubarak is free, Muslim Brotherhood activities are again banned, and the revolution of 2011 appears to be slowly unravelling.

A lot remains unclear. Will scheduled elections actually happen? Will they be free and fair? What will Egypt look like a decade from now?

The Maldives might offer an answer.

An island of chaos

When Mohamed Nasheed was ousted in February 2012, the Maldivian Democratic Party also decried it as the revenge of the “deep state.”

“Dictatorships don’t always die when the dictator leaves office,” Nasheed wrote in the New York Times that week.

Given what we know now, his words were remarkably prescient.

“The wave of revolutions that toppled autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen last year was certainly cause for hope. But the people of those countries should be aware that, long after the revolutions, powerful networks of regime loyalists can remain behind and can attempt to strangle their nascent democracies.”

This process happened in the Maldives over a year before Mursi was locked up.

Since then, the country has stumbled towards elections, led by a lame-duck president and pulled in two directions by rival clans – one loyal to Mohamed Nasheed and a reformist, democratic ideology and one to the former leader for 30 years, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and a conservative, autocratic government.

Two competing tribes

Educated at Egypt’s Al Azhar University, Gayoom took power in 1978 and continued to govern based on a centralised system of patronage.

Never winning an election by less than 90 per cent, he relied on island chiefs, or ‘khateebs’, to keep control of 200 disparate island-communities. Gayoom’s government appointed them, as well as judges, bureaucrats and the top police and military officers.

Over three decades, he grew the roots of the Maldives’ “deep state.”

But by 2004, with tourism booming and the Maldives modernising, a new, democratic vision emerged under the yellow flag of the Maldivian Democratic Party.

Over the next four years, with the support of the West, Nasheed’s movement slowly forced Gayoom to launch a reform programme, pass a new constitution and hold free elections.

Nasheed won that battle after a second round run-off, but over the next three-and-a-half years, he failed to win the war to deconstruct the “deep state,” most notably the judiciary.

Judging the judiciary

With all the reforms of the last decade, the Maldives got new leaders and new members of parliament, but the judges stayed the same.

Article 285 of the country’s revised constitution envisaged a different judiciary – but it was dismissed as symbolic by a committee dominated by Gayoom’s former appointees.

The decision left the nation saddled with the judges from a former era.

‘They were hand-picked by Gayoom,’ says Maldivian journalist Zaheena Rasheed. “They lack education and some of them even have criminal records.”

The US State Department points out that of the Maldives’ magistrates, “an estimated quarter of the judges had criminal records, and two of the judges had been convicted of sexual assault.”

In again, out again

Having failed to clean up the judiciary by committee, Nasheed confronted them head on.

In a move that many criticised as dictatorial, he ordered the arrest of a politician who had allegedly accused him of carrying out a Christian-Jewish conspiracy in a Muslim country.

But the Criminal Court judge overruled Nasheed, triggering a bizarre series of arrests and releases which caused many to ask who was in control, the judges or the president?

Nasheed then ordered the arrest of the Criminal Court’s Chief Judge, accused of blocking attempts to prosecute former officials charged with corruption.

Three weeks of protests, followed by a mutiny by elements of the police and the military, and it became clear where power lay.

Nasheed fell from power and on February 7, he appeared on television and resigned.

“I have never wanted to rule by force,” he said. “I came to this decision because, in my opinion, I sincerely believe, that if this government is to be maintained, it would require the use of extreme force and cause harm to a lot of citizens.”

The next day he told reporters, “I was forced to resign at gunpoint.”

When an election is not an election

Nasheed’s deputy, Mohamed Waheed Hassan, took over and eventually took the country back to the ballot box on September 7.

Over 200,000 people voted, a turnout of more than 88 per cent. Nasheed fell short of a first-round win but took 45 per cent of the vote.

Gayoom’s half-brother, Abdulla Yameen, came second with 25 per cent.

Around 1,000 observers deemed it “a transparent and fair election”. It was ‘an achievement of which any of the mature democracies would have been proud,’” said J M Lyngdoh, head of the Indian election observer mission.

But then third-placed Qasim Ibrahim, Gayoom’s former finance minister, complained about electoral fraud. Gayoom himself also appeared on television to voice his concerns about the vote and within days, the Supreme Court had annulled the result. It cited a secret police report that claimed over 5,000 ballots were ineligible.

Gayoom was quick to tweet, “I welcome [the] Supreme Court’s historic decision last night because it upholds the Constitution [and] the right of the people to elect their leader in a free, fair, transparent [and] credible election.”

“A tool”

“The Supreme Court is being used as a tool by the people people who brought down Mohamed Nasheed’s government to prevent him returning to power,” says Aishath Velezinee.

She served as Deputy Home Minister under Nasheed and sat on the committee and campaigned to clean up the judiciary, but she was overruled.

The court’s ruling to void the September 7 election also included 16 recommendations on how to run another vote by October 20, narrowing the role of the Elections Commission and raising the involvement of other institutions, including the police.

“[The Supreme Court judges] are writing the law when they should be interpreting it,” says Rasheed.

A former UN worker, who did not want to be identified, goes further. ‘The bottom line is that this situation is ridiculous because the Supreme Court ruling is unconstitutional.’

The country is now waiting nervously to see if a vote can be held ahead of the deadline, and if so, what the result will be and if it will be respected.

Back to Egypt

If Egypt’s “deep state” is now back in control, it is also still considering what to do about elections.

Interim leaders have announced a roadmap which plans for both parliamentary and presidential votes to be completed by spring next year, but there is no guarantee that they will be free or fair, or that the result will be respected.

Egypt’s judiciary may become crucial, being called up on to rule on any disputes.

Is it up to the task?

Thousands of miles away in the Maldives, they know the importance of keeping the judiciary free from political interference.

Failing to clean it up “has been a grave mistake,” says Velezinee. ‘But it was impossible at the time. Everyone assumed the judiciary was untouchable.’

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]


Comment: Democracy derailed

This is a brief sketch of how over a period of 10 years, one set of background assumptions has been replaced by that of another.

How that of system building & primacy of democracy has been replaced by seizure of power by any means necessary and scorched earth tactics, regardless of impact on democratic institutions.

How reverence for democracy has been replaced by deceptive cynicism and manipulation.

How an old idea about an objectified, malleable subject has returned with a vengeance in a new form to replace active, vigilant, citizenry.

These combine together to create two different sets of values that are in conflict for supremacy. There are many different versions of this story. This is the version I find most compelling and convincing.

At times these sets have been shared across the political spectrum by various degrees, but as I write, the contrast could not be any sharper. A few days ago, a JP coalition partner speaking at the H.Kunooz podium hailed the Supreme Court’s decision to suspend elections, until they complete their inquiry into the process, as progress for democracy.

If we take this event as an isolated instance, it may seem to an outside observer that we should not be worried about a fair judicial inquiry in to the process. This was perhaps the United States’ stance, when it declared that all should respect the “judicial process”.

But we cannot isolate that instance from everything else that has happened, and is happening. It is hard to accept for us that Supreme Court has accepted a case with outrageous and ridiculous claims in good faith. The Supreme Court is not a wholly independent institution. It too has a history, a memory, and power relations, that it cannot extricate itself from. The same goes for every other democratic institution in the country.

We must also learn to recognise the fundamental shifts that have taken place – of behaviours, attitudes and values, driven by ideology – to a position where previous agents of democracy now wish to dismantle the entire framework. We must understand how things came to be. I write this because there are choices to be made, choices that will shape our future to come.

The last decade

Our story begins 10 years ago on a sunny September day like this, when we struck by the news of murder and killing in Maafushi Prison installation. The shock was followed by rioting and civil unrest in Male, as disenfranchised citizens took to the streets to torch & burn. In retrospect, this may be hard to understand, but if you were there, born in that system, felt the weight of oppression, of a present without a future, of walled enclosed horizons, it was hardly a matter of choice. This was perhaps not the beginning of voices calling for democracy, but provided the impetus for action, and represents a turning point in our history.

That September day led to the formation of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in Sri Lanka, and their campaign to bring democracy to the Maldives. By June of 2004, just seven months into the MDP’s campaign, President Gayoom had shuffled his cabinet, brought in some fresh blood – known then as New Maldives (Hassan Saeed, Jameel and Ahmed Shaheed) – and then went on TV to give a very brief statement. He claimed “… [I] too were a reformer”, followed by a list of things he wished to change.

What followed was a long drawn-out process. Under constant pressure from the MDP, Gayoom conceded on a number of issues and new democratic spaces opened — a Special Constitutional Majlis was assembled for drafting a new constitution, political parties were allowed to operate, and for the first time in our history a free press was allowed.

This process of democratization has been described, following Huntington, as “transplacement” – a process of negotiation between actors in the establishment and those challenging that establishment. But for our purposes, I think it is important to understand the motivations and specific strategies employed by Gayoom’s regime to ward off the MDP’s threat of destabilizing the autocratic regime.

Gayoom bolstered the police with a new division called Special Operations to counter the threat of street protests. For the Majlis and Special Majlis, he had the advantage of using his network of loyalists across the atolls to elect the candidates he wanted. All in all, his overall strategy was to absorb demands made by citizens, make cosmetic changes and render them passive long enough for him to survive – known in Gramscian terms as “transformism”. Interestingly, the group called New Maldives would move on to other activities that would closely resemble Gramscian tactics, like recruiting intellectuals to their cohort.

Gayoom campaign poster from 2008 / image from flickr — sujaa

The motivations for the Gayoom programme seem to have been to make as minimal changes as necessary, survive as long as possible, re-invent his image as father of democracy, and win the presidential slot. Underlying these is a fundamental shift in behaviour and attitude towards politics. Whereas pre-2003 Gayoom did not need to reinforce and bolster his democratic credentials (brute force did the work of convincing), now he had to refer back to democratic values and associate himself with it, however minimal his interpretation of democracy was.

Prior to 2003, his ideological platform was built on a strong cohesive, homogeneous version of religious nationalism – of harmony and unity – which left little room for diversity of opinion. Now he had to concede that freedom of speech was fundamental to the creation of a modern state.

In effect, Gayoom was responding to a set of assumptions he had — that Maldivians wanted a democratic state, that democratic values were on the ascendancy and gaining primacy, and that his autocratic regime was no longer sustainable in its current form because his ideological notions of nation and religion (Islamo-Nationalism hinged on his version of modernist Islam) were losing ground. Democracy and its related set of values were values he had to respond to, even if he had not assimilated them.

Adhaalath party officials / image from

Meanwhile, the MDP’s camp attracted a diverse range of actors with disparate backgrounds — victims of the autocratic regime, the disenfranchised, the educated middle-class, etc. All perhaps, bound through by one nodal point – one basic idea — that Maldives needed democratization , and that was the discursive centre around which much of debates happened. There certainly were differences within MDP and it’s associates, but that basic idea remained primal.

This back and forth between MDP and the autocratic regime opened up the space for other actors in the Maldives as well. Among these were Salafists and similar groups, which had long been victims of Gayoom’s oppression. The opening of participatory politics, paved the way for Islamist parties, with the formation of Adhaalath party.

Though Islamist groups appreciated their new-found freedoms, some radicals remained skeptical of democracy itself, which they take to be an unsustainable ‘Western’ product that needs to be dislodged and replaced as soon as possible. These radical Islamists believed, and continue to believe, that there is no inherent value to sustaining a democracy – it’s value is only as a means for a theocracy to come.

Dr. Mauroof with George Galloway / image from twitter

There is always a danger in speaking of Islamist groups as one monolithic bloc that we stereotype and associate with anti-democratic radicalism and extremism. This would be fundamentally wrong. Even among the Salafists and Islamists there remain quite a large number of people who see an inherent value in democracy, and democratic values like freedom of press and speech.

This could hardly be true for Adhaalath, and its ideologists. Between 2003 and 2008 – on websites like Dharuma, and Noorul-Islam – Adhalaath’s main proponents continued to bash democratic values, human rights, and what they saw as ‘westernization’. This was at a time when Adhaalath remained quite marginal politically. Their numbers hardly registered in elections. But since they comprised of all the educated elite within the Islamist discourse, they had direct impact on public opinion on Islamic issues. Adhaalath combined this with the ideological notion they popularized, that Islamic matters must be addressed only by Islamic scholars – giving them a small but significant foothold from which to shape politics.

Yet, in Adhaalath’s strategy there was a momentary dialectic tension — even as they bashed democratic values and human rights, they were tacitly affirming democracy in their practice, by giving sermons and speeches, by forming associations, by forming parties, by holding debates, and opinion forming councils. More explicitly, they were embracing a limited form of democracy – a polyarchy within themselves where the educated elite or sheikhs were freely forming opinions , and debating and dispersing those opinions, which could be described in Islamic terms as shura. This was hardly possible before, under Maumoon’s brutal regime. There were perverse limitations to this opinion forming process, of course, but that is another article altogether.

“Wathan Edhey Gothah” Coalition from 2008 / image from flick — firax

In addition, Adhaalath’s position was conflated with struggles over identity (“West vs. us”, “true Muslim”, “modernity vs. a return”, etc) and struggles between Islamic discourses. What this means is that, at any given moment, they must factor in multiple variables in their calculation, of which being democratic or not, is just one variable. Hence Adhaalath’s position is not simply reducible to the binary, anti-democratic vs. pro-democratic.

In the second round of the 2008 presidential elections, Adhaalath joined up with the MDP as did Hassan Saeed, Ibra, and Gasim. The MDP won the elections and Mohamed Nasheed took over as president in a smooth transition of power. This was the first free and fair elections to take place in the Maldives, and an important step forward for democratic consolidation.

Even though the MDP, the main proponent of democracy, had just 25% of the popular vote in this first round, this show of solidarity by the various parties, with different ideologies against the autocratic regime, was important ideologically for democracy itself.

Progress stalled

In the ensuing years much of the debate would be framed through the language of liberal democracy, debates centered on the issue of whether that certain problem was of nature democratic, constitutional, corruption, etc. In the background, democratic ideology had been asserted as primal — that which shapes values, behaviours and attitudes.

Chief Supreme Court Justice Faiz / image from Raajje News

Meanwhile, other institutions of democracy were making progress. There were multiple free newspapers, magazines, TV channels, radio stations, civil society groups were forming, independent commissions were formed, and most importantly a free and fair election had been completed. Yet, within three short years there would be a dramatic reversal.

Gayoom left behind a vast network of loyalists that still paid him tutelary respect within the government machinery, police and military. In addition, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) – Gayoom’s party – and it’s allies would make inroads by taking the majority in the Majlis elections which was to affect the composition of the Supreme Court, where the majority is held by old Gayoom loyalists. In effect, Gayoom still cast a vast grey shadow over Maldives, and had indirect control over institutions.

Civil Service protest / image from Minivan News

Nasheed’s reform efforts were hampered from the very outset due to the worsening global economic crisis in 2008/2009. Tourist inflows slowed, and the government was left holding a huge deficit. At the recommendation of the IMF, Nasheed would initiate plans to reduce and control civil service costs — his first run-in with a major Gayoom clientele.

Nearly 40% of all employment in the Maldives is created within the civil service, and it’s rumoured that no government has ever been able to gauge its true finances. Because of this large bureaucracy, some have described Maldives’ situation as a Rentier State.

A Rentier State is a state with a large source of revenue from natural resources, such that it is not dependent on tax from its citizens. The corollary to that is the government uses this inflow to create a dependent bureaucracy for employment, and a large military to pacify its citizens. Thus the theory says, because the government does not tax its citizens, citizens cannot make direct demands from the government, and in case they do, the government will use the huge military to silence their voices. This amounts to a very persuasive explanation of the long and stable thirty year dictatorship of Gayoom.

Following the economic crisis, attempts to change the civil service salary structure would backfire as the civil service association took the government to court. The economic crisis also affected small businesses, civil society, and the free press, and as media sources dwindled, the gap would be filled by media funded by resort owning oligarchs, primarily Haveeru, Sun, DhiTV, DhiFM & VTV.

Dollar transaction / image by @subcorpus

These resort-funded media outlets, and Gayoom’s political parties, worked hand-in hand and together would leverage the disaffection during the dollar crisis to form a bulwark against Nasheed & the MDP. Working with the media, using the Majlis and the Supreme Court as instruments, Gayoom’s loyalists would manufacture issue after issue, to which the MDP could not adequately respond. We can recall here a number of issues like the introduction of GST, Aasandha, and many others. In the worsening crisis – economic and political – the MDP lost crucial voting blocs, most significantly in Male’ (as has been evident in the first round of 2013 Presidential elections).

It’s important to note the transitions in background values, behaviours and attitude that occur at this point with the consolidation of media sources funded heavily by the resort owning oligarchs, and in the way these media were used, between 2009/2010.

DhiTV screenshot showing EC members, with their heads upside down / image from twitter @mideyalvarez

With the twilight of Gayoom’s oppressive era circa 2003, a number of media outlets came into being. What these new sources brought was the idea of an active citizen, who would inform themselves of issues, join debates, and challenge the status quo. The background idea was of liberation from chains, awakening from darkness, and activity against passivity, apathy and lethargy. The idea hinged on the potential capacity of these citizens to free themselves, to know right from wrong and decide for themselves.

What the resort owning oligarchs brought back circa 2009/2010 was the idea of a top down bullhorn – a blunt object to manipulate an objectified, malleable, subject, but with a slight twist that was different from Gayoom’s. The notion was that listeners or viewers had no independent capacity to form opinions of their own, and would be receptive to the way media primes and conditions them with their language. They were careful to use the language of democracy, to manipulate conditions in favour of the resort owning oligarchs.

In this way they would demand action against Nasheed’s administration. In other words, they were mobilising crowds to protect the status quo that benefits the resort owning oligarchs. They would manufacture crises in order to claim that such and such were “unconstitutional”, against “free speech”, etc. Unlike Gayoom, they were no longer demanding passivity, but using liberation language to undermine democratic institutions. They were undermining democratic institutions, but were using the language of democracy. It was blatantly cynical and manipulative.

Sheikh Imran / image from Haveeru

Democratic reversal

The next turning point in our story would come late in 2011, with Adhaalath leaving Nasheed’s administration, joining the opposition and the formation of the 23 December Ithihaad. This turn brought with it a whole new language, and would fundamentally change and eject the primacy of democratic ideology. The battle ground would shift from a terrain where “democracy was the only game in town” to one where democracy itself had to battle an anti-democratic Islamo-Nationalism.

The new Islamo-Nationalism that was emerging was nothing similar to the old Islamo-Nationalism of Gayoom. One has to make the distinction here, that this ideology that was emerging was quite different from all the things that had inspired it. It was in a sense determined by a number of movements, histories and trends, and situated firmly within the particularities of our politics. Adhaalath brought with it the language of globalist Salafism, and political Islam. Yet, what they preached on the podiums had little to do with Salafism – it was addressing a Maldivian subject, within the confines of a Maldivian history, promoting a particularly Maldivian political project — that of challenging Nasheed.

Gayoom’s progeny, Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) & DRP, brought with it the memory of a stable thirty years, and used the language of nationalism — sovereignty, independence, militarism, harmony, unity, etc. The 23rd December Ithihaad that emerged used our collective memory and fears, promoting xenophobia and isolationism. The movement was in continuity with a certain history, also a discontinuity, and a break from our past.

Police and military inside the state broadcaster compound posing for a picture on 7th February 2012 / Image source unknown

The December 23rd Itihaad’s anti-democratic turn would come after the 7th February 2012’s coup d’état. Up until then, they were still using the language of constitutionalism, democracy and so on. But after the coup, not having much to rely on after pulling off an anti-democratic coup, and firmly challenged by the MDP, they would drop all pretense of being democratic, and rely solely on Islamo-Nationalism — that language of sovereignty, unity, harmony, Islamic identity, etc. They must  have realized that it was a losing battle, and needed to alter the board itself, to survive. What we are left with is a severe reversal of the democratic project.

After the coup, Hassan Saeed was caught on tape saying that this was a “unique coup”. But there is nothing unique about the reversal of fortune for democracy in the Maldives, and it follows quite closely with cases studied in democracy consolidation literature. According to scholars who have studied democratic consolidation, where democratic transition takes place not through direct replacement, but in a negotiated transfer of power, old regimes continue to hold vested interests in state institutions and perverse informal institutions, as a guarantee against persecution. At times these old dictators have used these institutions to upend the democratic project. This is exactly the case in Maldives, where Nasheed was given a poisoned chalice.

Presidential Candidate Mohamed Nasheed speaking after runoff elections were halted by Supreme Court / image from flickr @dyingregime

In this post-election debacle today, what we are witnessing is an attempt by the members of the 23rd December Ithihaad at a systematic destruction of the last standing democratic institution — the electoral system.

The election was monitored by international bodies, the counting was done in front of party representatives. There are no significant issues with the voter’s registry. Yet, the counting was followed by VTV’s campaign to create doubt about the election results, as these media funded by resort owning oligarchs have done similarly in the past. The Supreme Court, infiltrated by Gayoom’s loyalists, has intervened and is deliberately delaying the runoff election. Adhaalath is using its ideological tools to campaign against Nasheed and Elections Commission. How this is a religious message is beyond me. The police and military are being deployed to pacify those demanding for an immediate runoff election.

The conclusion writes itself. We demand our right to vote!

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]


Comment: September 28 could be the Maldives’ last chance

I was the little girl who lived in the same block. We played cricket together, stabbed banana trunks with home-made spears and baked cakes in recycled butter tins. I remember times when he carried me on his back, remember times when he dressed up in his colourful shirts and reeking of ‘atharu’ (perfume), went out on his evening sojourns. He was a Don Juan, tall for his age, with laughing eyes and thick, wavy hair. Girls could not resist him and he could not resist trouble.

He was only five years older than me, but when I met him on that unforgettable day, several years later, there was an eternity of age and distance separating us. What was left of his hair was falling in untidy strands round his dirty shirt-collar. He was obese, embarrassingly so. Myself, sanitised by three decades of the good life in the West, jumped to conclusions. Too much grease, too little care…

Then, tears welled up in his eyes. They cascaded down his unkempt face. He shook. He stuttered.

I was utterly unprepared for my first experience of talking face to face with a victim of the regime: the horror of solitary confinement, the nights in the lagoons, the near-drownings, the chains, the mental and physical torture, the bodily deterioration, and the ensuing mental breakdown of those who displeased the dictator. In subsequent years I was to listen to numerous such narratives with a common theme, a callous disregard for people and the violation of human life and dignity as evidenced by the killing of Evan Naseem.

I am convinced that a relapse into the darker days of our history, by an election win to the Gayoom/Yameen regime, will set in motion a greater level of atrocities than was my generation’s heritage. We were sheltered. We were politically naïve. We did not question.

Today, there is huge opposition to the regime. They are articulate, determined and unprepared to put up with the whims of a regime struggling to come to terms with the realities of the 21st century. If the regime is reinstated, it would cope with this opposition in the way it’s accustomed to. The level of atrocities will rise exponentially. Our country and our heritage will finally and unequivocally decline and settle into a corrupt and violent police state. The events of February 7th, 2012, and the wave of state condoned violence which followed, should be a real reminder to us to reflect and cast our votes wisely.

Those of us who remember the way we were, the Maldives of old, must approach this second round of the presidential elections with our eyes wide open. There are ethical and practical issues that we should consider.

Over 30 years of Gayoom’s rule made sure that generations of young people grew up with nothing to aspire to. While it is clichéd to say that the youth is the future of a nation, there is no denying that the physical and mental health of this group is the best indicator of a nation’s economic and human potential. Over thirty years of neglect has left Maldivian youth hopeless and alienated. Is it any wonder they flock to the MDP? They see the alternatives: unemployment, drugs, corruption, drugs, nepotism, drugs, a police state, drugs…

It is a matter of public knowledge that among large numbers of the youth population, drug abuse is a way of life and young gang members are hired to do the dirty work of the adults. Again and again one hears the accusation that this is a deliberate strategy – bread and circus – in a different and more insidious guise. It is the application of a philosophy as old as the Romans, but it is not often that a society turns inwards to deliberately create an underclass. People of my generation, who have known better days, have a part to play in making a political decision that would stop the perpetuation of this cruel indifference.

Another pressing concern of the nation is the dysfunctional judiciary. Easily accessible news headlines speak for themselves: ‘Judiciary’s Angst on Reform’, ‘Maldives’ Judiciary- Unreformed and Unrepentant’, and more recently, ‘Maldives Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed with Russian and Sri Lankan prostitutes’. How can we forget that it was three decades of authoritarian dictatorship that totally vitiated the judiciary?

Gayoom’s iron fist still controls the judiciary. It is inconceivable to think that a return of PPM would lead to any positive improvements in a justice system that is so corrupt that it is destroying the moral fabric of the Maldives.

The most telling comment one can make about the Gayoom/Yameen regime, however, is its sense of entitlement. The extravagant and ostentatious life styles exemplified by Theemuge and the flotilla of yachts that Gayoom used are also symbolic of their belief that governance is a free ticket to have it all, at the expense of others; what is in the state coffers is theirs by right. Entitlement, elitism, privilege are words that summarise their philosophy of governance. Conflict of interest is not a concept that is in the handbook of these Feudalists.

The regime is also infamous for its unbroken network of patronage; patronage and fear being the bedrock of its present power. The failure of PPM to produce a clear election manifesto on time highlights this attitude.  Why write down promises for people to check and analyse when the intention to act on them is not there?

Entitlement seems a soft criticism. So what if some people think they are born to rule? But in the case of the regime, Gayoom and Yameen, this belief has become the fundamental driving force of their entire existence. Greater than their belief in capitalism, greater than their belief in democracy, greater than their belief in the Maldives, they simply believe they are born to rule – and that they MUST rule. If they cannot rule then they are no one. Within the Gayoom political tribe there is no existence without rule. They must rule to exist.

Narcissism is an evil sickness. It is this evil sickness that explains so much about the Gayoom coterie.

It explains why they have no detailed policy. They don’t need one; they are born to rule. It explains why they use corrupt means; when you are born to rule the end justifies the means. It explains why they will use violence; when you are born to rule then others have no rights, and must not share in the right to rule. It explains their vitriolic and personal attacks on their opponents, particularly of a religious nature; when you are born to rule, those who oppose you are unworthy of, not just humane, but human, consideration.

Gayoom’s sense of entitlement clarifies many seemingly strange actions and beliefs.

It is an understatement to say that what Gayoom/Yameen and PPM stand for is fundamentally detrimental to the Maldives. The abbreviation itself is a perverse contradiction of the truth. There is nothing progressive about the type of governance they will bring. Burma, under the clutches of a military dictatorship is making tentative steps towards democracy. Even China is beginning this process by introducing elements of freedom into their economic program.

Those who vote for the return of the regime must consider the fact that it is a vote to move the nation backwards, towards a dictatorship and a style of government that is not viable in the 21st century. In Gayoom’s era it might have been viable. For fifty years, we saw the same style of rule in Africa and Central America in the form of violent, bloody dictatorships. But things are changing in these countries. Can the Maldives let itself be turned into a 20th century Trujilloistic dictatorship just because the regime believe they were born to rule?

Apart from the moral reasons to avoid a return of the regime, there are practical reasons why we should not let that happen; the most important being our self-interest.

For its economic existence, the Maldives relies on its middle class, its business class, not on five or six big wealthy families, but on hundreds, perhaps thousands of small entrepreneurs. In every society these business people form the basis of the economy and the economy is the foundation on which society is formed. This middle class grows out of today’s youth. No modern society can exist without a vibrant, healthy, youth demographic being allowed to thrive.

Throughout the western and eastern worlds, countries are bemoaning the fact that their ‘youth’ are no longer able to be their future workforce, their future entrepreneurs, their future taxpayers, or their future heads of families. Societies rely on their youth to take over the burden of care for the old and the education of the young in the future. Here in the Maldives, the Gayoom/Yameen regime has targeted this group as their sacrificial lambs. They believe only in themselves.

Whilst I would like to think that no right minded person could ever support the regime with its horrifying track-record, I know this is untrue. There are some reasonable people who support them. Some of these do not receive bribes or inducements. Some of them are not under threat. Why do they support such a blood thirsty regime? I think the answer is simple. They believe that with the reinstatement of the old regime, the old economy will resurrect itself and they will prosper.

This is not so. Under a new Gayoom/Yameen dictatorship, the economy will move backwards.

Nepotism will prosper again. In a tightly controlled dictatorship, only family and close friends can be trusted. The rich and the elite who have everything to gain from the status quo will be rewarded, thus stifling innovation by the large majority of ordinary people. Much of the nation’s wealth will shift off shore.

No society can exist like this. The Gayoom/Yameen regime is so blinded by its own vision of their family’s right to rule that they are prepared to rule over a nation that has been deliberately disintegrated back into feudalism; so long as they rule it.

I find it a delicious irony that in the first round, large numbers of us have already voted in favour of ‘Aneh Dhivehi Raaje’, and the old dinosaur, the dynasty dreamer, is plodding behind to catch us with nothing new or appealing in his box of tricks. There is a famine of details in their policy documents. Produced four days before the presidential election, it did not show any budgetary provisions for its promises.

Perhaps the Adhaalath Party would pray for wells of gushing oil to finance Yameen’s plans, or faithful elements in the police and MNDF would come to the rescue, should the peasants complain! A leopard cannot change its spots, or perhaps more appropriately, a crow, cursed or otherwise, cannot change its raspy call to anything more endearing. A Gayoom/Yameen regime will uphold the same values that have already caused irreparable damage to the social fabric of our nation.

It will be business as usual. They have already proven to us that they are capable of doing awful and destructive things to this country and its people. We are yet to recover from thirty years of cruelty, abuse of the nation’s wealth, nepotism, lack of equitable development on the islands, and their frightening disregard for the plight of our youth. If the regime is given the mandate to govern again, even the most determined of our nation will not be able to pick up the pieces and rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes.

Prison did not kill my friend; he died of ‘natural causes’. But prison did kill him. I have lived long enough to appreciate that death has many faces. It is not simply a final breathe. It is also a slaying of the spirit, a denial of dignity and a hiatus of hope. To me personally, my childhood friend remains a symbol of this nation: betrayed, neglected, justice denied and potential unachieved.

September 28th may be the country’s last chance.

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]


Comment: This is not a dictatorship

This article was first published on Dhivehi Sitee. Republished with permission.

Since the 7 February 2012 coup that was not a coup, a disconcerting dissonance between what people witness with their own eyes and what they are officially told they see has become a regular part of life.

Last week, thousands of voting Maldivians watched the X-Rated video of Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed having sex with three prostitutes at a high-end hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It was not just his clothes that Hameed shed in front of the people but also his dignity along with the ethical and legal right to sit on the bench. Ethical, because he so carelessly flouted the values of his profession, and legal because the Maldives defines unmarried sex between consenting adults as the crime of fornication.

Yet the official reaction has been like a ticker-tape running across the entire length of Hameed’s sexual marathon saying, ‘This is not sex. This is not zinah. This is not Hameed.’

Gasim Ibrahim, the presidential candidate for Jumhoree Party, has been one of the most vocal defenders of the judge. He asks us to ponder the infinite possibilities of why it was not Hameed in the video: “Anyone can dye their hair red.”

No one can argue with that – not in these days of L’Oréal.

Adhaalath, the self-appointed ‘religious leaders ’ – and the last Maldivian political institution one would expect to favour an informed decision over an ignorant one – has announced it cannot say “Hameed is fornicating” or “Hameed is not fornicating” unless the Judicial Service Commission says “This is Hameed” or “This is not Hameed”.

Until then Adhaalath — or any other government entity — will not see what it sees, nor must we believe our own eyes.

In November last year, 38 MPs in the Majlis agreed that President of the Civil Service Commission, Mohamed Fahmy, was more likely than not to have sexually harassed a female servant as she alleged. They voted to have him removed from the CSC.

Fahmy, though, is still there in the CSC, accompanied by a subliminal government-issue caption designed to appear under every image of Fahmy we come across: “This is not a sexual harasser” or “Sexual harassment is not a crime.”

Back in April this year, pictures emerged of Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb hob-nobbing with the Artur Brothers – Armenian gangsters who were chased out of Kenya in 2006 for heroin trafficking and involvement in the country’s troubled political scene.

Initially the official line was to say it was neither Nazim nor Adeeb hanging with the gangsters. Then came a very Gasim-esque defence: “It is possible that the Ministers and the Brothers were in the same place at the same time. That doesn’t mean they were together as in together together.”

Soon after, pictures emerged of the Brothers at the gala event organised by Nazim and Adheeb to re-open Olympus theatre. This was followed by evidence that one of them was staying in Farukolhufushi, a resort under direct control of Adheeb at the time. Still, the official line was: “This is not happening.”

It was the same with the leaked draft Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States. Nazim and others denied they saw the leaked version on ‘social media’, but were able to confirm “this is not the SOFA”.

So it was not.

A similar story with the PISCES system gifted by the United States: “This is a border control system” said both governments, and so it is; even though controlling borders is the least of PISCES’ concerns.

Then there were reports of the forged ‘extension’ of the agreement to extend the lease of Farukolhufushi resort, a copy of which was shown on Raajje TV. The authorities have stuck the “This did not happen” label on the incident, so it hasn’t.

Latest in these series of events occurred yesterday, the day marked on the calendar as ‘The Independence Day’. Two events were held to confirm this: one at the museum and one at the Republic Square.

The event at the museum was a reception hosted by Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik and his wife Ilham Hussein for local and foreign dignitaries. It was held in the hall usually reserved for the most precious of national heritage artifacts. Their storage requires specific conditions, their care and handling needs highly trained hands. This is the expert opinion.

The official line, however, is different. In direct contradiction of results of years of study, the President’s Office put out a statement saying: having the party at the museum, or having untrained labourers move the priceless artifacts would not damage them. So it won’t.

Male’ watched as Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was given the highest national award of respect. For 30 years, Gayoom ruled the Maldives without respect for either human freedoms, dignity or the rule of law. It was a dictatorship that stalled economic, social, cultural and intellectual development for an entire generation.

But, the national honour, the shining thing around his neck, screams “This is not a dictator”. So he must not be.

This is a democracy.

Dr Azra Naseem has a PhD in international relations

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]


Comment: Through the looking glass

‘Democracy, freedom, human rights have come to have a definite meaning to the people of the world which we must not allow any nation to so change that they are made synonymous with suppression and dictatorship.’ Eleanor Roosevelt, September 28, 1948.

The Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin allegedly said that ‘The death of a man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic.”

Although this may be attributed to his lack of humanity, it also makes a salient point about the nature of 20th century dictatorships. Like Pol Pot and Mao Zedong, Stalin belonged to an exclusive group of dictators who wielded enormous power and exterminated millions of people who stood in their way.

Although Gayoom’s dictatorship in the Maldives was never in the same league, the political constructs were the same: the monopoly of the press, iron-fisted control of the judicial system, one party rule and the torture of political opponents as a tactic to stay in control.

However, in the late 1970s, just as Gayoom was beginning to spread his tentacles of power in the Maldives, globally, the tide began to turn in favour of democratic ideals. The fundamental concepts of life, liberty, justice, equality and the notion of the common good made a come-back. Concurrently, the word ‘dictator’ which was synonymous with absolute power and authority, became a term of ridicule, of derision, signalling an appalling inability to change with changing times.

But have dictatorships, like the famous parrot immortalised by Monty Python, ceased to be, expired and gone to meet their maker and become bereft of life? Have they kicked the bucket, run down the curtain and gone to join the bleeding choir invisible?

There are two realities that people of liberal persuasion must grasp. Firstly, despite the Arab Spring and strong forward movements by democratic ideals, conservatism as a trend has re-asserted itself. The Empire has struck back, nurturing the same ideology but armed with a different set of tools. It has reinvented itself and like a chameleon, reappeared in a different guise; one that is more in tune with the 21st century political landscape.
Secondly, and most importantly, democracy is worth fighting for. Its defining characteristics of justice, inclusiveness and equality are universal values that give dignity to human life. Despite the slow encroachment of conservative and elitist ideologies, democracy is not finished, it is close at hand and its worth demands our sacrifice.

But beware! Today’s dictator is not in a uniform covered in gold-plated medals; nor is he an object of ridicule generating derisive laughter. He is well spoken, cosmopolitan and media savvy. His CV and certificates on the wall may indicate strong academic connections that validate his claim to good governance and commitment to progressive ideals. He is Putin of Russia. He is Mohamed Morsi of Egypt. He is Mohammed Waheed Hassan of the Maldives. They are the new face of dictatorships in the 21st century.

Shimon Peres, one of the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 said, “Today, if you are looking for a safe job, don’t become a dictator.” The world has become less forgiving of human rights abuse, torture and mass killings. Dictators not only have to show restraint in their own personal inclinations and hide their draconian political agendas, but they also have to dress their actions in a different style. Thus the art of equivocation has been perfected by modern dictators. They understand that excessive violence in the tradition of Tiananmen Square is no longer possible, but they still relentlessly punish their opponents. They stand behind what seems a set of progressive laws, but they are masters of the selective application of these.

Waheed’s government in the Maldives provides an almost text-book study of this type of dictatorship; its creative double-talk masking its overwhelming cruelty and desperate grasping for control.

His search for legitimacy and global recognition came early. One of his first political engagements was to write to heads of states to explain why he was forced to take over power. He proactively set the scene: here was a man of reason, who could articulate his noble intentions in rational and practical terms; here was a man who could be trusted to work with the international body. However, almost simultaneously, on his home-turf, the members of his police and the armed forces, who helped to place him in the presidency, were executing a reign of terror, previously unseen in the Maldives.

According to a reply written to Waheed’s letter by Mike Mason, the Energy adviser to President Nasheed, Waheed is ‘committed to Maldives and Democracy.’ But Mason fails to distinguish between a simplistic, self-indulgent, self-deluding belief in democracy on the one hand and the physical responses and actions which totally destroy democracy on the other hand. Mason simply underlines what many of us know – Waheed is a superficial individual who lacks the intelligence to see beyond his rhetoric. He has never demonstrated his commitments to democratic principles.

Proof of this can be seen in his rewarding the armed forces with resort islands, promoting and increasing their salaries as opposed to bringing to justice the police and defence force members who brutally attacked innocent Maldivians and vandalised public property. The proposed budget for 2013 would see an increase of the defence spending by 14 percent. Instead of promoting democracy he is paving the way to a military dictatorship. All signs indicate that such a fate is not far.

Meanwhile, the IMF mission, in November this year spoke of ‘a ballooning fiscal deficit’ the effects of which are felt by the average Maldivians who are struggling, not simply because of the global economic recession, but due to the moribund economy based on the debilitating corruption and nepotism condoned by the Waheed, Gayoom, Military consortium. In doing so he is destroying meritocracy, the civil service, the level playing field and the acceptance of differences that exist in a true democracy.

Waheed speaks of Maldives as ‘a damn good democracy’, yet he has denied the people their call for an early election, disregarding the advice by international bodies such as the EU and the Commonwealth to do so. There are increasing allegations by MPs that his government’s bullying tactics are creating a ‘climate of fear’ in the People’s Majlis.

Ostensibly he stands for tolerance, yet his bedfellows and support base include the Salafists. The country is fast sliding into a fundamentalist nightmare where an Adhaalath ( The Islamist party) aligned MP has recently gone so far as to call for one of his opponents to be ‘hanged to death’. Journalist and writer, Azra Naseem, points out that in ‘a damned good democracy’ the president describes his Islamist supporters as ‘Mujaheddin, fighting a Holy War.” All these add to the climate of intolerance, hatred and escalating violence.

New age dictators like Waheed claim to stand for law and justice. The Maldives for instance, has a constitution. But the new dictator of the 21st century is adept in the selective application of this justice. Putin for example uses his fire and health regulations to close down opposition radio stations and newspapers. But the same rules are not applied to his supporters. In the Maldives also, justice is used to destroy opponents; and this together with the failure to bring to justice more urgent cases that need addressing, creates a tangible state of injustice.

Waheed’s main focus is to prevent the former president, Mohamed Nasheed, from participating in the next elections. Meanwhile the immensely corrupt judicial system and the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Judge Abdulla Mohamed continue to high-jack any efforts to make progress in this all important sector of the state.

Like the dictators of the past, Waheed continues to use propaganda to white-wash the actions of his government and its supporters. However, the style today is more subtle. The regime’s narrative is disseminated in a two- pronged programme. The first and the most expensive, and possibly the least effective, has been the employment of the Ruder Finn PR company at a cost of US$150,000 a month. Fortunately for the seekers of truth, the contract was terminated in November this year: it is not clear whether the bankrupt Maldivian government ran out of money to fund this type of expensive hobbies, or that the company came to the inevitable conclusion that some clients are just too toxic for it to be associated with.

The second, and the most direct, has been the narrative constructed by the regime: the building of metaphors, the framing of issues and the controlling of the political dialogue that help their cause. Here MDP is depicted as an aggregate of drug taking, alcohol swilling people who lack any respectability. Nasheed is attacked personally and presented as a cynical opportunist who uses the democratic platform to get to power for personal gain. We have to ask why?

Is this because they have no other way of attacking Nasheed? Could it be that his actions, unlike the words of the dictator, speak louder? During the three short years under MDP, a comprehensive system of old age pension was introduced and access to health care for all Maldivians improved. For the first time, the outlying islands began to get the recognition and support they deserve. There was development in infrastructure. Travel between the islands was upgraded with a more efficient transport network and the fiscal deficit, the legacy of neglect of Gayoom’s regime, was attended to. In 2010 IMF reported that ‘the government of Maldives has put together and is implementing a set of essential fiscal adjustment measures’, but in April 2012 under Waheed, it raised “grave concerns for the Maldives economy.”

It is not surprising that in the recent by-election in Raa Atoll, a regime stronghold, MDP support shot up by 120 percent. It is obvious that they cannot attack the actions of their opponents, so they are reduced to attacking the people involved.

Waheed’s political vicissitude does nothing to inspire confidence, either in his own people or in international stake-holders. Some see his failure as a result of the hand he was dealt with, which was “almost impossible to play.” Others question his intelligence; the type of intelligence that functions when cocooned in an ivory tower, is different to that which is required in running a state. Some comment on his poor work ethic or his inability to commit to any one objective. Perhaps there are elements of truth in all these, but the defining weakness is in his ideological stand.

Dictators may appear to have made a come-back. But within their success in reinventing themselves, and gaining support though the dangerous game of deception, lie the seeds of their own destruction. A dictatorship is a dictatorship, however it is packaged.

Abraham Lincoln was believed to have said, “You can fool some of the people all of the times, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

The new-age dictator cannot have it both ways. Despite ‘candid’ letters and high sounding rhetoric, a dictatorship is not a democracy and we must never let ambitious despots use democratic jargon to gain legitimacy.

The passage of time has become the greatest witness to Waheed’s failure. Nine months has elapsed since the coup and the political and social landscape is littered by the fall-out of his inability to lead. Violence has escalated, government influence of the media has increased and Islamic fundamentalism has been allowed to grow into a forceful political power. Even Waheed has been forced to admit that “everybody runs the state as they please.”

Personal freedoms have declined as has the standard of living of the majority of Maldivians. The state is bankrupt and the government’s financial and political supporters cannot seem to grasp the simple fact that the Maldives is a vulnerable, small state that needs the goodwill of its neighbours.

Crucially in this political wilderness, the police and the armed forces have been permitted to do as they please. Time has shown that Waheed’s brand of dictatorship is not working. This begs the question: will he move up to the next level of dictatorship and use more force or, while he is procrastinating and thinking of the appropriate rhetoric, will the police and the armed forces take the initiative and establish themselves as a military government? Sadly, none of these impending eventualities are in the best interest of the people of the Maldives. But, these are the only two alternatives for Waheed’s government.

There is room for optimism, however. The greatest danger to dictators has never been the well-meaning bureaucrats hidden behind glass windows of high rise buildings. The most feared opposition to injustice and authoritarian rule has always been the ordinary people. Democracy, as an ideology is global. Its strengths are firmly embedded in universal and timeless ethical values. It is not simply a convenient aphorism to claim that human progress towards its full potential has little to do with technology and materialism but has everything to do with the way we learn to treat each other. Democracy is a potent force that will not be beaten. As Victor Hugo said, “There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.”

As the world slides down to economic recession, the opposing forces of democracy and dictatorship are equally balanced globally as they are in the Maldives. The traditional caretakers of democracy, America, Europe and the Commonwealth, are focused largely on the internal, economic problems of their respective nations. It would appear that the coast is clear for men who lust for absolute power, to seize the moment.

However, paradoxically, economic hard-times can also make the self- interest of dictators and the lifestyles of their elitist friends stand out in stark contrast to the poverty and the struggle of the ordinary man on the street. The masses, no longer kept distracted by ‘bread and circus.’ can rise again.

Nothing is as powerful as the will of the people.

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]


Comment: Good governance and the judiciary – lessons to be learned

“The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government.”

– inscription on the Supreme Court building of New York

Simple and fundamental as it is, this inscription, totally captures the idea that I am trying to convey. That is, good governance is impossible without a strong, independent and fair judiciary. Hence, we need to pay serious attention to this for future development of our country.

Examples around the globe abound, supporting the profound words in the inscription.

First, let us look at the fashionable phrase “good governance”, introduced by a World Bank study in 1989, linking governance with development. Despite different, closely-related definitions, most believe that good governance should encompass certain characteristics such as people’s participation in the governing, consensus, equity, transparency, efficiency, accountability, responsiveness and judiciary.

Of all these characteristics, this article will concentrate on the importance of the judiciary in good governance: the inter-relations and the effects on each other.

One of the important features of the judiciary is its independence. An independent judiciary is of utmost importance for good governance rule. A case in point is the classic example of Somalia, which is categorised as a “failed state.” At the centre of this failure lies governance.

The failure of governance in Somalia is closely tied to the relationship between the judiciary and government. For example, in 2004, the then-President had the power to appoint and dismiss judges as he pleased. This signifies a non-independent judiciary, which is over-powered by the executive. Another crucial factor that contributed to the collapse of the state was the government’s failure to uphold the constitution. It merely paid lip-service to the constitution.

The process works the other way too. For example, research on Africa shows that corruption and weak administrations weaken the regime. This, in turn, weakens all the laws, whether good or bad. In short, the absence of good governance gives way to weak laws. If laws and regulations do not exist or are weak, the three powers start running the government with their “thumb”. This means authoritarian rule, which could hinder development.

Corruption within the judiciary can be seen in the Peoples’ Republic of China where it is a serious threat to good governance as it leads to courts being unresponsive to the country’s complex society and undermine the legitimacy of the law and government. The problem in China is the deeply-rooted concept that laws must be used to strengthen state capacity and fulfill political ends.

Another case where judicial corruption prevails is Indonesia, where the Supreme Court’s integrity value has ranked amongst the lowest. The result is that the public does not see the Supreme Court as the provider of justice, and instead, the public perceives it as part of the rule of law problem which provides a serious drawback to good governance.

In Pakistan, governance failure, among others, is at the heart of the country’s constraints to growth. This is, partly, due to the less independent nature of the judiciary in which the courts do not protect the lender against the loan-defaults who do not pay their loan, or from ambiguous land titles constraining mortgage financing and construction activity.

Nepal is a case where constitutional structures are not sufficient to create an independent, impartial and accountable judiciary. Some scholars believe that planning and visionary leadership are instrumental for meaningful and lasting changes to take hold. Simply taking action against a few judges is not adequate.

In Mexico, the confused state of the judiciary effects the government in a negative way. Here, the problem is the existence of suspicion between legal thinking and politics.

Now, what lessons can we learn from the very limited examples given above, and from some others?

  • Lesson 1. The judiciary should be independent of the executive and the legislature. It should not be influenced or over-powered by the executive or the legislature; or even a former executive and his/her cronies. However, this does not mean that the judiciary is above the law or outside the law.
  • Lesson 2: We should have a judiciary in which people have trust and faith, as in the case of our “Big Brother” India whose Supreme Court is said to be “one of the most powerful institutions of its kind” in the world. The importance of this is that the judiciary has performed well, sustaining the trust of the people in its independence.
  • Lesson 3: We should use democracy to fight judicial corruption and not judicial corruption to undermine democracy, as in Chile where, after the military dictatorship, the role of democracy was used as a punishment and a preventive mechanism to hinder exceptional emergence of judicial corruption.
  • Lesson 4: Corruption in the judiciary should be gotten rid of before its roots dig even deeper into our behavior, making it the accepted norm.

The way forward: Let’s fight to reorganise the judiciary to pave the way for good governance, without which there is no hope for our country. We might as well sink into the beautiful, deep blue Indian Ocean.

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]


Comment: Stop the charade, this is no longer a democracy

Stop this nonsense, you can only push propaganda so far.

The people confronting the police on the streets of Male’ everyday are not ‘thugs’. They are people from all over Maldives, they are young they are old. They are rich, they are poor. They are pious, they are indifferent. They are liberal, they are conservative. They are educated, they are fishermen. They are students, they are teachers, husbands, wives. They all believe in one thing: their right to elect their leader as citizens of a democracy.

These are the people who are out on the streets, fighting with the police and kicking up a riot. Because their right to be governed democratically has been taken away from them.

Stop this nonsense about ‘what of the poor police’? There is a fundamental flaw in the argument that ‘they [police] are just ordinary people, too.’ Vast differences exist between a civilian and a policeman on duty. Police are trained to control their impulses, to withstand anger, to repel provocation, to use weapons. Ordinary people are not. The public pays the police not to hurt them but to protect them.

Within twenty four hours of the new regime’s assumption of power, people were being brutally beaten by the police. The force of their violence has been a constant presence since 8 February. It is a threat that hovers in the air, unspoken. Always present.

With every mass protest on the streets of Male’, the police have come down harder, their violence more ruthless. Using pepper-spray and tear-gas has become the norm. The police charge at people with all their might, and without warning shoot tear-gas canisters into the people. They have put one woman’s burugaa on fire, smashed the head open of another and choked plenty.

Stop this nonsense about using ‘minimum force’, there is nothing minimal about the force with which the police come at you. You only have to feel their batons pointed at you and hear the filth they shout at you to know the level of violent force aimed at you by these men in uniform. They come in hordes, they pepper-spray at random, often pausing to take people’s sun-glasses off before spraying them straight in the eye. They crack open skulls without hesitation.

There is wanton cruelty, gratuitous violence. And there is a feeling of ferocious rage emanating from them as they hunt people down. These are not police running after an out-of–control people, these are police charging into people with the intention of intimidating, hitting, hurting, violating. The police are seeking to break them in, make them docile and prime them to be subjects of a dictatorship.

Like in all situations of conflict, women have been heavily victimised and subjected to gender-based violence. Police have partially undressed women on the streets, revealing their flesh in ways that compromise their privacy and mock the Islamic modesty her buruga is meant to convey.

There have been reports of women’s breasts being violently molested, or specifically targeted for physical assault. Unarmed women have been handcuffed and dragged to the island of Dhoonidhoo and detained without charge. ‘Unity Government’ MPs, like Red Wave Saleem, pontificate on television equating the women protesting with ‘women working in brothels.’

Stop the nonsense about this being a democracy, it cannot be one with an authoritarian government in power.

There can be no democracy where senior officials are being purged from government because they belong to a particular political party. There cannot be a democracy where the president is publicly campaigning, using state funds, for a parliament contender that is not even a member of his own party. There is no democracy where the president uses military force to pave his path to the parliament; where the president can only travel within the country by clearing off all streets everyone except his supporters.

Most importantly, there cannot be a democracy where questions remain unanswered about how the first democratically elected government of the country came to an end.

Stop this nonsense about colour, about ‘MDP people’, about whether it is unladylike for women to shout on the streets. The choice Maldivians face today is much bigger, stark. Democracy or autocracy. If early elections are held, it may put the transition back on track back on track, but if we let this government continue in its campaign to legitimise itself until 2013, by hook or by crook, there would be no going back. It will be too late for democracy.

At the rate the new government is reversing all policies that released people from the system of patronage built over a thirty-year dictatorship, people will soon be caught yet again in the same shackles of abject dependency on the Dear Leader that kept us subservient for those three decades.

If people don’t want this to happen, we must join the struggle to ensure this robbery of our fundamental right to govern ourselves is not covered up through false legitimisation. We shouldn’t let political colour blind us to the truth: democracy is in danger in the Maldives. If we believe in it, we must fight for it.

If dictatorship is what you want, don’t do anything. If not, do something.

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]


Dictatorships don’t always die when the dictator leaves office: Nasheed

Dictatorships don’t always die when the dictator leaves office, former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed has said in a New York Times Op-Ed.

“The wave of revolutions that toppled autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen last year was certainly cause for hope. But the people of those countries should be aware that, long after the revolutions, powerful networks of regime loyalists can remain behind and can attempt to strangle their nascent democracies.

“I learned this lesson quickly. My country, the Maldives, voted out President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, its iron-fisted ruler, back in 2008, in historic elections that swept away three decades of his authoritarian rule. And yet the dictatorship bequeathed to the infant democracy a looted treasury, a ballooning budget deficit and a rotten judiciary.

“I was elected that year, and with the help of the International Monetary Fund, my government worked to cut the deficit, while also building a modern tax base. For the first time in its history, the Maldives — a group of islands in the Indian Ocean — had a democratically elected president, parliament and local councils.

“But it also had a judiciary handpicked by the former president, which was now hiding behind a democratic constitution. These powerful judges provided protection for the former president, his family members and political allies, many of whom are accused of corruption, embezzlement and human rights crimes.

“At the same time, new laws guaranteeing freedom of speech were abused by a new force in Maldivian politics: Islamic extremists. The former president’s cabinet members threw anti-Semitic and anti-Christian slurs at my government, branding as apostates anyone who tried to defend the country’s liberal Islamic traditions and claiming that democracy granted them and their allies license to call for violent jihad and indulge in hate speech.

“In response to these issues, my government asked the United Nations to help us investigate judicial abuses and ordered the arrest of Abdulla Mohamed, the chief judge of the criminal court, on charges of protecting the former president and corrupting the judicial system. However, in a dramatic turn of events on Tuesday, the former president’s supporters protested in the streets, and police officers and army personnel loyal to the old government mutinied and forced me, at gunpoint, to resign. To avoid bloodshed, I did so. I believe this to be a coup d’état and suspect that my vice president, who has since been sworn into office, helped to plan it.

“Choosing to stand up to the judge was a controversial decision, but I feel I had no choice but to do what I did — to have taken no action, and passively watched the country’s democracy strangled, would have been the greatest injustice of all.

“The problems we are facing in the Maldives are a warning for other Muslim nations undergoing democratic reform. At times, dealing with the corrupt system of patronage the former regime left behind can feel like wrestling with a Hydra: when you remove one head, two more grow back. With patience and determination, the beast can be slain. But let the Maldives be a lesson for aspiring democrats everywhere: the dictator can be removed in a day, but it can take years to stamp out the lingering remnants of his dictatorship.”

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Former Adhaalath Party leader criticises new leadership

Former President of the Adhaalath Party Sheikh Hussain Rasheed Ahmed has strongly criticised the new leadership of “acting dictatorially” and issuing press releases without consulting either the heads of party organs or Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari.

In a statement published on his official website this week, Sheikh Rasheed wrote that “the biggest change” he brought to the Islamic Ministry’s functions after being appointed State Minister in December was to “change the dictatorial policy of the ministry’s former senior officials” to ensure that important decisions were not made without “direct instruction from the minister.”

“The rule of granting permission to make sermons based on a person’s face was abolished. Work being done that conflicted with government regulations and policy in a way that could facilitate corruption was reformed and brought into line,” he said.

Sheikh Rasheed, a founding member of Adhaalath, condemned a press statement issued by the party on September 5 regarding the controversy surrounding Qunooth (an invocation recited during prayers) and reciting Bismillah out loud as “very irresponsible.”

The press statement argued that the invocation was not compulsory except during periods of adversity.

Rasheed claimed that a letter sent to the Addu City Council regarding Qunooth was based on Dr Bari’s advice: “Therefore I can’t believe that Dr Majeed would talk to Adhaalath members differently about the issue of saying Bismillah [out loud] during prayers,” he said.

“Adhaalath Party’s Scholars Council Chair [Dr Bari] told me that he had informed [the party] not to issue the press release like that,” he continued. “And the deputy chair apparently knows nothing about the press release. The party’s charter states that when dealing with religious issues, a statement could only be issued after a meeting of the religious scholars council and with the consensus of its members.”

Rasheed went on to say that there were “know-it-all scholars” and a culture of attacking anyone who opposes their statements or ideology, adding that the scholars in question believe the country’s policy should be based on their thinking.

Statements made on foreign policy by some Adhaalath senior members reminded Sheikh Rasheed of “thoughts that come and goes quickly to a person suffering from a mental illness.”

“Anyone who disagrees with their religious opinion turns into a criminal [in their minds],” he wrote, referring to the Adhaalath’s public antagonism to NGOs Jamiyyathul Salaf and Islamic Foundation of the Maldives (IFM).

Sheikh Rasheed called on officials in senior leadership positions to adhere to the party’s charter or governing rules.

He also urged Dr Bari to be consistent in statements made in his capacity as Islamic Minister and chair of the religious scholars council.

Rasheed said he was moved to publicly criticise the new leadership because of the extent to which “the dictatorial [tendency] of some Adhaalath party members” has grown.

Islamic Minister Dr Bari told Minivan News he did not wish to comment on the matter.