The Maldives is beautiful. It is an archipelago of 1200 islands with pristine beaches, blue lagoons and thousands of coconut palms. It is one of the world’s most exclusive tourist destinations. It is a honeymooners’ haven and diver’s paradise. It is a hideaway for over-exposed celebrities and a sanctuary for the stressed. A string of islands nature intended as a playground for the rich and famous. Somewhere where Western billionaires come to have spa treatments underwater and the famous can relax without being photographed. A picture postcard.
Well, here’s a news flash. The Maldives is home to 300,000 people. They may not appear in the photographs, they may not be serving you your cocktails, they may not be cleaning your $4500 a night room, they may not be serving you the $1000 dinner on your golden plate under the full-moon, and the hands massaging your body in the spa under the palm tree may not be theirs, but they exist. They live, they talk, they walk, they feel, and they have the same silly notions about human rights, justice, equality and the rule of law as any other people in the world.
Last week, the Maldivian government was overthrown; its first democratically elected president held at gunpoint and forced to write a letter of resignation. It has been reported that ‘tourists barely put down their cocktails’ on the beaches of their exclusive holiday resorts just a few waves of the ocean away, so far removed is the tourism industry from the reality that Maldives is for Maldivian people.
Despite the tourists, and the rest of the world, being kept in deliberate ignorance, video evidence exists of the coup right from the planning stages to its successful execution. The only missing footage, so far, is that of the deposed president sitting down to write the letter. Everything else, from the violent take over of the state broadcaster by armed ‘policemen’, the beleagured president trying to control military and police personnel who were involved in the coup, coup leaders commanding the defecting officers, extreme brutality by the police against the public in the aftermath of the coup – it is all there, if you want to see it. ‘Want’ being the keyword here.
The ‘international community’ has not wanted to do so. British Prime Minister David Cameron, who had only months before described the deposed Maldivian President Nasheed as his ‘new best friend’, refused to lend him any support.
India, the supposed leader of democracy in South Asia, was the first to congratulate the new government and pledge its allegiance to its leader Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik.
Sri Lanka, despite Nasheed’s ill-judged support of President Mahinda Rajapaksa while the intenational community condemned him for alleged human rights abuses, followed suit.
It would come as no surprise for any observer of China’s recent foreign policy decisins that Beijing had no qualms over the legitimacy of the new government in declaring its willingness to carry on with business as usual.
Australia, home to many Maldivians and supposedly a close friend, found the Maldivian situation to be fodder for political jokes; the violence that its people endured in the aftermath of the coup nothing but material for double-entendres to be lobbed between parliamentarians on opposite sides.
And, of course, given the manner in which the United States has sought to spread democracy in the world in the last decade, it should come as no surprise that it finds no room to exercise its soft power in assisting Maldivians establish the truth about how their democracy was derailed last week.
The international community is making a huge mistake in ignoring the current crisis in the Maldives. The foremost reason being that the Maldives is incapable of conducting its own independent investigation into the events of the day as the international community is recommending. Like a small community in which twelve impartial people cannot be found for a jury in a trial where everybody has a stake in the verdict, there can be no tribunal of truth held in the Maldives where the majority is not biased one way or another.
The United States and others have rejected the deposed president and his supporters’ calls for new elections on the basis that there are no institutions capable of holding a fair and free one. What makes it, and the rest of the international community, then think that there can be an independent institution capable of conducting an impartial enquiry into the facts of 7 February? If any of the international teams that have been so active in the Maldives in the last week have done any homework at all, they know the biggest impediment to consolidation of democracy in the Maldives has been failure of the so-called independent institutions have been unable to free themselves from political influence.
It is not just the Maldivian people that the international community is betraying by leaving them to their own fate. It is also the ideals of democracy they have espoused so stridently, not to mention violently, for the last decade. By refusing to help the Maldivian people establish the truth of how its first democratically elected president was deposed, it is allowing the burial without ceremony of the role that anti-democratic forces – including radical Islamists – have played in bringing the fledgling Maldivian democracy to its knees.
It is also turning its back on a valuable opportunity to increase its own knowledge of how Islamists can radicalise not just a small Muslim community, but an entire population. Available evidence shows that without a clear pact made with Islamists, the coup could not have been successfully planned or executed. By refusing to help join Maldivians’ efforts to establish the truth of the events of 7 February and the conspiracies that led up to it, the international community is doing what it does best: ignore a threat until it escalates to the point where there is carnage on the streets and thousands of lives are lost.
The most significant characteristic of the days that have followed 7 February in the Maldives is the deafening silence of the Islamists. They helped incite hatred and anger towards Nasheed when he was the legitimate president; they were the loudest and the most vocal of his critics. In the week that has followed his ousting, they have been ominously silent. And, judging from how they have conducted their operations in the Maldives for the last decade, the silence is not due to pious reflection and quiet contemplation of God’s greatness. It is a silence of anticipation, the calm before the storm. The conspirators who financed the coup have done a deal with them, and they are waiting in silence because they are sure their grand chance is about to come. That is, the chance to impose Sharia rule in the country, the chance to crackdown on the women and turn them into inferior human beings and citizens, the chance to bring the Maldives back to the early days of ‘pure’ Islam and turn it into the newest region of the Islamic Caliphate that bin Laden envisioned.
Unfortunately, we live in a world of realist international politics where until a state’s own ‘national interest’ is threatened or one’s own self-interest is at risk, there is no ‘legitimate’ reason to act. As long as the anti-democratic activities in the Maldives pose no geostrategic threat to the ‘international community’, as long as foreign investment in the Maldives is safe, as long as tourists can keep sipping their cocktails under the palm trees, and as long as Maldivian blood does not spill on the pristine white beaches that the rich and famous lounge about on, paradise is not lost. Until then what prevails will be accepted as what passes as ‘democracy’ these days – government for the rich by the rich.
Azra Naseem holds a doctorate in International Relations.
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