Rumors abound over PPM split on appointment of new vice president

Rumors once again swirled in Malé today that former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is opposed to his half-brother, President Abdulla Yameen, appointing the tourism minister as the new vice president. Gayoom, however, for a second time this week, denied favoring a particular candidate.

Newspaper Haveeru today said Gayoom had sent a text message to Yameen warning of negative public perception if the influential tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb is appointed vice president.

The president of 30 years promptly denied the rumor on Twitter, reiterating that the appointment of a deputy is the sole prerogative of the president. “I did not send a message to the President asking him to appoint or not appoint any person as Vice-President,” the PPM leader tweeted from Oman, where he has been sent as a special envoy of the president.

A vote on incumbent vice president Mohamed Jameel Ahmed’s impeachment is expected next week.

Supporters are meanwhile continuing a social media campaign backing Adeeb for the position. The photo campaign has now gathered some 800 participants. But critics have questioned the need for a campaign noting the president is authorized to appoint whomever he desires to the post.

President Abdulla Yameen’s silence on the new appointment, rumors over Gayoom’s opposition and the “ISupportAdeeb4VP” campaign has triggered speculation that Adeeb’s appointment as the new deputy may not be as certain as it appeared in late June, when the Majlis passed a constitutional amendment that makes Adeeb eligible for the vice presidency.

The amendment sets new age-limits of 30-65 years for the presidency and vice presidency. Adeeb is 33 years old and was previously ineligible as the constitution had said candidates must be above 35 years of age.

Soon afterwards, the tourism minister reprimanded Gayoom’s son, newly elected MP Ahmed Faris, for his absence from the vote.

Accusing Faris of letting Yameen down, Adeeb said in a text message in English: “You cannot differentiate youth or any segment with educated, non educated, poor and rich, beyfulhu [aristocrat] or non beyfulhu [non-aristocrat] etc.”

In a second text message, Adeeb told Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) MPs that President Yameen must be allowed to rule without internal resistance. “I have witnessed how difficult it is for HEP Yameen to rule with many frictions, I think we need to discuss this at party level,” he wrote.

Faris’ absence triggered speculation that Gayoom opposed Jameel’s impeachment.

Soon after Haveeru published its article today, Adeeb’s supporters took to social media expressing support for his appointment as the new presidential deputy. “The vice presidency is not reserved for individuals of a particular clan. We must change this way of thinking and allow opportunities for the younger generation,” wrote PPM member Hussain Shinan.

Moosa Anwar, one of the organisers in the campaign told Minivan News today that “the number of people participating in the campaign shows how much support Adeeb has.”

“The current vice president has fled to London and is not doing his job. We are sure Adeeb will make a better VP than Jameel,” he said.

Jameel left to London abruptly the day after the constitutional amendment was passed in Majlis. A 14-day notice for him to answer charges in an impeachment motion submitted to parliament by the ruling party expired today without a written response.

Rumours also spread today about the government is clearing out the vice president’s residence Hilaaleege. However, the Maldives National Defence Force spokesperson denied the claims.

President Yameen is meanwhile yet to publicly comment either on the vice president’s impeachment or a favoured candidate for the post.

Speaking to Minivan News today, president’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said that “only the president will know who he will appoint to the post, if the post becomes vacated for whatever reasons.”

Yameen is reportedly seeking to replace Jameel over incompetence and disloyalty. In a meeting with the PPM parliamentary group last week, Yameen reportedly showed MPs proof of Jameel’s correspondence with opposition politicians ahead of a mass anti-government protest on May 1. In the messages Jameel reportedly asked if the opposition will let him assume the presidency if Yameen is ousted.

The opposition says Yameen wants to replace Jameel because he is fatally ill and is seeking a more loyal deputy ahead of a major surgery.

Jameel was not available for comment at the time of going to press. In an interview with the New Indian Express, he had labeled his impeachment a constitutional coup and suggested that the international community must intervene.

The PPM has secured the opposition’s backing for the impeachment motion, which was submitted with 61 signatures. A two-thirds majority or 57 votes will be required to vote Jameel out of office.

The parliament has also amended its standing orders to fast track the vice president’s impeachment.

The opposition’s backing for the amendment was widely perceived to be a deal made in exchange for jailed ex-president Mohamed Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest.

The government and Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) are currently engaged in talks to resolve a six-month long political crisis.


Gayoom ‘unhappy’ with age limits for presidency

MPs of the ruling coalition have backed a constitutional amendment setting age limits for the presidency against the wishes of ex-president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Gayoom, who heads the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), had sent a letter to the party’s parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan stating that MPs should wait on approval from the PPM executive council before supporting the amendment.

However, at an emergency meeting tonight, MPs of the PPM and its ally the Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) decided that the parliamentary group does not require approval from the council.

The amendment – proposed by MDA MP Mohamed Ismail – proposes setting an age limit of 30 to 65 years for the presidency. The constitution currently only says a candidate must be 35 years of age.

If passed, the bill would bar Gayoom from contesting presidential polls. The former president, who is now in his early 80s, had served six terms from 1978 to 2008.

“Deeply saddened”

Minivan News has learnt that Gayoom had sent a text message to Nihan on the morning of June 9 expressing disapproval with the proposal. “I reject the proposal to set age limits for the presidency. It will only bring President Yameen into disrepute. Setting a cap on the age of a presidential candidate is not done anywhere in the world.”

Shortly after the message was sent, some 44 MPs voted to consider the amendment and sent it to a sub committee for review.

After the vote, Gayoom, in a second text message to Nihan said: “I am deeply saddened. There is no point to a man whose opinions are not considered staying on as PPM president.”

The parliamentary committee has since voted to accept the bill. It will now be sent to the parliament floor for approval.

The bill has fuelled speculation that President Abdulla Yameen plans to replace vice-president Mohamed Jameel Ahmed with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, who is now 33 and ineligible for the position.

Yameen is Gayoom’s half-brother.

The relationship between President Yameen and Dr Jameel is reportedly under strain. Jameel’s cousin, Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, was dismissed from the cabinet last month. The government did not provide a reason for the dismissal.

Yameen is currently in Germany in an unannounced visit and is due back on Sunday.


A three- quarters majority or 64 votes will be needed to amend the constitution. The ruling coalition controls 48 seats in the 85-member house, and will need the backing of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the Jumhooree Party (JP).

A three-quarters majority will also be needed to impeach Jameel.

JP leader Gasim Ibrahim has urged the nine JP MPs to back the amendment, although it would bar him from contesting the next presidential elections. He will be 66 in 2018.

Gasim announced last week that he will retire from politics once his five-year term as Maamigili MP expires in 2019. The tourism tycoon’s announcement comes weeks after the government slapped a US$90.4million fine on his Villa Group and froze the accounts of five of Villa Group’s subsidiary companies.

The claim was issued after the JP split from the PPM and allied with the MDP in a campaign against President Yameen’s alleged authoritarianism.

Gasim has since suspended the JP campaign and remained silent on the imprisonment of MDP leader and ex-president Mohamed Nasheed. The JP is in disarray with two senior officials facing terrorism charges.

The MDP, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party and several JP MPs are continuing the campaign for Nasheed’s release.


Opposition’s claim of leadership rift angers Gayoom

Former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has urged the opposition not to make political statements on his behalf.

The appeal comes after the opposition Maldivians Against Brutality coalition claimed the president of 30 years is unhappy with his half-brother President Abdulla Yameen’s administration.

“Everyone kindly refrain from making political statements on my behalf. I am capable of expressing my views,” the leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) tweeted last night.

Gayoom remains popular despite his defeat in the Maldives’ first multi-party polls in 2008.

Rumours of rifts within the PPM have increased since the imprisonment of PPM MP Ahmed Nazim and ex defence minister Mohamed Nazim, and MP Ahmed Mahloof’s acrimonious split from the party.

The opposition coalition, made up of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, religious conservative Adhaalath Party, members of Nazim’s family and leadership figures of the Jumhooree Party, have been protesting against what they call president Yameen’s attempts to silence dissent.

Speaking at an opposition rally on the island of Kulhudhuffushi on Saturday night, Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla said: “President Maumoon is with us.”

Gayoom found the conviction and sentencing of PPM MP Ahmed Nazim on corruption charges “unacceptable,” he alleged.

Nazim, formerly a close associate of president Yameen, now appears to have fallen out of favour with the current administration. Tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb blamed Nazim last year for a damning report implicating him in a US$6 million corruption scandal.

Gayoom, however, said Nazim’s “service” to the PPM, the parliament, and President Yameen’s campaign should be valued and appreciated.

“However, we should all abide by and accept court verdicts so I don’t want to say anything about that. Even if Ahmed Nazim had to give up his People’s Majlis seat after such a verdict, we should all acknowledge his service to the People’s Majlis,” he said at a PPM rally on Thursday night.

After Gayoom’s speech, president Yameen reportedly left the rally before it ended, fuelling speculation of a rift between the brothers. But the president’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said the president had to leave on an emergency and was not scheduled to speak.

Gayoom told reporters last month that there was no friction between himself and the president.

He also dismissed claims by Imran that he was a victim of the government’s “brutality.”

“Things are going very well with the party working together with the government. There is no discontent at all,” he said.

He suggested that the opposition was using his name for their political purposes.


JP defection is no loss to government, says Gayoom

The Jumhooree Party’s (JP) departure from the Progressive Coalition causes no loss to the government, says Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) leader and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Arriving in Malé after attending an environmental forum in New Delhi, Gayoom told media that the current government remains “strong and steadfast”.

“Initially, we had a coalition between three political parties, now there is one between two. The coalition with JP broke apart due to some disagreements that arose a while ago. However, the coalition with MDA [Maldives Development Alliance] remains very strong,” he said.

The JP has today responded by suggesting that the PPM leader was unwilling to see violations committed by the ruling coalition.

The party officially joined the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) last week, after having officially left the coalition, though relations with the PPM were effectively severed in May last year.

After describing the opposition’s claims to be defending the Constitution as laughable last week, Gayoom again criticised the agreement.

“If they claim to be protecting the Constitution, then they must also tell us exactly how the incumbent government has acted against the Constitution. They haven’t been able to do so. The truth is, they don’t really have much of essence to say about this,” he told media.

The former 30-year ruler asserted that the administration of his half-brother Abdulla Yameen respects the Constitution, rejecting claims that the replacement of the auditor general last October, and the dismissal of two Supreme Court judges in December, was unconstitutional.

He insisted that those actions cannot be described as undermining the Constitution, as they were taken “lawfully through the establishment of laws”.

“These laws are made in ways that the Constitution allow us to. We can’t make any laws that go against the Constitution, as the contradicting clauses will themselves become void. So these actions were conducted in accordance with what the Constitution stipulates,” he explained.

Doesn’t want to see: JP

JP Spokesperson Ahmed Sameer has subsequently dismissed Gayoom’s comments, stating that the current government’s unconstitutional actions are “apparent for all to see”, suggesting that Gayoom chooses not to acknowledge them.

“Gayoom sees them, knows about them, and is deliberately using the majority that the PPM currently has to undermine the rights of the people,” alleged Sameer.

“We citizens should be deeply concerned if a man who ruled for such a long time cannot even recognise violations of people’s rights while it is happening right in front of him”.

He went on to give various instances in which the party believes the government has acted unconstitutionally.

“One of the first statements by the President’s Spokesperson was a justification of why President Yameen did not mention the judiciary in his presidential address in the parliament. He then said that the judiciary is absolutely strong and without fault. Why then did he bring such a major change to such a solid institution later on?” asked Sameer.

The spokesman went on to say that, when deciding which two judges to remove from the Supreme Court bench, the government had dismissed two of the judges most trusted by the public, while allowing a “disgraced judge” to remain in position.

He also pointed to the proposed constitutional amendment submitted to parliament, seeking to restrict persons over 65 years of age from running for presidency.

“The constitution clearly states that any citizen can run for an elected position. How then can this amendment be in accordance with the law?” he asked.

“It is a deeply concerning matter that Gayoom is turning a blind eye to the atrocities against the Constitution being committed by the rule of his party,” Sameer concluded.

The Progressive Coalition currently controls 49 of the Majlis’ 85 seats, while the opposition alliance – which has pledged to work together both inside and outside the Majlis – has a combined 34 MPs.

Related to this story

Gasim defiant as opposition sign agreement to defend Constitution

Opposition alliance a “waste of time”, says Gayoom

Judiciary excluded from presidential address due to Yameen’s trust in the institution

Majlis removes Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz, Justice Muthasim Adnan from Supreme Court


PPM dismisses rumors Gayoom may leave party

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) has dismissed rumors that President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom may leave the party as “baseless and false”.

“We assure our beloved members [Gayoom] will not leave this party and join another party or take on any position in another party,” said a statement released on Tuesday (November 18).

The former president of 30 years was elected as PPM president at the party’s 2012 congress, a year after his acrimonious split from the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

The statement came in response to rumors Gayoom may rejoin the DRP, local media have said.

Speculation of tension between Gayoom and his half brother President Abdulla Yameen has grown since the PPM parliamentary group’s decision to reject Gayoom’s choice for the post of Prosecutor General, his nephew Maumoon Hameed.

However, the two have presented a united front with joint-appearances at party functions on PPM’s third anniversary in power.

Gayoom on November 13 congratulated Yameen for allegedly fulfilling majority of pledges in the PPM manifesto and said Maldivians had found new life in Yameen’s presidency.

Gayoom had founded the DRP in 2005 and ran on the party ticket for the 2008 multiparty presidential election. When he lost, Gayoom retired from politics and handed over the party reigns to him former running mate Ahmed Thasmeen Ali.

He was then given the title of Zaeem or Honorary leader.

However in April 2011, Gayoom established the Zaeem DRP or Z-DRP as a separate branch of DRP amidst growing tension between himself and Thasmeen. He went on to  establish the PPM in September 2011.

Thasmeen defected to the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) during the presidential elections of September 2013 after he and former President Dr Mohamed Waheed gained only five percent of the popular vote.

MP ‘Colonel’ Mohamed Nasheed – who had defected to the DRP from the MDP – ahead of the presidential vote took over DRP and announced a rebrand effort. He has said the next DRP congress will see a resolution to award Gayoom the title of Zaeem again.

Nasheed has previously described the party as now being in the ‘ICU’, accusing the party’s former leadership of leaving behind MVR10million in debt (US$ 64,5161) and abandoning the party with its data and assets.

Related to this story

PPM MPs to vote Muhthaz for PG in defiance of party leader’s appeal

Gayoom’s new party to be called Progressive Party of Maldives

DRP announces rebrand effort


Presidential selfie spurs debate on nationalism, unity, and transitional justice

Sunday (November 16) will mark 100 days since Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan disappeared. As friends and family continue to hope for his safe return, some of Rilwan’s best work will be re-published as a reminder of his talents and dedication to his profession.

This article was originally published during the AFC Challenge Cup, held in the Maldives in May, 2014.

The highlight of last night’s Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup match between the Maldives and Kyrgyztan was not the Maldives’ win by two goals, but a selfie between former Presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed.

The picture of the rivals went viral within minutes and spurred intense social media debates on nationalism, unity and transitional justice.

Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has accused Gayoom of torture during his 30 year reign and of ousting Nasheed on February 7, 2012 in a coup.

Meanwhile, Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) accused Nasheed and the MDP of attempting to destroy Islam and sovereignty during November’s presidential elections. Despite vitriolic accusations, the two presidents sat side by side last night and, accompanied by President Abdulla Yameen, reportedly only discussed sports and unity.

Gayoom has titled the selfie ‘Maldives United’ while Nasheed reportedly said the picture was “very nice.”

All of us together to support our national team! It was a joy to watch our team playing so well!

— Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (@maumoonagayoom) May 21, 2014

The social media response was largely positive from across the political spectrum, with Mohamed Azmee Moosa commenting: “Former presidents being alive and living with us is a new thing for Maldivians. The country is going forward slowly.”

The first President of the Maldives, Mohamed Ameen Didi was lynched by a mob after he was ousted in 1954 and the second president Ibrahim Nasir left Maldives to live in exile in 1978.

Another photo of 3 President from last night’s match #Maldives — Rishvan (@iamrishvan) May 22, 2014

#Selfie of the century. Thank you my heroes @Maumoonagayoom@MohamedNasheed #12thManMv — Hasan A. Hilmy (@HasanHilmy) May 21, 2014

“If it is this much, we should plead to hold a tournament like this in Maldives every three months,” Shafy tweeted.

While many MDP supporters praised Nasheed for his appearance with Gayoom, others expressed a sense of betrayal claiming the nationalism propagated by the picture appeared to dismiss the real issues of police brutality and reversal of judicial reform in the aftermath of Nasheed’s ouster.

@NzRv this pic is historical, the one who jailed and put him at the brink of death, now wants a selfie with him, the miracle of Allah! — Chironex Enslaved (@chironexx) May 22, 2014

As for President Nashyd & Maumoon’s selfie, that was a display of unity & it especially defines the character of the former. Respect. — Summer Nashyd (@SummerNashyd) May 21, 2014

Feb 7th is gone. Nasheed just left office on his own accord. There was no coup. There was no threats to his life. It’s unity time. — NzRv (@NzRv) May 21, 2014

The fact that President Yameen has recently expressed that an intended outcome of hosting the football tournament in Maldives was “to forget the past and for friendly relations and unity” seems to have strengthened this perception.

“The video of [police] beating up [people] like wild animals on 8 February are still there. After giving promotions to the perpetrators of these crimes they are talking about nationalism.” Said Mujoo.

“I don’t want to revive nationalism after bringing about a coup and fornicating judges [in the judiciary]” He said in another tweet.

Gaumiyyath; such a beautiful word. Not when applied to turning a blind eye to the country’s situation & showing adulation to a football team — SighPad Mohamed™ (@sipadmohd) May 21, 2014

Where could this negative reaction towards supporting a national team possibly come from? Some commenters have highlighted the use of national slogans to divide and incite hatred in society in the lead up to the alleged coup d’état on February 7.

so much hate probably because gaumee flags (same as gaumee team’s) was used to bring a bagaavaai?

— shahee ilyas (@projectionist) May 19, 2014

@AhmedMarzooq Then don’t use my flag as the symbol of a coup d’état and use the exact same slogans to promote the national team. — Shauna Aminath (@anuahsa) May 20, 2014

Others highlighted the state’s excessive spending on the AFC Challenge Cup and President Yameen’s pledge to present MVR1 million to the national team if they won the cup.

The Anti Corruption Commission has since announced it is investigating corruption allegations against the Football Association of Maldives (FAM) with connections to the AFC Challenge cup.

“I have no issues with the team, I also want our national team to win. But how they are doing things is my issue. They are wasting public money while there are other issues which needs to be addressed now, a lot things that we can spend money on including other sports,” said Ahmed Fauzan.

Others said they believe last night’s unity would only be temporary, highlighting the numerous social issues that continue to grip Maldivian society.

“I don’t think football can really unite us with all that is going on here. Cost of living is increasing, there are these issues with our judiciary,” noted Fathmath Sidhana.

“Perhaps it is in President Nasheed’s character to forgive, forget and move on. But I don’t think it will work now after the coup and all this. So they took a selfie together, and everything is supposed to be okay now?” she asked.

Commenters also called on Maldivians to direct the enthusiasm they have for football towards social issues.

Dhivehin boalhayah mihunna kanu foari Qawmy kanthah thakah huri dhuvahakun mi Qawm hama magah elhidhaa hutteve. Pathetic lot.

— Aimi ♥s Anni (@AimiAngel) May 21, 2014

The discussion then spiralled into questions about what nationalism and unity means and why it is important for Maldivians.

@SampAbdul temporary tolerance isnt unity

— Kafa kokko (@SuckerPunch199) May 21, 2014

@sipadmohd @moyameehaa i would rather have freedom than unity

— kuhthaa (@kuhthaa) May 21, 2014

@moyameehaa Unity is nothing without justice and equality.

— Noosh (@NooshinWaheed) May 21, 2014

For Evan Amir, this unity brought about by football is good enough though he knows it is temporary.

@anuahsa: Gaumiyyathakee football akun binaa kurevey ehcheh noon.” Fact is it brings the country together. Good enough for me. — Evan Amir (@Evanoxide) May 19, 2014

“This whole thing has been politicised by some and we all know that, but all I am saying is that when the team start playing let us all be with the team.”

“It is a fact that sports unite people, and here in Maldives the most popular sport is football. Football is uniting us now. So regardless of whatever would happen after that, please don’t ruin it. Let’s not politicise the game,” said Evan, a football fan and supporter of President Nasheed.

Secretary General of the Maldives Olympic Committee and former football star Ahmed Marzooq also said unity and peace can be achieved through sports.

“The only thing which could make rivals to sit together and take selfies is football” , he tweeted.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Marzooq said: “It was a very good thing, and I am glad that FAM invited the three presidents. Sports is the most important tool for uniting and building patriotism is sports.”

“History has proven this, that unity and peace can be achieved through sports, and it should be utilised for that. We can all see that it is working here as well. I just think we should have focused on this even earlier during the promotion of the games, we should have used former players and spread the message of unity beginning at that stage.”

When captain Ali Ashfaq, nicknamed ‘Dhagandey’ [man of steel], saluted the three presidents on scoring a goal, many wondered which of the three president he had intended the salute for?

PPM supporters claimed the salute was in honor of President Yameen’s 55th birthday, but MDP supporters said it was for Nasheed as he was the chief guest at last night’s match. The dispute was only resolved when Ashfaq, on his official facebook page – liked by nearly 41600 fans – said that it was meant for all three presidents and that he looked forward for the support from everyone in the next game as well.

true dat “@Reetho: Politicians divide da country Ashfag unites da country Ashfag proves he is a better leader

— Shixlene (@shixlene) May 21, 2014

With all their reservations and criticism, there was one thing everyone agreed on – they are all with the national football team. Many believed the love for football and the national team will provide some level of healing even if it is does not cure the nation completely.

The explosion of unity and patriotism associated with football may be short -lived, but it is undoubtedly real and it could help patch up the nation’s political divide.


Comment: Afrasheem, Rilwan, and the future of the Maldivian community

Writing in the 1970s, anthropologist Clarence Maloney remarked that religion in the Maldives was limited to “washing, fasting and praying”.

What he meant is similar to what MB Hooker observed in the Southeast Asian Muslim populations – Islam was characterised by “a ‘non-literally’ Muslim culture”, limited largely to practice without much theorisation and philosophising.

However, since the 1980s – and especially since the year 2000 – the most spectacular change in our culture has been the conscious appropriation and questioning of received religious doctrines and practices. Processes associated with modernisation and mass education have enabled this never-ending fragmentation of discourses, interpretations, and different visions at a larger scale.

This is what Eickelman and James Piscatori described as the “objectification of Muslim consciousness” that has now swept the whole Muslim world. Maldives is no exception to this.


It was in this emerging context of fragmented religious discourses and different religious interpretations that the regime of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom suppressed both those who embraced Salafi interpretations of Sharia and those drawn toward more pluralist Sharia.

It is in this context – now characterised by extreme political and social uncertainties – that one of the most prominent Maldivian religious scholars, Dr Afrasheem Ali, was murdered in October 2012. It was also in this same context that my friend, journalist, and human rights activist Ahmed Rilwan disappeared six weeks ago.

None of us yet knows the truth about those tragedies. But what we know is that both have significant religious context. Afrasheem had faced harassment and assault on several occasions because of his religious views. Similarly, Rilwan – once a Salafist – received threats because of his criticisms of certain understandings of Sharia.

More importantly, the murder and disappearance sends a chilling message to the rest of us – religious disagreements cannot be tolerated.

The fact of the matter is that, however small and homogenous, ours is now a society characterised by pluralism. We cannot wish away these disagreements on deep questions of what the good life is.

In need of a new moral order…

But ethical and religious disagreements do not mean there is no possibility of a moral order for collective life that we could come to agree upon.

Such a moral order must be based on political and moral principles that we all can – or should – value, i.e. liberty, equality, and peace. These are also among the higher values that Islam stands for.

In this moral order, there should be a maximum and genuine role for religion. It is not a secularist moral order where religion must be privatised, or religion is seen as something that will just disappear with the rise of ‘rationality,’ science, or modernisation.

In my view, both the Maldivian Democratic Party and the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party/Progressive Party of Maldives have failed to articulate a vision of democracy that genuinely respects the place of religion in democracy.

Officials of both governments have characterised religious people as somehow irrational or pre-modern. Both governments have tried to control or co-opt religion in their instrumentalist and ideological narrowness.

A democracy based on such a moral order does not make a fetish out of ‘secularism’ or ‘separation of religion from the state’. Secularism is not about separation as such. It is about certain moral ends, including liberty and equality.

Sometimes separation and at other times accommodation will promote those values. There is no a priori fixed solution (such as “a wall of separation”) to the relationship of religion to the state in order to achieve those ends.

Context is everything. And contextual reasoning is the way forward.

Thus the moral order the Maldives need is not that of the mainstream secularism we find in France, Turkey, or sometimes even the US – where the value of religion and the rights of religious people are not fully recognised.

In this new moral order, religious parties and religious scholars must have an equal place in the public sphere as their secular counterparts. Laws and policies based on religious values must have a place too. How else could it be, unless we think we can simply separate our religious selves from our political selves?

Only a ‘thin’ liberal conception of citizenship based on a ‘thin’ understanding of epistemology would think moral truth is somehow ‘secular’.

…for a new imagined community

To be sure, in concrete terms, this moral order means freedom of religion cannot be denied – citizenship cannot be denied on religious grounds. How can anyone of us in all religious honesty deny this basic and God-given right?

Even Gayoom, who was the architect of the prevailing insular nation-identity based on ‘sattain satta muslim quam/100 per cent Muslim nation’ had to acknowledge that the denial of religious freedom in the Maldives was in spite of Islam:

The real essence of Islam…is that it is non-discriminatory. Its tolerance of other beliefs and religions is clearly established in the Holy Quran…

We Maldivians…hold freedom of belief as sacred and we abhor discrimination…on any grounds whether of creed, colour or race. It is only that we are such a homogenous…society based on one national identity…that we are convinced that the preservation of this oneness in faith and culture is essential for the unity, harmony, and progress of the country.

Gayoom, Address at the Opening Ceremony of the Seminar on ”The Calls for Islam in South and South East Asia’, 1983

In other words, a universal precept of Quran was overridden by his attempt at creating a homogenous ‘imagined community’. While this imagined community had been homogenous, the real community has undergone fragmentation of religious discourse.

As a result, the national self-understanding that Gayoom – still leader of the country’s ruling political party – created is now being subjected to vigorous contestation from all fronts – both religious and secular. That is why we are in need of a new moral order for a new imagined community.

Why Afrasheem and Rilwan matter

Perhaps one of the biggest immediate challenges for a new moral order in the Maldives is related to the tragedies of Afrasheem and Rilwan.

Besides our human concern for them, the need for a new moral order is the long-term reason why we all must be concerned to find truth about them. That is why everyone should be calling for greater accountability of the government in these cases.

That is why I support the #suvaalumarch taking place tomorrow afternoon (September 19) in Malé.

For the future of democratisation in the direction of this new moral order is contingent on seeking truth and justice for Afrasheem and Rilwan.

Azim Zahir is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Muslim States and Societies, University of Western Australia.


Gayoom calls for a probe into parliamentary committee rejection of nephew for PG

Former president and ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has called for a probe into a parliamentary committee’s rejection of his nephew for the post of Prosecutor General.

Maumoon Hameed failed to garner the required 75 points to obtain committee recommendation. The previous People’s Majlis had also rejected Hameed for the post in April.

The People’s Majlis independent institutions oversight committee – in which the PPM holds a majority – gave Hameed 33 percent and President Abdulla Yameen’s second nominee and Criminal Court Judge Muhuthaz Muhusin 67 percent.

In a letter to PPM parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan, Gayoom said chair of the committee PPM MP Ali Saleem had acted against the wishes of Yameen and must be held accountable for his actions.

Gayoom said he had received reports Saleem’s had not followed due process in the vetting process.

Candidates were summoned for interviews without a committee vote and the vetting criteria were not approved by the committee, said Gayoom.

Further, there were reports mark sheets were not tallied in the presence of MPs, he said.

Saleem had also failed to respond to opposition MP Rozaina Adam’s question over Muhsin’s eligibility.

Gayoom said judges could not stand for the position as per Article 151 of the constitution. Muhuthaz would lose his judgeship following his application to the post of Prosecutor General, he added.

“I do not believe that any person can take up the post of Prosecutor General while he is serving as a judge,” Gayoom said, referring to “a legal norm” whereby a former judge could only represent a client as a lawyer only after two years pass after resignation.

“Hence, please investigate this issue thoroughly and present a report to me before this matter is forwarded to the Majlis floor,” Gayoom said.

The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) has since said judges are allowed to apply for positions in the state’s independent institutions.

The independent institutions oversight committee interviewed candidates on Thursday, July 10, and decided against recommending either candidate on Monday, July 14.

Marks were reportedly awarded following evaluation of their academic qualifications, experience, competency, management skills, leadership qualities, achievements and integrity.

The committee is comprised of five PPM members, one Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) MP, three opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members and two Jumhooree Party (JP) members.

PPM Parliamentary Group leader Ahmed Nihan was not responding to calls at the time of press.

The PG’s post has been vacant since November following the resignation of Ahmed Muizz ahead of a scheduled no-confidence motion in parliament.

Moreover, Acting PG Hussein Shameem’s resignation in early May brought the criminal justice system to a halt after state prosecutors went on strike, citing concerns of a lack of accountability in the absence of a PG.

However, the Supreme Court ordered prosecutors to resume work “without any further excuse” and ordered the seniormost official at the PG office to assume the PG’s responsibilities.

President Yameen meanwhile refused to submit a new nominee to the 17th Majlis during the crisis and opened up a third call for applicants, announcing his intention to nominate Hameed – son of former Atolls Minister Abdulla Hameed – for a second time to the newly elected 18th People’s Majlis.


Comment: The long road from Islam to Islamism

This article first appeared on Dhivehi Sitee. Republished with permission.

Popular Maldivian history does not go much further back than the 12th Century, when King Dhovemi Kalaminja converted to Islam and ruled that all his subjects must follow suit. Long forgotten or neglected history books, however, tell us that life in the Maldives—or MaladvipaDheeva Maari; or Dheeva Mahal as it was known in antiquity—began centuries previously.

The ancient Sri Lankan chronicle of The Mahavamsa connects the origins of Maldivian people to the Sinhalese through the story of excommunicated Indian princes from the Kalinga kingdom in the 6th Century. More recent Maldivian research, A New Light into Maldivian History (1958), traces Maldivian life even further back to the 3rd Century. Some historians have theorised that the first settlers in the Maldives could have emerged as soon as Greco-maritime trade began in the region making it very likely that the first Maldivians were “Prakrit speaking Satavahanas of the Deccan, Tamil speaking Chera, Chola, Pandyas of South India, and Prakrit speaking Sinhalese of Sri Lanka.”

Among these early Maldivians who predate the arrival of exiled Indian princes were descendants of the Tivaru people of ancient Tamil origin who later came to be known as ‘Giraavaru people’. They practised an ancient form of Hinduism involving Dravidian ritualistic traditions venerating Surya, the Sun god. The Giraavaru people, although now so totally assimilated into Maldivian society as to be indistinguishable from the rest, maintained a variety of their distinct traditions and culture until as late as the 1980s. It took a concerted, and often inhumane, effort by the government to finally make them conform to the majority’s norm.

Successive governments also made sustained and systematic efforts to wipe out all history of the Buddhist community that had long existed in the Maldives until about 900 years ago. Just like the history of the Giraavaru people, however, the digging does not have to be too deep to uncover just how ingrained Buddhist ways and culture had been in Maldivian life for years. While archaeologists like HCP Bell have uncovered Buddhist structures buried underground, ethnologists like Xavier Romero-Frias have traced the origins of much of classical Maldivian cultural, linguistic, and traditional traits to the Buddhist era.

The beginning of the end of Maldivian Buddhism came with Arab domination of trade in the Indian Ocean in the 7th Century. Just as the rise of China and India, and the US foreign policy’s Asia Pivot, have made the Maldives geo-strategically important today, so it was with the ancient Silk Route. Foreign powers were drawn to the Maldives by its location and its abundance of cowry shells, the currency of many. The spread of Islam along the Silk Route is well documented.

In the Maldives, it is a widely accepted ‘truth’ that the conversion of the Maldives population to Islam was peaceful—people willingly converted with their King. There are, however, historical accounts that dispute the narrative exist in the form of writing on copperplates (Isdū Lōmāfānu) dating back to the 12th Century. These have not been made widely accessible to the public. In their place is a legend, first told orally then formalised as historical fact and included in primary school text books, which depicts Maldivian conversion to Islam as a reaction to the cruel deeds of a sea demon.

As the story goes, the demon appeared like a ‘ship of lights’ once a month, demanding virgin girls to be delivered to it at night to a designated location. In the morning the demon would be gone, and the virgin would be found dead. A Berber or Persian, who was visiting Maldives at the time, volunteered to go to the demon in place of the chosen virgin one night. He stayed up all night reciting the Qur’an. When the demon appeared, the sound of the Qur’an gradually diminished it in size until it was small enough to be put into a bottle. The Arab traveller sealed the bottle and disposed of it into the deep blue sea, banishing it forever. A grateful King Kalaminja converted to Islam, and his obedient subjects followed suit. Hundreds of years of Buddhism disappeared, allegedly, without trace. From then on King Kalaminja became Sultan Muhammad Ibn Abdullah and Maldives became 100 percent Muslim.

The first major threat to the new Maldivian way of life came four centuries later, with Portuguese occupation in the 16th Century. Unlike latter colonial powers like the Dutch and the British, the Portuguese occupiers did not allow Maldivians autonomy in their internal affairs. Stories of Portuguese wine-drinking and merry-making abound in Maldivian historical accounts of their presence. One of the most potent weapons used to rally Maldivians behind the efforts to oust the Portuguese was religious rhetoric—the biggest threat from the Portuguese occupation, it was said, was to the Islamic faith of Maldivians. The day on which the Portuguese were defeated is now marked as the National Day, and the chief protagonists in the story of their ouster are venerated as the most heroic of figures in the history of the Maldives.

Religious rhetoric as a means of rallying support for political change, established as a success during the battle against the Portuguese, was once again deployed with similar triumph in the 20th Century. In 1953, while Maldives was still a British Protectorate, Mohamed Amin Didi became the first President of the Maldives. Amin Didi is largely credited with ending monarchy and steering the country towards a Republic. He is also known as a moderniser and an advocate for women’s rights. Amin Didi’s presidency—and the First Republic—lasted less than a year. Just as religious rhetoric was successfully used in ousting the Portuguese, so was similar discourse produced to brutally end Amin Didi’s presidency. Even the famine caused by WWII was tied to religious discourse and blamed on Amin Didi.

The Maldives’ first experiences of ‘Western modernity’ began during the Second Republic, with the arrival of tourists from Europe. The world had just lived through the counter-culture of the 1960s, the Maldives was no longer a British Protectorate, the Second Republic had been established, and Ibrahim Nasir was the president. Unlike its neighbours and contemporaries in other parts of the world, modernity was not enforced on the Maldives by a foreign power—it arrived with tourists and was adopted voluntarily by many locals, especially in the capital Male’ and surrounding areas.

The Islam that existed in the Maldives at this time was an amalgamation of Islamic teachings, Buddhist Eveyla traditions and Sufi practises and rituals. Writers and historians such as HCP Bell, Clarence Maloney, Francois Pyrad and Xavier Romero-Frias have provided rare insights into Maldivian Islamic traditions. Many of them have now disappeared, or been made to disappear, as Western modernity and Islamism took hold of and begun to dictate Maldivian life. The total obliteration of Islam as it was practised in the Maldives for centuries began in earnest with the assumption of power by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Gayoom, who ruled the Maldives for 30 years (1978-2008), was the country’s third president. Gayoom had spent most of his adolescent years in Egypt, having arrived there at the age of 12 in 1950 and left in 1969 as a graduate of Al-Azhar University. His politics, faith and worldview was largely shaped by what he saw and learned during almost two decades in the Middle East. When he was sworn in as president of the Maldives in November 1978, Iran was paralysed by demonstrations that heralded the Islamic Revolution. Relations between ‘the Arab world’ and the West were tense after the Arab-Israeli War of 1967 and the OPEC-led oil embargo in 1973-74.

From the moment Gayoom assumed power, he intertwined Maldivian identity with that of his own, i.e. influenced and shaped by Egyptian culture, outlook, and beliefs. Maldivian Islam was, for the next thirty years, shaped, directed and dictated by Gayoom, the Egyptian graduate.

The Maldivian Constitution of 1968 stipulated Islam as the state religion. In 1997 Gayoom enacted a new constitution in which he gave the head of state—then himself—the power to be ‘the ultimate authority to impart the tenets of Islam’. This formalised what had been the status quo since his rule began. The first real challenge to Gayoom’s religious authority, granted to him by a constitution he more or less drafted, came from the Maldivian Islamic revivalist scholars educated in Pakistan, mostly on scholarships provided by external sources.

Several of the returning graduates challenged not just Gayoom’s religious authority but also his right to dictate what form of Islam Maldivians should practise. Gayoom was brutal in his crackdown on the practise of fundamentalist Islam, driving those who practised it to unite against his authority. Adhaalath Party was the result.

Since then the party has undergone many changes, and has evolved into the most vocal Islamist party in the history of the country. Its founding members are no longer together, some having left to join the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) while others have remained with Adhaalath which has, in a volte face hard to fathom, now aligned itself with Gayoom and his People’s Party of the Maldives (PPM).

Adhaalath’s most successful time came during the first three years of democracy in the Maldives, flourishing in the environment of free expression fostered by President Mohamed Nasheed.

The global roots of Islamism

Changes in religious practises the Maldives has undergone throughout its history have invariably been linked with changing international patterns of behaviour. Islam came, for example, with burgeoning trade on the Silk Route. Portuguese influences that are said to have threatened Maldivian Islam came with the beginning of the European colonisation project. Gayoom brought with him Egyptian Islam at a time when Iran was going through the Islamic Revolution and tension was high between ‘the Arab world’ and ‘the West.’ Islamism arrived with a vengeance as the world began to talk to of a ‘clash of civilisations’ between Islam and the West.

In attempting to understand the current religious habits of the Maldivian population, it is helpful to look at what Islamism is, and how it has progressed through history to become the force it is today.

The Columbia World Dictionary of Islamism describes political Islam as having emerged in its modern form as a movement against secular pan-Arabism and/or autocrats endorsed by the West. Its objective is to return to a ‘Golden Age of Islam’ where Shari’a is implemented and the State is Islamised at all levels. Intellectual heavy-weights of the movement such as Mawlana Abdul A’la Mawdudi, Sayyid Qutb and Abdulla Azzam shared and propagated the idea that man-made law is tantamount to apostasy and is denotive of Jahiliyya.

Osama bin Laden was a great admirer of Qutb’s ideas and thinking. [Incidentally, in his authorised autobiography, Gayoom, too, professes to be a Qutb admirer.] The ideas made popular by Qutb and his contemporaries were, however, not new; they have been around for centuries. Thirteenth century Salafist thinker Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyya floated such ideas during the Mongol Empire’s expansion into the Middle East; Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab, whose thinking engendered what is today known as Wahhabism, propagated similar ideas in the eighteenth century; and, Indian Muslim activist Sayyid Ahmed Rei Barelvi did the same in the early nineteenth century.

Following in their footsteps, Islamist leaders have mobilised resistance against various types of regimes—imperialists, Muslim secularists, autocrats, liberal democracies—that were grappling with a shift from the traditional to the modern. Some analysts have contextualised Islamic fundamentalism as a strand of anti-colonial resistance to European expansion into territories previously held by the Ottoman Empire which began after the Enlightenment. In Al-Qaeda and What it Means to be Modern, John Gray points out, for instance, that Qutb—a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood—borrows heavily from European anarchism. His ideas were influenced, Gray has noted, by the ‘Jacobins, through to the Bolsheviks and latter day Marxist guerrillas.’

A similar explanation for the phenomenon of Islamism has been offered by French professor Olivier Roy inGlobalised Islam: the Search for a New Ummah. Roy asserts that ‘fundamentalism is both a product and an agent of globalisation, because it acknowledges without nostalgia the loss of pristine cultures, and see [as] positive the opportunity to build a universal religious identity, delinked from any specific culture.’

Islamism in the Maldives

Being poor, under-developed and geographically isolated, and lacking in rich natural resources (other than beauty), foreign powers left Maldives pretty much to its own devices for most of modern history. Almost all of the Maldivian population remained oblivious (and a substantial part still does) to ideological changes that re-arranged human life—communism, socialism, Marxism, etc. It remained similarly impervious to changes and evolution in Islamic jurisprudence, ideas and thinking. Life, and faith, was simple. All Maldivians accepted themselves as Muslims and adhered faithfully to its core tenants, principles and values without much ado.

There appeared no need to declare one’s ‘Muslimness’, and, apart from Gayoom’s efforts to become the Supreme Leader of Islam, religion and politics remained separate. All Maldivians accepted themselves as Muslims and adhered faithfully to its core tenants, principles and values. The change that Maldives could not remain impervious to, however, came in the form of globalisation in the 1990s.

As the Maldives opened up to tourism, the world was becoming more inter-connected. The ripples of what happened in one part of the world could now be felt everywhere. With the end of the Cold War came the end of the bipolar world in which the United States and the Soviet Union kept each other and the rest of the world in check. For years, the US used Afghanistan to wage a war against the Soviet Union, and armed militant Islamists as weapons against USSR as part of its Cold War strategy.

Violence in the Israel-Palestine conflict increased with the First Intifada; the first Gulf War was fought; and tensions between the Middle East and the United States was high. Back in the US, any acts of violence committed against Western interests by Middle Eastern actors began to be labelled as ‘Islamic terrorism’, and analysts began to predict a doomsday scenario in which ‘religious terrorism’ was going to annihilate the world as we knew it. In 1993, American scholar and analyst Samuel Huntington published his now famous theory predicting of an impending ‘clash of civilisations’, the worst of which was going to be between ‘the West and Islam.’

Just as Islamist leaders of the past mobilised against various types and forms of regimes they saw as a threat, modern Islamists began to rally the troops against what they saw as US imperialism. This time, the leader was Osama bin Laden and, with globalisation at its height, the effort was truly worldwide. For the first time since King Kalaminja embraced Islam as the state religion of the Maldives, Maldivian Islam became a subject of enormous interest to people in other parts of the world. Maldivians soon began receiving funds for religious education abroad.

In contrast to the small numbers of Maldivian students who had previously acquired Arab-influenced education in respected Middle Eastern universities such as Al-Azhar of Egypt, students now left in droves to institutes of learning not just in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries, but also in the nearby Pakistan. Waves of Islamism were about to crash onto the sheltered Maldivian shores.

Gayoom, under whose control Islam was made a central focus in Maldivian life, was determined to remain in full control of all religious affairs. He cracked down on the newly arrived fundamentalist scholars; going to the extent of not just jailing them, but also torturing them in jail. But the days of Gayoom were numbered; and a new wind soon blew across the globe that he was powerless to control: the War on Terror.

Despite frenetic denials by the West, the new war was widely seen as a war between ‘Islam and the West’. Led by Osama bin Laden, the nuanced meaning of the word Jihad was hijacked by both sides of the War to denote only one thing – Holy War. Another event of global magnitude—the 2004 Tsunami—became a powerful weapon in the hand of Maldivian Islamists who quickly labelled the catastrophe as ‘God’s wrath’ for not practising the ‘right Islam’. The ‘right Islam’ was, of course, the fundamentalist, puritanical, and often violent, Islam they preached. It was a message many believed.

In the Maldives, one of the most peaceful and crime-free places in the world until early 21st Century, the first religiously motivated act of violence in a public place in living memory occurred in September 2007. Radical Islamists detonated an IED in the tourist centre of the capital island of Malé, injuring twelve tourists. The perpetrators fled to the island of Himandhoo, 89 kilometres from Malé by sea. By the time police traced the perpetrators to the island in October 2007, a large percentage of residents had subscribed to the radical ideology of the militants and were ready for a violent confrontation with the security forces.

Since then many Maldivian Islamists have become a part of the global ‘Jihadist’ movement of militants who travel to conflict ridden areas in the world to participate in what they see as a global Holy War. A Maldivian handpicked by Jamia Salafia was, for instance, funded by an American and trained by Kashmiri Mujahidin to become one of the suicide bombers who attacked the Inter-Services Intelligence headquarters in Lahore, Pakistan in 2009. The same year, Pakistani authorities detained eight Maldivians planning to create a terrorist group in the Maldives.

Maldivian radical Islamist is also reported to have been part of the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai and, more recently, in late 2013 intelligence that eight Maldivians had been called to join a similar attack on another Indian city sparked a major coastal security alert in India.

Democracy and Islamist radicalism

Maldivian experience with democracy and Islamism demonstrates that would be a mistake to subscribe to the widespread belief that democracy is an antidote to radical ideologies. The transition to democracy in November 2008 proved a godsend for believers in fundamentalist Islam and radical Islamists. The new president Mohamed Nasheed, a former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience, was determined to end torture in the jails and promote freedom of expression for all. Radical Islamists, as they do the world over, made full use of the freedoms and modern technology to advance their ideology.

The Internet, mainstream media—the entire public sphere—was saturated with their messages as they went all in to educate and indoctrinate people. The change from dictatorship to democracy also ushered in multi-party politics, another opportunity for Islamists to further their agenda. Faced with a choice of losing the election to Gayoom or forming a coalition with Adhaalath Party, Mohamed Nasheed’s MDP chose the latter. It proved a fatal mistake for his presidency, and a golden opportunity for fundamentalists.

A number of changes followed that tightened their grip on governance and on society at large. Gayoom’s Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs was replaced by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. Under the coalition agreement, most members of staff at the Ministry were members of the Adhaalath Party. All Islamic discourse was now officially in the hands of fundamentalists.

The party quickly moved to tighten the grip on education; ensure alcohol was banned from all inhabited islands; issue Fatwas banning music, dancing and other such matters; dictate women’s clothing and behaviour; above all, proselytise, proselytise, proselytise.

Unsurprisingly, the Adhaalath Party was in constant conflict with its coalition partner MDP. One party was formed to further fundamentalist Islam while the other was—originally, at least—driven by a secular democratic agenda. It is a mark of Adhaalath’s proselytising success that, with a vociferous and radical public having been made to fall in behind its Islamist agenda, the MDP conceded to Adhaalath’s demands so often on religious issues that by the time the 2013 election came about, its original ideas of maintaining a safe distance between religion and politics were nowhere in sight.

In September 2011, after many skirmishes, Adhaalath severed its coalition with the MDP government, and dedicated itself to bringing down the Nasheed administration. Adhaalath’s role in orchestrating the events of 7 February 2012, which prematurely ended the first democratically elected government of the Maldives, is now well documented.

Without Adhaalath and other other fundamentalist radical actors labelling of Nasheed ‘an enemy of Islam’ and creating the discourse of ‘Nasheed’s devious plot to destroy Islam’, it is unlikely that Maldivians would have acquiesced to abandon the democratic experiment so soon after it began. The Maldivian habit of exploiting religion for political purposes successfully deployed many times in the past to bring down governments, remains a powerful weapon in its present.

It is another measure of Adhaalath’s success that it used the freedoms given by democracy to associate it, in the minds of their radicalised followers, with irreligiousness. They also successfully projected democracy as an extension of colonialism, a concept which undermined sovereignty. Largely through their subscription to this fundamentalist rhetoric, a majority of Maldivians remain convinced that democracy is a form of governance that Islam frowns upon, and which no proper Muslim should associate themselves with.

A recent study by the NGO Transparency Maldives on Maldivians’ relationship with democracy categorised 75% of Maldivians as non-democrats, or people who do not believe in ‘democratic values’. The Transparency Maldives survey did not explore the relationship between people’s perceptions of democracy and their religious attitudes; if it had, there is no doubt the results would have shown a significant correlation between negative attitudes towards democracy and current religious beliefs of a majority of people.

On 7 February 2012, amidst the chaos that ended Nasheed’s presidency, one of the first actions carried out by the radical Islamists was to break into the National Museum and destroy a number of invaluable artefacts from the country’s pre-Islamic history. It signalled the beginning of a new era of intolerance, xenophobia and radicalism in the history of the Maldives.

Within months, Islamists attempted to kill Hilath Rasheed, the country’s only openly gay blogger and human rights activist, and a few months later the same year, they succeeded in brutally hacking to death one of the country’s more moderate Islamic scholars and Member of Parliament Dr Afrasheem Ali.

Since Yameen Abdul Gayoom, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s brother, was elected the new president of the Maldives on 16 November 2013 after the most farcical of election processes, the Adhaalath Party has fallen curiously silent. They are no longer on the streets, rousing crowds into action in the name of religion. It does not mean they are not active—it is more likely a sign that they no longer have to fight the government for the right to further their agenda.

This year alone, for example, they have quietly made several significant changes to laws and regulations that solidify their authority over religious practises and beliefs. Last month, amendments were made to the Religious Unity Act bringing all mosques back under the control of the Islamic Ministry and made Islam a compulsory subject in all schools from grades one to twelve. There is little doubt that the syllabi will be under complete control of the fundamentalists.

There is a reason such moves are officially condoned instead of met with concern. In 2011 Maumoon Abdul Gayoom announced that his party, then called Z-DRP, shared the same ideology as Adhaalath. Yameen Abdul Gayoom, although not known for his staunch religiosity, was happy to associate with Adhaalath for the downfall of Nasheed’s government and the promotion of his own bid for presidency. Since his government came to power it has ended the 50 plus years long moratorium the Maldives maintained on the death penalty, while failing to express any concern or take any action to stem the normalisation of radical views in society.

Now that Islamic fundamentalists have more or less won the fight for the hearts and minds of the people, if not the fight to govern the country, it is very unlikely that the Gayooms will attempt to curb their freedoms as they once did.

How did they do it?

The success of Islamic fundamentalism in the Maldives has been the result of external influences and the exploitation by Islamists of internal weaknesses. Since the borderless and endless War on Terror began, religion has been pushed to the forefront of many national political and social agendas across the world. In the globalised world where national identities are said to matter little and borders even less, Islamic radicals exploited all available means of communication to reach out to the ‘Islamic Ummah’ to unite against a ‘common enemy.’

The Maldives, one of the few countries in the world to bill itself as ‘100% Muslim’ and with a constitution that demands every citizen to be a Muslim, is an attractive prospect for those pursuing bin Laden’s agenda of an Islamic Caliphate. All studies of radicalisation so far analyses ‘Muslim communities’ within societies that are also home to other religions, ethnicities and races. In the Maldives is a whole Muslim population, living in relative geographical seclusion, with relatively little knowledge of, let alone participation in, worldwide ideological changes or debates.

Global funders of radical Islamist movements poured large sums of money into changing the entire Maldivian population into fundamentalist Muslims, if not radical Jihadists. In the decade since the War on Terror began, converted fundamentalists began opening up small shops all over the capital Malé.  They were usually fabric shops aimed at women. It was a means of establishing a foothold within society. A large number of people—especially disaffected youth addicted to drugs who had been jailed in their hundreds by Gayoom—were specifically targeted by the Islamists.

Once converted, the men would return home to do the same with their families. Radicalisation in prisons is now a well known phenomenon in many societies. Maldivian preachers trained in Pakistani seminaries, meanwhile, returned to their home islands where conversion of the entire population was easy. Fundamentalists also recruited local celebrities such as singers and musicians who then gave up their own careers and previous ways of life to become preachers or recruiters themselves. It is by now a well-known tactic of radicals and fundamentalists to recruit people from prisons.

In a decade, most Maldivians had changed their religious beliefs to that of fundamentalist Islam, and hundreds of men had been recruited into the radical Jihadi cause.

The most clearly visible signs of the fundamentalists’ victory over the Maldivian people’s hearts and minds is in their appearance—in a short span of a decade or so, the female Maldivian population went from one in which only older women (usually at least over fifty) wore a head scarf to one in which approximately eight out of ten women, from teenagers to the elderly, wear it. It is now de rigueur for most men to wear a long messy unkempt beard and clad themselves in Pashtoon/Arabic attire. Even women who do not subscribe to fundamentalist views wear the headscarf for a variety of reasons—to be sexy; to be fashionable; to appease their husband/boyfriend; due to peer pressure; even to hide double-chins.

It is a remarkable situation that in the Maldives, mothers and grandmothers have been pressured into wearing the headscarf by granddaughters who wear it. Only a handful of Maldivian women over the age of sixty can now be found without a headscarf. A Muslim woman, it is now accepted in Maldivian society, is not a proper Muslim woman unless they wear the headscarf; and the ‘more Muslim’ they are, the more they cover-up. To turn-around the beliefs and outlooks of an entire population—even their very idea of beauty—is no small feat.

The grassroots social networks that the Islamists laid through their presence in the community with shops, prison visits, and the groups established in mosques, were augmented by the formalisation of these networks through political power. Once the Adhaalath Party was given control of the Islamic Ministry, it—and those approved by it—began controlling what Maldivians could think, speak and practise as ‘true Islam.’ Any words spoken or written about religion by any individual or party not sanctioned by the fundamentalist Muslims were banned or dismissed as ‘nonsense.’

Only scholars educated in Arab or Pakistani institutes of learning, preferably at institutes that endorse Wahhabism or other puritanical forms of Islam, were given approval to speak of or discuss the religion. The Islamic Ministry also began procuring fundamentalist and radical preachers from abroad such as Zakir Naik of Peace TV, and Bilal Philips – banned in many countries for preaching hate – to address Maldivians. While it can be argued that such people have the right to address their beliefs and views; the tragedy is that only such views were allowed.

Visitors who failed to express similarly fundamentalist interpretations of Islam were ridiculed, insulted, and hounded out of the country. When UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay addressed the Maldivian parliament and called for a moratorium on Hadd punishments—especially the practise of sentencing people who have sex outside of marriage to a 100 lashes—Islamist leaders condemned Pillay and rallied their followers to protest outside the UN building in Male’. MPs and prominent politicians jostled each other for airtime to condemn as vociferously and colourfully as they could Pillay’s championing of human rights ‘because nobody has the right to speak against the Shari’a.’

Taking full advantage of the freedom of expression provided by democracy to saturate society with their messages about Islam while simultaneously banning everyone else from speaking of Islam altogether has been one of the most powerful tools used by Maldivian Islamists in their successful campaign to take charge of religious faith in the Maldives.

The real-life social and political networks formed by the fundamentalists and Jihadists is enhanced and made more powerful by their use of social networking on the internet. Radicals have been infinitely more open to the use of modern communications to spread their messages than non-radical, moderate, or liberal Muslims. Compared to a handful of liberal bloggers and one or two Facebook pages promoting secularism and/or discussing more moderate Islam, Maldivian followers of fundamentalist and radical beliefs have scores of websites, Facebook pages and YouTube channels that publish and broadcast their material.

They prolifically publish translations of Wahhabi and other fundamentalist literature from all over the world in Dhivehi, and make them freely available for download. There are Fatwas available online on anything and everything ranging from the ridiculous to the bizarre—from the forbidden nature of music, the question of whether it is haram to wear contact lenses when praying, to the manner and frequency for conducting conjugal relations and exorcising demons and have them expelled to Saudi Arabia for conversion to Islam and to calls for violent Jihad in Syria.

Public spaces such as ferries between islands, taxis and buses play sermons freely distributed on CDs by radical preachers, forcing passengers to listen. Most of the public, who now either subscribe to the fundamentalist view of Islam or think it is wrong not to, lap it up and believe these messages to contain ‘true Islam’. Others have no choice but to put up with it and shut up. Such monopoly of all religious discourse and knowledge means that, when confronted with an issue of national importance such as, for example, the death penalty, a majority of the population is only privy to one side of the debate.

Most Maldivians are not even aware of arguments within Islam that Shari’a cannot be applied today because it is impossible to replicate the conditions under which such punishments are justified or those which argue that Islamic jurisprudence allows for the abolition of the death penalty. Controlling what can and cannot be considered true knowledge of Islam, without a doubt, has been the most powerful means by which Islamists’ fundamentalist beliefs have triumphed over the Maldivian Islamic faith and identity that evolved over hundreds of years.

Despite the continued proselytising for puritanical Islam, the overtly political among Maldivian Islamists have on many occasions demonstrated an astonishing willingness to sacrifice principles for power. Quite apart from participation in anti-government activities and the toppling of a legitimate government in 2012—neither of which is condoned in Islam—Adhaalath has also failed to speak against Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed for his highly publicised fornication, a Hudd crime that Adhaalath wants everyone else sentenced to a 100 lashes for. Although it is loud in its calls for the establishment of Shari’a as the only legal system of the Maldives, it has shown absolutely no concern for the many injustices carried out by the farcical justice system currently in place.

Nor has any Islamist leader spoken out against the rampant corruption at all levels of government. The ultra-nationalism which it showed towards the tumultuous end of Nasheed’s government, including whipping up pseudo-religious hate against Indian company GMR’s contract to handle the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, appears to have been no more than a political tactic. Taking shelter behind the religious rhetoric, the government declared the US$500 million contract as ‘void ab initio’ at the potential cost of US$1.4 billionReports say the current Maldivian government is soon expected to award a contract to develop the same airport to Singaporean company Changi for an estimated US$800 million. Also this month it signed a contract with Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro to develop a new apron at the same airport. Not a peep out of the Adhaalath or any of the Islamists on how Islam and Maldivian identity would suffer when foreign contractors are put in charge of ‘the gateway to the Maldives’.

This hypocritical pragmatism, although obvious to those who have resisted the call to fundamentalist Islam, appears to the converted as of little importance or consequence. They remain impervious to the facts in front of them: the same people who are calling them to fundamentalist Islam, or violent Jihad in conflict ridden areas of the world are themselves often deaf to what they preach, and are quite happy to remain safe in the Maldives while dispatching scores of young people to war in distant places in the name of Islam.

Maldivian life of the present is dominated by fundamentalist Islam, and its future is haunted by the spectre of radical Jihadi violence. Last Sunday, local newspapers led with the report that a Maldivian Jihadist had killed himself and several others in a suicide attack in Syria. It was followed by the news on Tuesday that another Maldivian had been killed in a gunfight at another Syrian location. On Wednesday local paper Haveeru reported that several Maldivians fighting in Syria were under siege from government forces. This was almost immediately denied by, according to online newspaper CNM, ‘a Maldivian fighting with Jabhat Al-Nusra’. Jabhat Al-Nusra is a Syrian Jihadist organisation fighting to establish an Islamic state in Syria.

As always, changes to Maldivian Islam reflect global changes. The Syrian conflict is coming to be known as ‘the world’s first YouTube war‘; and Maldives is already represented. A group known as Bilad Al Sham Media has its own channel with the obligatory video of a fighter with a gun, calling Maldivians to ‘Jihad’ in Dhivehi. Bilad Al Sham Media are not just on YouTube, but are present on all social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter. Their media presence, and Maldivian papers’ easy access to Jabhat Al-Nusra’s Maldivian fighters signal a new chapter in the violent radicalisation of Maldivians.

Unlike earlier times when news of Maldivians joining the ‘Holy War’ reached Maldivian news outlets long after the fact, today’s ‘Jihadists’ are eager to bring news of their fighting and deaths, keen to glorify it as ‘martyrdom’, eager to recruit more to the cause. There appears no need for violent Maldivian Islamists to hide any more—they are confident that no action will, or can, be taken against them. A substantial number of Maldivians, without a doubt, support the violent Jihadists. Many have responded to the news of the suicide bomber with joy, seeing the dead man’s actions as ‘glorious martyrdom for Islam.’ The response from the Islamic Ministry has been to deny all knowledge of Maldivian involvement in the global Jihadi movement and, astonishingly, to say that the matter is of no concern to the Ministry.

Meanwhile, President Yameen reduced the issue of Maldivians joining the ‘Holy War’ to bad behaviour, claiming thatthe government had always urged Maldivians to maintain discipline when living abroad.’ The official line is: there is nothing the government can [or will] do about the increasing number of Maldivians committing acts of terrorism abroad—if people want to kill themselves—and others—it is their business. As long as they do it in the name of Islam, that is.

With the government wilfully ignoring the radicalisation of Maldivians and other actors, including the civil society, unable or unqualified to do anything about it, it is hardly surprising that Maldives has become a place where fundamentalist views of Islam have become more or less the norm rather than the exception. Everyday the number of people who shun non-Arabic education as anti-Islamic are increasing, along with the number of people who refuse to send their children to school altogether ‘for religious reasons’.

Even members of the security forces, it was recently alleged by MDP, have been radicalised. Recruitment, meanwhile, continues unabated in the prisons. Lawyers have reported that the only books allowed in the prison these days are what is described as ‘religious literature.’ Female genital mutilation is on the rise, just as sexual abuse of young girls who are increasingly accepted as adults once they reach puberty. Waves of infanticide have shocked the country in recent years which, too, can be linked to the harsh punitive attitude Islamists have fostered towards ‘women who sin’ as much as they can be to government failures.

Rape and other violence against women are also on the rise. Tragically, a large percentage of the population have developed the attitude that victims of such crimes bring it upon themselves for ‘not staying at home where women belong’, or not being modest enough as required by Islam. It is very likely that the Maldivian gender inequality gap, at least as far as the general population’s attitudes are concerned, has never been wider in Maldivian history.

Consecutive governments have failed the Maldivian people by not making any serious efforts to stem the flow of fundamentalist and radical ideologies into the country. Gayoom tortured the radicals, which drove them underground and ultimately led to their unification as a political force. Nasheed’s government, on the other hand, failed to take strong enough measures against the rapid spread of their radical ideologies and made too many concessions to their demands for political reasons. This created the space in which fundamentalists and violent radicals could take control of all religious knowledge and discussion, thus facilitating their winning the ideological war and the ‘hearts and minds’ of most voters.

The current government, which could not have come to power without the Islamists, looks almost certain to pursue a policy of appeasing them. Its chief strategy so far has been to deny that there are any violent extremists in the country or, when confronted with evidence of the opposite, say it has nothing to do with the government.

If things continues as they are, the new chapter in the history of Maldivian Islam will be one written entirely by the victors, that is, the fundamentalists and the Jihadists.

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