Comment: International community’s inaction may lead to carnage

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.

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]


Supreme Court hears Gasim’s appeal

The Supreme Court of the Maldives has concluded  the hearing of Jumhoory Party (JP) leader and MP Gasim ‘Buruma’ Ibrahim’s appeal to the High Court’s ruling that his house arrest be extended.

On July 3 the High Court, in response to an appeal filed by police concerning Gasim and People’s Alliance party leader MP Yameen Abdul Gayoom, extended their house arrest to 15 days.

The Criminal Court had earlier ruled their house arrest was to be for three days.

Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed was the Chief Judge at today’s hearing at the Supreme Court. Gasim’s legal team included former Attorney General Aishath Azima Shukoor, Leader of Dhivehi Qaumy Party and former Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed and former Justice Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel.

Senior Assistant Public Prosecutor Dheebaanaz Fahmy, Assistant Public Prosecutor, Police Inspector Ahmed Jinah were among the eight members of the police legal team.

When judge asked police who reported the case, police Inspector Ahmed Jinah replied “the president’s office.”

Shukoor said that Gasim was misled and arrested illegally in an abuse of his rights, and that therefore extension of detention would also be unlawful.

“The Criminal Court judge ruled that to keep him under house arrest for three days and that police violated many articles of the consitution,” Shukoor claimed.

“As the case has now come this far, the police have not even once denied that they abused the right on arrest given under article 48(b),” Shukoor said. “Gasim Ibrahim was taken to the police station to clarify something and then police arrested him.”

Police in their defence said that they had the power to investigate crime, conserve evidence and prepare cases for disposition by the court under article 244(C) of the constitution.

“And under circumstances police can arrest someone without a court warrant,” said the lawyer. “Police have the right to arrest someone if the arresting officer observes the offence being committed, or has reasonable and probable grounds or evidence to believe the person has committed an offence or is about to commit an offence.”

He claimed that the constitution did not preclude police from arresting a MP who is charged on a criminal offence.

“If Gasim Ibrahim was under house arrest and could attend parliament it could potentially disrupt the evidence,” he said. “We request the Chief of Justice to transfer Gasim from house arrest to police custody.”

Chief of Justice Abdulla Saeed queried the lawyer as to the seriousness of the case.

“Gasim is accused of bribery, and we need time to investigate the case in order prove it,” the police lawyer answered. “He is also accused of treason, and that affects the whole of society.”

When judge queried whether the lawyer was concerned that Gasim might flee, and he replied that it was “difficult to say.”

Meanwhile, Dr Hassan Saeed presented a list of unanswered questions by the police, and police requested the judge to give them time to research the case.

Saeed also observed that the criminal court judge had ruled that police violated many articles of the constitution in arresting Gasim.


President sacks economic minister

President Mohamed Nasheed has dismissed Minister of Trade and Economic Development Mohamed Rasheed from his post.

Rasheed belongs to the Gaumee Iththihaad Party (GIP), the same party as Vice President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, who has publicly voiced criticisms of the government and recently led a political rally to boost support for his party.

The President’s Spokesman Mohamed Zuhair said Nasheed has made the decision “based on the existing political realities on the ground.”

“It is nothing personal against the economic minister, and nothing to do with his performance,” Zuhair emphasised, although he noted that a likely outcome would be restructuring of the Ministry to be more “result-oriented”.

The decision to remove Rasheed from cabinet was made over the weekend but announced this morning, he said.

Meanwhile, staff at the ministry were “in shock” this morning, reported Permanent Secretary Yousuf Riza.

“[Rasheed] is no longer coming to the office, but the Ministry will continue to function,” Riza said.

“We will continue issuing trade and investment permits, however the Minister’s dismissal will hamper decisions about policy.”

DRP Spokesman and Deputy Leader Ibrahim “Mavota” Shareef meanwhile claimed the dismissal was because of the “obvious friction between the President and his Vice President. I heard [Rasheed] was dismissed because he was asked to sign with the ruling party and refused.”

“Rasheed is one of the most qualified people in the government, and he has been dismissed for no apparent reason. As long as a minister does his job properly there is no reason to dismiss him,” Shareef said.

“I think this is very sad this is happening. We might be the opposition party but we do not have any ill will towards the government.”

Amid speculation that Rasheed’s removal was due to the icy drop in temperature between GIP and MDP, a senior government source suggested it was more likely that the dismissal was part of a “larger picture – something to do with [MDP’s] declining support in the Majlis to the point where it has become ineffective. They need support.”

The recent scuttling of MDP’s provinces bill in parliament is a sore blow to one the party’s key pledges, the decentralisation of government.

No replacements have yet been put forward: “The president has time before choosing a new minister to put forward for parliamentary approval,” Zuhair claimed.

Mahmoud Razee, currently Minister for Civil Aviation and Communications, is one potential candidate, given his proven palatability with parliament and work on the privatisation committee. Razee was promoted to his current role after the dismissal of another minister, Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

However, MDP Spokesman Ahmed Haleem revealed that the party had begun talking to the People’s Alliance (PA), currently in coalition with the opposition DRP, seeking the party’s support in passing a new economic minister through parliament.

“DRP are always against us and they have control of a lot of the media,” Haleem said. “But [PA leader] Abdulla Yameen has some commitment to the people – he was trade minister in 1998, he is an economist and he is well educated. I think he is OK.”

The Maldivian economy was sorely troubled “and a lot of people are suffering very badly and are very poor,” Haleem said. “[MDP and PA] have the same goal, we want to stabilise the economy and we are looking for support. Yameen’s seven members could support the parliamentary approval of a new minister.”

Vice President Mohamed Waheed Hassan declined to comment on the matter, and Mohamed Rasheed did not responded to calls at time of press.


Maldives announces US$313 million in pledges at Donor Conference

Speaking at the close of the 2010 Maldives Donor Conference, Vice President Dr Mohammed Waheed Hassan announced that the government has received pledges of support totalling US$313 million for a period of three years.

The crowded hall of donors at Bandos Island Resort and Spa included delegations from countries as diverse as Saudi Arabia, Australia, Japan and Norway, as well as international financial groups such as the International Monetary Fund, Islamic Development Bank and the sovereign wealth Abu Dhabi Fund. A breakdown of the pledges is not currently available, Minivan News was told, as several donor countries had requested time to consult their home agencies before solidifying the figure.

In the run-up to the donor conference the government identified key priority areas for investment, alongside budgetary support: macro economic reform, public sector reform, good governance, social development and climate change.

“I am grateful for the confidence you have shown in our country,” Dr Hassan told the donors. “This conference has been an opportunity for us to listen to donors’ views, and we have identified ways to up our coordination and cooperation with the donor community,” he said.

The government had been aiming for US$450 million, he said, although several senior government officials later told Minivan News that they considered “60-80 per cent of that target” a major success. Furthermore, they claimed, a great deal of ‘behind-the-scenes’ negotiations over the two day event would likely lead to further commitments.

There was, Dr Hassan said in his address, “an abundance of goodwill and more assistance will be forthcoming with more follow up from our side.”

He promised donors the government would “work with you to strengthen our management system”, and said the participation of donors was “a vote of confidence in this government and our strong democratic mandate.”

“You have heard about many of the challenges over the past two days. The fact that drug addiction is the biggest problem among our young. The fact that clean water is still a challenge on many islands. The fact that reducing the soaring budget deficit has been painful in an economy over-dependent on government expenditure,” Dr Hassan said.

Furthermore, he said, “democracy remains fragile in the Maldives. We must work to guard the civil society and protect the freedom of the press. We must work hard to consolidate our hard earned freedom. Much progress has been made. But more work needs to be carried out, and we cannot deliver this vital thing on our own.”

In his closing comments, Dr Hassan acknowledged that the Maldives was known around the world less for its social and economic challenges, “and more for our commitment to confronting the issue of climate change – our commitment to carbon neutrality is the strongest in the world.”

“Although we are a very vulnerable country to sea level rise I should make clear that we are not going anywhere. Not yet.”

The British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Dr Peter Hayes said he commended the Maldives “on the significant progress it has achieved as a young democracy working in a challenging economic climate.”

“In an era where international partnerships are vital, I welcome the proactive approach to international engagement the Maldives has taken,” Dr Hayes said.