MMPRC confirms appointment of Ruder Finn for international PR

The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) has confirmed its appointment of New-York based public relations agency Ruder Finn, following speculation in the PR industry press last week.

Ruder Finn will provide international PR in a three-month contract PR Week speculated to be worth over US$150,000 per month.

According a statement from the MMPRC, the agency will “oversee the overall media coordination and achievement of PR related solution for destination Maldives, instil confidence in the tourism industry of the Maldives, gain understanding and public acknowledgement of the Maldives in the international community, ensure sustainable development of the tourism industry, and improve the image of the destination.”

President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s spokesperson, Abbas Adil Riza, told Minivan News last week that the appointed PR firm would only be responsible for promoting tourism, and would not be involved in politics or government.

Ruder Finn’s Senior Vice President and Ethics Officer, Emmanuel Tchividjian, told PR industry publication The Holmes Report that the company would “resign its lucrative new Maldives’ tourism brief if a national enquiry finds that the country’s new government took power illegally.”

Tchividjian claimed the company had “closely examined the complexity of the current political situation in the country”.

“Accusations of a coup have been dismissed by many international organisations and governments, including the United Kingdom government who has said that they do not recognise the transfer of power in the Maldives to be a coup,” he claimed.

“We were encouraged by the desire of the current government, in place according to the country’s constitution, to focus on ensuring stability, democracy and transparency in the Maldives, including a free press.”

Ruder Finn’s resignation of an account under such circumstance is not without precedent.

The firm’s founder David Finn, cited on the website of the American Jewish Committee, a think tank and advocacy organisation “combating anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry” and “supporting Israel’s quest for peace and security”, recounts how  “some years ago a professor at the Seminary helped us make the decision to resign the sizeable Greek tourism account after three colonels seized power and installed a military dictatorship. “

The company nonetheless has a reputation for representing controversial clients, including tobacco giant Phillip Morris and Israeli airline El Al, which MPs of the Maldives government coalition last week voted to ban from landing in the Maldives.

The PR firm was also embroiled in controversy over its distribution of the incendiary film ‘Fitna’, produced by Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, at a conference organised by Ruder Finn in 2008 called ‘Facing Jihad’.

The MMPRC has also appointed several other agencies to target specific markets, including Rooster PR (UK), Belcanto Communications (Germany) and Travel Link Marketing (China).

The MMPRC said it was also in the process of appointing PR agencies in India, Russia and the Middle East.


Comment: The Israel hypocrisy

On Monday June 6 the Adhaalath Party released an ominous statement claiming that allowing the Israeli national carrier El Al to fly to the Maldives is “a threat” to the country’s economy and statehood.

Maldivian authorities have announced that the airline could begin operations in December this year.

In a valiant effort to shoulder the unwieldy burden of speaking for the 1400-year old Islamic faith, the Adhaalath Party has responded to the news by threatening “nationwide protests”, exhorting citizens “who love their religion” to join them.

It has become absurd theatre to watch the Mullah reach for the raw teats of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and milk the tragedy for all it is worth.

Hawks and doves

First, the facts – the world has overwhelmingly recognised the need for Palestinian statehood.

In his 2009 address to the Muslim world at Cairo, President Barack Obama reaffirmed US support for a two-state solution, recognising both parties as having “legitimate aspirations.”

In perhaps the most pro-Palestinian speech by a US President in history, Obama also asserted in a major speech last month that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines”, while also calling for full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces from Palestine.

Various polls show that a majority of Palestinians and Israelis support the idea of two states co-existing peacefully side-by-side.

Pope Benedict XVI, Bishop of Rome, and leader of the billion-strong Roman Catholic Church, has also thrown his weight behind the idea of Palestinian statehood. Celebrities, left-leaning Israeli parties, public intellectuals and several high-profile Jews and Jewish organisations around the world have also lent their support to the Palestinian cause.

Why, then, has this convoluted tangle remained unsolved for decades?

Perhaps the answer partly lies in the reactions to the US President’s conciliatory speech.

While Obama’s statements were well-received among Palestinian lobbyists, the right-wing militant Hamas wasted no time in heaping scorn on it. On the other side of the fence, within hours of the US government’s announcement that it “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements”, hawkish elements in the right-wing Israeli government announced the construction of 1500 more housing units in occupied Jerusalem.

Peace, unsurprisingly, is not welcome by those whose politics depend on division and hatred.

Selective outrage

The Adhaalath party has stated that “the government should not establish ties with oppressive states that violate international human rights conventions.”

Fair enough. But one must wonder why this magnanimous vision is not being applied uniformly to our ties with the rest of the world.

Why does this party not take the moral high-ground on our ties with China? After all, that country has, by numerous accounts, oppressed the people of Xinjiang and Tibet regions for over half a century.

During Chairman Mao’s infamous Great Leap Forward, between 200,000 and one million Tibetans – of whom Muslims form the largest minority – lost their lives. To this day, the Tibetan government operates in exile and their displaced populations have little hope of returning to their homeland.

Why does the Mullah not demand “nationwide” protests against the twice daily flights operating from India – a country that, according to Amnesty International and various other Human Rights NGOs – has continued to exercise brutal military control over Kashmir since 1947?

Apologists for the “boycott Israel” camp insist there is an as-yet-unexplained “difference” between the Palestinian situation and the rest of the world’s humanitarian crises.

Don’t the Kashmiris, who have been fighting for a homeland and self-representation in the most militarised region of the world for a full year longer than Palestinians, find equal sympathy in the heart of the otherwise easily outraged Mullah?

There are, after all, 1.5 million refugees from the vivisected remains of Muslim-populated Kashmir, according to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Why should the mass-graves unearthed in Kashmir be less of a humanitarian catastrophe than Palestinians going without gasoline?

And why doesn’t the big-hearted Mullah condemn the Kashmiri Islamists as well? Surely, the murder and displacement of over 400,000 Kashmiri Hindus, which the US Congress declared an act of ethnic cleansing in 2006, qualifies as a crime against humanity?

Pray why haven’t the Mullah’s minions gathered outside the Turkish Embassy in Male’ with their pitchforks?

Surely, the Turkish government’s continued denial of justice for the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Armenians – by burning, poisoning, drowning and marching till exhaustion – counts as “violating Human Rights conventions”?

If the Mullah contends those wounds have been healed and forgiven by the passage of time, then perhaps he could also explain his meek silence over the ongoing genocide in Darfur – an area approximately the size of Spain.

Even the Sudanese authorities have officially admitted to a death toll of nearly 20,000 since 2003 – which outnumbers the total Palestinian deaths over the last three decades. Aid agencies on the ground in Darfur have estimated about 400,000 dead as a result of systematic ethnic cleansing, aided and funded by the Sudanese government.

A party that can issue swift press releases condemning the President’s dance moves can certainly spare a word of condemnation for the war crimes in neighboring Sri Lanka, and perhaps organise “nationwide” protests against their airlines as well.

The Maldives continues to maintain ties with undemocratic, repressive regimes throughout the Middle East.

Syria has killed over a thousand Muslims and erased the whereabouts of another ten thousand over the past two months.

Bahrain has ruthlessly cracked down on doctors and nurses attending to injured Muslim protesters.

Should we also reconsider our ties with Pakistan in the light of increasing evidence that points towards decades of sponsored terrorism that has cost numerous lives in bombings of Mosques and market places?

If the argument is that Palestine deserves a special consideration because of the holy sites present there, then the shouldn’t the esteemed Mullah be the first to demand that the Maldives cut off all ties with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – a nation that violates numerous International Human Rights conventions, and is widely alleged to have tortured thousands of its own citizens?

The answer in all these cases, one might reasonably expect, is an unreserved “No”.

Why then does the Mullah vent his spleen so selectively over just one nation – Israel – with a passion and vehemence that he denies for all the other inhuman atrocities taking place in the world?
What explains the Mullahs’ double standards in singling out just one nation – Israel – while maintaining healthy relations with the United States, Italy, England and Australia – all of whom have allegedly ‘wronged our Muslim brothers’ by participating in a global war on abstract concepts?

This two-faced approach towards foreign policy is patently dishonest, disingenuous, and riddled with bias. Genuine empathy and humanitarian compassion is unconditional and transcends all petty distinctions of race, ethnicity and artificial geographical boundaries.

In that context, what is being passed off as ‘humanitarian concern’ by the Adhaalath party, unfortunately, smacks of mere political opportunism.

Sovereign Republic or Arab Satellite state?

A nation is truly sovereign when its leaders have both the will and capacity to take independent decisions that places at its heart the best interests of its citizens.

A note-worthy example is India – the first non-Arab nation to establish diplomatic relations with the PLO, and well-known champion of the Palestinian cause, that nevertheless maintains strong defense and diplomatic ties with Israel.

An indicator of their successful foreign policy would be that despite being a severe critic of Israeli military misadventures in Lebanon and Gaza, India emerged on a 2009 poll conducted on behalf of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, as the most “pro-Israeli” nation in the world ahead of the US!

The sovereignty of Dhivehi Raajje is put under a cloud by those who place Arab priorities above the interests of Dhivehin.

The Maldives was the second nation – and the first Muslim nation – in the world to recognise the state of Israel. Israel became the first modern country to send an ambassador to the Maldives in 1965, during the reign of the Sultan Mohamed Farid.

When the Indian Ocean tsunami struck in 2004, Israel was among the first nations in the world to respond with emergency relief measures. Israeli Magen David Adom has provided training and support to Maldivian armed forces, police and fire departments.

Israeli medical volunteers from ‘Eye from Zion’ have conducted free treatment camps in the Maldives late last year, in a bid to strengthen friendly relations between the two nations.

However, just as with the Hamas and the Far-Right parties in Israel, Maldivian Islamist groups responded to the extended olive branch with claws and daggers.

If hostility seems insurmountable, it is because there are those who cannot stand the idea of peace.

Era of Peace and Dialogue

According to Maulana Jamil Ilyasi, who led an official delegation of the All India Organization of Imams and Mosques, a body representing over 500,000 Imams across India, to Israel in August 2007, “The time for violence has come to an end, and the era of peace and dialogue between Muslims and Jews has begun”

The Senior Indian cleric also called upon Pakistan to recognize the Jewish state, saying “The Jews I have met here say that we are all children of Abraham, part of the same family… The Muslims in India should come and see things for themselves.”

According to Transport and Communications Minister Adil Saleem, 500 Maldivians have traveled to Israel this year – and history bears witness that people-to-people exchanges are the surest way of ensuring lasting peace and mutual understanding.

Those who willfully spurn all attempts at peace have no moral authority to complain about violence.

So when vested interests claim that an Israeli airline would threaten the country – it is a blatant attempt at fanning the fires of hostility.

This so-called “threat” to our statehood and economy comes only from those who seek to stoke baseless controversy for mere political drama.

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].


Israeli national carrier El Al requests permission to fly to Maldives

Israel’s national carrier El Al has formally applied to the Ministry of Civil Aviation to begin flying to the Maldives from December.

President Mohamed Nasheed’s Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair, said he believed the government was inclined to grant permission to the airline.

“Despite the reservations of the Adhaalath Party and other religious groups [in the Maldives], El Al flies to many Arab capitals and is even accessible to those people claiming to work against Israel, who seem to have no objections to it,” Zuhair observed.

He did acknowledge that permitting the airline to fly the Maldives represented “a political obstacle”, but suggested it was “one for the Adhaalath party to explain.”

“Maldivians have not been directly affected by any actions taken by Israel, and the Maldives is in fact involved in peace initiatives undertaken in the Middle East by the Maldivian government,” Zuhair said. “I don’t see the justification for not accepting an Israeli airline that is accepted by Arab states claiming to be victims of Israel.”

The religiously-conservative Adhaalath Party has declared it will terminate its coalition agreement with the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) if it allows an Israeli airline to fly to the Maldives.

In an earlier statement on the matter in April, the party claimed there “were reasons” why out of the 50 Islamic countries, 48 had declined permission for El Al to operate.

“It is because Israel is the biggest enemy of the whole Muslim community, a country that has stolen the holy lands of Muslims, a country that is committing violence against the people of Palestine and as Israeli flights are targets of terrorist organisations, it raises security concerns,” the party said.

An earlier request by the airline’s charter subsidiary Sun D’Or was denied after Israel’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) revoked its license ruling that it was functionally indistinguishable from El Al.

The rebranding effort was an attempt by El Al to circumvent religious backlash from ultra-orthodox Israeli groups over operating flights on the Sabbath and religious holidays, which it claimed were leaving it unable to compete with other major carriers.

Strong anti-Israel sentiment persists in the Maldives. Visiting Israeli eye surgeons from the ‘Eyes from Zion’ NGO were in November met with protests and the burning of the Israeli flag in Male’s Republic Square. The Islamic Foundation NGO contested at the time that Israeli surgeons “have become notorious for illegally harvesting organs from non-Jews around the world.”