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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Maldives might offer an answer.

An island of chaos

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two competing tribes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judging the judiciary

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

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

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

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

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

In again, out again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When an election is not an election

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A tool”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Egypt

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

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

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

Is it up to the task?

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

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

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Ratification of limits on freedom of assembly won’t affect ‘revolution’: MDP

The ratification of the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Bill is a “direct response” to the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s proposed revolution, the party’s Spokesperson Hamed Abdul Ghafoor has alleged.

Yesterday (January 11) the President’s Office website announced that President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik had approved the controversial bill, which enforces limits for protests in the Maldives.

Parliament passed the bill on December 25, 2012 with 44 votes in favour and 30 against – a decision which attracted criticism from NGOs within the country who warned the bill could “restrict some fundamental rights”.

Ghafoor told Minivan News that the MDP stood against the principles of the Freedom of Assembly Bill, alleging its ratification is a response to the ‘Ingilaab’ proposed by former President Mohamed Nasheed last month.

“We are not happy with this bill, and on principle alone we are against it. The current government feels the need to restrict freedom of expression and unwind the democratic gains of this country,” he alleged.

“The whole intention of this bill was to respond to our popular uprising. But when the time comes [for the revolution] the bill won’t matter. We will still go out onto the streets,” Ghafoor claimed.

Among the key features of the Freedom of Assembly bill is the outlawing of demonstrations outside private residences and government buildings, limitations on media covering protests not accredited with the state and defining “gatherings” as a group of more than a single person.

One of the main stated objectives of the legislation is to try and minimise restrictions on peaceful gatherings, which it claims remain a fundamental right.

Under the legislation, demonstrations will be outlawed within a certain distance of the residences of the president and vice president, tourist resorts, harbours utilized for economic purposes, airports, the President’s Office, the courts of law, the Parliament, mosques, schools, hospitals and buildings housing diplomatic missions.

NGO concerns

In a joint statement from local NGOs Transparency Maldives (TM) and Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) this month (January 2), it warned that the bill posed “serious challenges to the whole democratic system”.

The statement claimed that the bill could restrict the constitutional right to freedom of assembly (article 32), freedom of expression (article 27) and press freedom (article 28).

As article four of the constitution states that “all the powers of the state of the Maldives are derived from, and remains with, the citizens,” both NGOs warned that narrowing the fundamental rights guaranteed by the second chapter of the constitution would “facilitate taking away from the public the powers that remain with them.”

Media “accreditation” on protest coverage

Last month, the Maldives Journalists’ Association (MJA) expressed concern over certain clauses in the ratified Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Bill, claiming that it will directly impact reporting by local and international media organisations.

In regard to the media’s right to cover demonstrations, the bill states that the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) must draft a regulation on accrediting journalists within three months of the ratification of the bill.

Only those journalists who are accredited by the MBC will be granted access to cover and report on gatherings and police activities in the vicinity.

MJA President and board member of the Maldives Media Council (MMC) ‘Hiriga’ Ahmed Zahir claimed last month (December 29) that the MBC – appointed by parliament – would not be able to accredit media persons in an independent manner free from any influence.

“We are seeing the MBC failing to address many existing issues even now, so we cannot support handing over additional responsibilities like this to such a body,” he added.

Zahir also raised concerns that foreign journalists coming to the Maldives would also be required to obtain additional accreditation. He said that international media was already faced with having to meet specific visa requirements and obtaining state approval.

“For example, [international reporters] cannot really cover events if they are just here on a tourist visa, that won’t be allowed anywhere in the world,” he said.

Speaking on the matter of media accreditation, MDP Spokesman Ghafoor alleged to Minivan News today that it was the current governments “intention” to control the media coverage of protests.

“When the incumbent government took over office, they took over the state media too. We have noticed this trend continuing today,” he claimed.

President’s Office Spokesman Masood Imad was not responding to calls at time of press today.

However back in November last year, Imad previously defended a case submitted to Supreme Court by the Attorney General that claimed causing a public disturbance in the name of political protest is against the constitution.

The case, submitted in September, requests the Supreme Court to rule that such protests are against some articles of the constitution. This includes disturbing the public, using foul language and “protesting in a manner that instills fear into the hearts of children and the elderly”.

Speaking back in November regarding the case, Imad said: “A protest should be about changing something. A protest conducted in residential areas has nothing to do with parliament. Public protest and public nuisance are two very different things.”

The President’s Office Spokesman further stated that the government “fully” supports the right to protest, but added that it should not be conducted in a way that negatively affects the lives of others.

Minivan News attempted to contact MPs and spokespersons from Progressive Party of Maldives, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party, Dhivehi Qaumee Party, Jumhoree Party, People’s Alliance and Maldivian Development Alliance to speak on the matter, however none were responding to calls at time of press.


Elections Commission looking into MDP’s revolution calls

The Elections Commission (EC) has confirmed it is investigating calls made by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) earlier this month to try and overthrow the current government through an ‘Ingilaab’ (revolution).

Former President Mohamed Nasheed on December 11 called for a “revolution” to overthrow the administration of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, claiming it is the only way to have a government that is “by the people”.

The motion was later passed the same day by the National Council of the MDP at Kulhudhuhfushi in Haa Dhaal Atoll.

Vice President of the Elections Commission Ahmed Fayaz stated today that the commission had received a complaint concerning the MDP’s motion, and hence had begun looking into the matter.

“Our in-house legal team is working along with an external firm of lawyers who sometimes provide legal advice to our commission. The commissioners will be discussing the matter only when the legal team finishes their review,” he said.

Fayaz further added that he did not know when the commission would be able to come to a decision on the matter, saying it all depended on how fast the legal team manages to review the matter.

Fayaz said that the legal team would need to review the definition of what an ‘Ingilaab’ or revolution is, and what the constitution and accompanying laws and regulations stated on the matter before deciding whether or not action needed to be taken against MDP.

“We cannot comment on what the outcome may be before the legal review is completed. We don’t even know yet what action, if any, will have to be taken against the MDP,” Fayaz said.

MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor defined ‘Ingilaab’ as bringing about a change. He declined from commenting on the complaint currently being looked at by the EC.

The complaint is reported to have been registered with the EC earlier this month by Ibrahim Manik of Henveiru Finifenmaage Aage.  Manik was reported to have requested at the time that action be taken against the MDP’s plans for a revolution “at the earliest”.

“Since my mind believes that the MDP National Council’s decision to topple the government through a revolution may weaken the country politically, socially, economically and in the area of military defences, and the country may be faced with an unrecoverable loss, I am pleading with your commission with respect, love and affection to take necessary action against this without the slightest delay,” local media reports Manik to have said in his letter to the EC.

Meanwhile, former President and interim President of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has previously labelled the MDP’s resolution to bring about a revolution as a “criminal offence.”

Gayoom further said at the time that MDP’s announcement to commit the offence must be met with the due penalty, adding that the idea to orchestrate a revolution could not be entertained, stating: “It is an offence to even speak of such a thing.”


Gayoom labels MDP revolution motion illegal

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has labelled the motion passed by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to overthrow the government through a revolution as a “criminal offence”.

Speaking to reporters at a ceremony held at the Progressive Party of Maldives’s (PPM) office, Gayoom – who is the interim President of PPM – insisted that the MDP would not be successful in overthrowing the present government.

“The constitution in any country won’t permit a government to be overthrown from the street. Even in the US, UK, France or India such a thing won’t be allowed, so it is a dangerous notion. In truth they have committed a criminal offence,” Gayoom was quoted as saying by the Haveeru news service.

According to Gayoom, the MDP’s announcement to commit the offence must carry the due penalty, stressing that the idea to bring about a revolution cannot be entertained.

“It is in offence to even speak of such a thing,” he added.

The MDP has insisted that the government of former President Mohamed Nasheed had been removed through a “coup d’etat” on February 7. However, Gayoom denounced these claims, adding that the then President, Mohamed Nasheed had resigned of his own free will.

“He wasn’t taken to a place, tied up and forced. He went home after resigning on television, in front of the people. That does not to constitute to overthrowing a government from the street,” he explained.

The ex-President further said that based on the present political environment in the Maldives “there were no means or chance” to bring about a revolution.


Comment: I am for democracy too

A coup is a coup. Much of what transpired at MNDF headquarters the morning of February 7 remains unclear, but several key facts have come to light, and placed in the context of Maldivian politics, leave no doubt in my mind that President Nasheed was ousted in a cleverly executed coup.

Following Nasheed’s forced resignation, the entire country burned. Key law enforcement institutions became Enemy Number One overnight. In contrast to the relative professional and non-violent reaction to protests against Judge Abdulla’s arbitrary detention, police used brutal force and violently targeted key MDP officials on February 8. Controversial appointments to key posts in Dr Waheed’s government, particularly the Minister of Defence and the Commissioner of Police, who served as the main interlocutors with President Nasheed at MNDF HQ, with no legitimacy whatsoever, further deteriorate MDP supporters’ faith in the police and the MNDF.

In an atmosphere so emotionally charged and tense, it is an elephantine task to remain rational, to stick to facts, and to make decisions that will save our democracy in the long run. It is even harder to do so when media channels, on either side of the political divide, are biased and resorting to propaganda. Nasheed and his supporters have unleashed a deluge of hyperbole to rile up crowds and chip away whatever is left of the public’s trust in the police and the armed forces.

Nasheed showed Waheed’s government and the international community his ammunition when he led his supporters into a direct, violent confrontation with the police and armed forces on Wednesday. He is using the threat of violence to force elections in two months, when it is very clear that an election in two months will not be free and fair. In the meantime, Waheed has come out to say he will not hold elections until 2013. What has been lacking in our democracy since 2008 stands in the way of restoring democracy today. Democracy is about compromise. Nasheed and Waheed need to meet each other half way so that our democracy is not flushed down the drains of history.

Even if Waheed’s government is illegitimate, what is done is done. And protracted civil unrest and violence in small communities, which may take generations to heal, is not the way forward. At a time when people are divided and emotional, we need strong leaders who place the good of the nation above personal gain. Waheed must have the balls to ensure that his government does not go after senior leaders in the MDP in the run up to elections in six months. In return to agreeing for elections in six months, Nasheed and his co must be given guarantees by Waheed’s government that the MDP leadership and supporters will not be made political prisoners. In my mind, there is really no other way forward and if people have suggestions, it is time we start a national debate on how to overcome this impasse in a conciliatory manner.

You say a liberal?

That said, the coup d’etat of February 7 is also a window of opportunity for the people to demand more and better from of our political leadership. One person had written on facebook that we might have been too tolerant of President Nasheed’s runaway administration. True, opposition political parties under Nasheed’s administration did not play by the same lofty rules we set for the government. But with more power comes more responsibility. Nasheed was in power, the opposition parties were not, hence the double standards in expectations. With our civil society so weak from 30 years of authoritarian rule, the political leadership had a massive responsibility. Nasheed had the power to write the story of our democracy differently. He may have lost elections in 2013 if he did, but he would have been a mighty hero in my mind had he focused on strengthening our democratic institutions over forcing and bypassing democratic institutions to ensure the fulfillment of the MDP’s five key pledges.

A 30-year dictatorship left a legacy: an uneven playing field; a weak civil society; a small and toothless middle class; a dearth of self-thinking peoples; and a biased media. The vestiges of dictatorship remain and they matter. History matters. But it only directs, it does not determine. The many constitutional crises, the political posturing, and the name-calling we see today are not inevitable results of a 30-year dictatorship. It is the combined result of a 30-year dictatorship, and a conscious choice by the Nasheed administration to play power politics instead of fostering the slow, painful and perhaps, in the short run, self-defeating, democratic reforms that would have strengthened our democracy.

When Nasheed came to power in 2008, he inherited not only a massive budget deficit, but also a political system that operated on political patronage. Nasheed did not try to change this informal system. He adopted masters of such politicking, including Ibrahim Hussein Zaki and Hassan Afeef into his administration, indicating that political realism would provide Nasheed government’s ideological grounding. To outwit Gayoom et al, Nasheed decided to play the power game instead of democracy. In doing so he acted like an astute politician, not a liberal democrat. Those who expected the latter, mostly liberals, are deeply disappointed with the Nasheed administration. The handful of young and educated who were convinced that an MDP defeat in 2013 would spell out the end of democracy, and those who foresaw an end to their innings with the end of Nasheed’s government, were glad that he played the part of a clever politician. But then the coup happened.

In a very real way, Nasheed himself is to blame for presenting coup planners with ample fodder and opportunity. Arbitrarily detaining Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed for nearly 20 days, in spite of the arrest’s unconstitutionality, in spite of continued street protests that often turned violent, and in spite of escalating police fatigue, Nasheed defended the arrest to the last minutes of his administration and continues to defend it today. But to this day, Nasheed has not explained the precise national security threat that justified the military detention of Abdulla Mohamed. By commanding the MNDF to arbitrarily arrest Abdulla Mohamed and detain him on their training camp, Nasheed unnecessarily plunged one of Maldives’ few professional institutions into disarray and opened it up to politicisation. Presidents who are concerned with consolidating democracy do not issue such orders. They do not think in “either or” terms. Creativity and compromise are fundamental characteristics of a strong democratic leadership.

You say a revolution in 2008?

History matters. Those who were rich and powerful under Gayoom, remain rich and powerful today. In short, our democratic “revolution” in 2008 failed to change the status quo. The aristocrats and merchants who own the tourism, fishing, construction, and shipping industries act like an oligarchy. They have the means to ensure that they maintain their monopolies and deflect any harm that come their way. Take for example what happened with the penalties for tax evasion. And where is the minimum wage bill? What happened to workers’ right to strike? When democratic institutions, such as the parliament, become monopolised by aristocrats and merchants, and when the main rule of law institution, that is the court system, remains dominated by unlearned persons who are easily manipulated by the aristocrats and merchants, the middle class that is the key to democratic consolidation, has no representation and no space to assert itself.

To his credit, Nasheed did attempt to foster a middle class. He implemented a long overdue taxation system that forced tourism tycoons to pay their fair share for state bills. His policies sought to improve access to basic services. And he faced huge challenges. But in playing power politics, he also ensured that the rich and powerful remained so, and nurtured a new group of rich and powerful people who would ostensibly protect his presidency and candidacy in 2013. To that end, a number of development projects continued to fall into the hands of those affiliated with the MDP, and sometimes those hands were not the most capable and able. And the lease of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport is anything but transparent. If justice is fairness, Nasheed government’s corrupt activities fell short of delivering justice, and served to exacerbate the already existing crisis in the judiciary.

Way Forward

The way forward is in compromise and learning from mistakes. It is not in taking sides and refusing to budge. Peace is not a platitude. To characterise peace, conciliation, and negotiation as platitudes and “bullshit” is to reject the essence of democracy. And being “colorless”, and withholding blind support for the MDP or any other political party is not a wholesale rejection of democracy. Restoring Nasheed, whichever way possible, will not restore democracy.

No to street violence, No to political witch hunts, No to destroying the social fabric of our small nation, and No to politicising our armed forces and the police. But Yes to elections in six months. The current government is illegitimate and the nation cannot afford to wait until 2013 for presidential elections. At the same time, MDP supporters will risk the nation by going out on to the streets. The political leadership of this country should go to the negotiation table fast if we are to restore democracy. And people of this country should step back from pledging blind support to leaders. Learn from mistakes. Pledge your support to democratic processes. Pledge your support to negotiations and elections, not in two months when an election would be impossible, but in six months, when it has a better chance of translating your vote freely and fairly.

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]


President sends letter to Libyan rebels, calling for modern Muslim democracy

President Mohamed Nasheed has pledged the Maldives’ support to the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) in a letter yesterday, recognising the rebel group as the “sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people.”

The letter, which was sent to NTC chief Mustafa Abdul Jalil, expressed the President’s hope that Libya would “emerge as a free and democratic country, in which fundamental human rights can be enjoyed by all.”

In recent days, Libya’s six-month long revolution against dictator Muammar Gaddafi came to a close when NTC rebels seized Tripoli. Currently, Qaddafi’s whereabouts are unknown and over thirty foreign powers have recognised the NTC as Libya’s legitimate representative group.

President Nasheed noted in his letter to NTC chief Jalil that the Maldives was among the first three countries to recognize the NTC. Iraq, Morocco, the US and European Union member countries have also recognised the group, while Russia and China do not recognise the NTC as Libya’s only legitimate representative but are still engaging in talks with NTC leaders.

Ethiopia and Nigeria have called on African Union member states to recognise the NTC, and Hamas had declared its support of the rebel group.

The President’s Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair, said today that “The Maldives is in favor of democracy, and feels any government should recognise the voices of its people. We are continuing our support of the Libyan rebels, and asking other countries to do the same.”

Zuhair said the Maldives was one of the first Islamic countries to experience a democratic revolution. In 2005, the Maldivian people began the uprising that ousted former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 2008.

“The same thing that is happening all over the Arab world has already happened here,” Zuhair said. “We are ahead of them, and we can share our experience.”

The Maldives, which has been a Muslim state for over 900 years, has one of the longest traditions of shariah law in the Arab world, said Zuhair. He said the Maldives encourages the Libyan NTC to apply democratic norms and values, and to use many small elections as they build a modern Muslim democracy.

“The Maldives would like to see Libya become a modern Islamic democratic state that is fully functional,” said Zuhair.

Colonel Gaddafi was only 27 when he took control of Libya after a military coup in 1969. His 42 years of power brought wealth to Libya, but his reign was also characterised by erratic policies and terrifying punishments. When the revolution began in February of this year, Gaddafi reportedly said, “Muammar is the leader of the revolution until the end of time.”

Earlier this week, the NTC reportedly placed a US$2 million bounty on Gaddafi’s head.


Libyan rebels push into Tripoli, arrest Gaddafi’s son

Libyan rebels have reportedly arrested the son of President Muammar Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam, after last night pushing into the capital Tripoli.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) yesterday told AFP that al-Islam, who is wanted on charges of crimes against humanity, was in custody.

Rebels with the Transitional National Council (TNC), now recognised by many nations including the Maldives as Libya’s legitimate governing entity, last night reached Tripoli’s central Green Square following reports that Gaddafi’s Presidential Guard had surrendered.

“Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant,” said US President Barack Obama in a statement, following the rebel’s push into Tripoli. “The Gaddafi regime is showing signs of collapsing. The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator.

“The surest way for the bloodshed to end is simple: Muammar Gaddafi and his regime need to recognise that their rule has come to an end. Gaddafi needs to acknowledge the reality that he no longer controls Libya. He needs to relinquish power once and for all,” Obama said.

Gaddafi, who earlier had vowed to fight “to the last drop of blood”, issued a statement on state television calling on the population to descend on the city and defend it from the rebels.

“They are coming to destroy Tripoli. They are coming to steal our oil. Now Tripoli is in ruins. Come out of your houses and fight these betrayers. Hurry up, hurry up, families and tribes, go to Tripoli,” Gaddafi said.

Libya’s information ministry continued to insist that the regime had “thousands and thousands of fighters”.

“Nato has intensified its attacks on and around Tripoli, giving immediate and direct support for the rebels’ forces to advance into a peaceful capital of this great nation and the death toll is beyond imagination,” a Gaddafi’s spokesperson Moussa Ibrahim said, warning of impending “massacres”.

“I thought I knew the West. But in this conflict I saw a different West. The West of blood and disaster and killing and occupation.”

An uprising of rebel groups in the centre of Tripoli was joined by fighters arriving by sea, armed with weapons seized following the capture of a large military base on Sunday afternoon. Nato planes provided air cover for the advancing rebels.

Meanwhile in Tripoli, there were reports that four districts of the city remained under Gaddafi’s control. Media reporting on the push claimed that the dictator of 42 years had sent tanks into residential areas and fired on protesters, and there were rumours of roadside executions.

Early this morning, a rebel spokesman told Al-Jazeera that Gaddafi’s forces still controlled 15-20 percent of the city, and showed no sign of surrender.

Gaddafi’s fall is likely to increase pressure on the Syrian Iran-backed regime, which continues to target civilian demonstrators despite increasing discontent across the international community.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed that military action against Syria would “bring repercussions”, adding that demands for his to step down “should not be made about a president who was chosen by the Syrian people and who was not put in office by the West, a president who was not made in the United States.”

The Maldives is meanwhile leading a special session of the UN Human Rights Council, in conjunction with Germany, Kuwait and Mexico, to address the deteriorating human rights situation. Permanent Representative of the Maldives to the United Nations, Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed, is holding a press conference on the topic this afternoon.


Comment: National University could become the engine of national growth and prosperity

One of the most promising aspects for the proponents of democratic change in the Middle East is that the ongoing Arab revolutions are largely being led by youth activists.

Unlike the stereotyped bearded conservatives and liberal communists, the current reform movements in the Arab nations have been fuelled and sustained by the region’s sizeable youth population; a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveals that 60 percent of the Middle East’s population is under the age of 30.

With a median age of just under 25 years, the Maldives also has a very young population that peaked right around the time the country achieved democracy.

Political scientists often tout these statistics as positive indications of a brighter future in these countries.

For a society to be stable, however, they contend that it is necessary to keep this young energy directed and focused on the onerous task of nation building.

One of the long awaited measures towards this end was achieved on the morning of February 15, 2011, when the Maldivian President inaugurated the country’s first National University.

In a country where the educational levels are abysmally low – only one out of five senior secondary students go on to pursue higher education – this comes as welcome news that could aim to reverse that dismal trend.

Traditionally, however, universities have been more than just institutions of learning.

In countries like Turkey, Egypt and Iran, universities have also been centres of intellectual and political activism and indeed, factories of social change.

Student unions in Eastern Europe were the focal points around which the various colour revolutions would coalesce and result in the fall of deep rooted communist regimes.

Universities have also been a hotbed of political activism in Iran, where student bodies participated in the ‘Islamic Revolution’ that dethroned the Shah and installed the Ayatollah in power. Decades later, it was once again university students that would form the core of the ‘Green Movement’, which has in recent years taken to the streets demanding democratic reform.

In the United States, a country with one of the most deeply entrenched university cultures, there has been an interesting historical trend of political ideology and beliefs on university campuses exhibiting marked departures from mainstream public views. Thus, universities have been the flashpoints of major anti-war rallies and liberal activism.

At various points of history, governments have tried to exercise control over universities and dictate the course of their youthful idealism.

One famous example is that of Nazi Germany, where the state apparatus removed books by Jewish authors, communists and other critics from the universities libraries, and burnt them in public squares.

Intellectuals, including the celebrated scientist Albert Einstein, were expelled from universities under German Law, and the Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels famously proclaimed in 1933, “Jewish intellectualism is dead”.

However, history records that Einstein would move to the United States, publish over 300 scientific papers, and spur the top secret Manhattan Project that would soon make America the world’s first nuclear nation.

A little over a decade after Goebbels’ proclamation, the book burning Nazi Germany would face an ignominious defeat, and Einstein’s adopted home would reign for decades as the world’s leading scientific, economic and political superpower.

The temptation to assert ideological control over universities has also seen unpleasant consequences in other countries like Egypt and China.

It is heartening, therefore, to see even conservative politicians like former State Minister of Islamic Affairs, Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, propose that the Maldives National University should offer courses in comparative religious studies and theology – ie, study of religions other than Islam.

The traditionally isolated Maldivian has at many points struggled to deal with foreign ideas, often resulting in potentially xenophobic tendencies.

In November 2008, owners of a local water bottling plant were forced to issue a statement following controversy over the discovery of a ‘cross shape’ on the caps of the water bottles. The culprit turned out to be a faulty machine part that could not be repaired locally. Nevertheless, the company had to sand-paper the offending shape into something less controversial.

In September 2010, an Indian teacher in Foakaidhoo, Shaviyani Atoll, was reportedly tied up and forced off an island after “devout Muslim” parents mistook a compass design drawn on a blackboard for a crucifix.

Courses like Comparative Religious studies could indeed introduce diversity of thought and foster greater mainstream public enlightenment about other belief systems and cultures, which in turn would undoubtedly have a lasting effect on broader concepts of social tolerance.

One must also note the role of universities in revolutionising technology and lifestyles.

From ground breaking medical research to increasing our understanding of life and the cosmos, the thousands of academic papers published annually in leading universities have made invaluable contributions.

Innovative multi-billion dollar corporations like Google, Yahoo and Sun Microsystems have emerged from the laboratories of Stanford University, while Columbia University alone has produced nearly a hundred Nobel Laureates.

Dozens of world leaders from Margaret Thatcher to Indira Gandhi, have emerged from Oxford University, whereas Cambridge University has given the world Isaac Newton, Neils Bohr and Stephen Hawking. The first computer was invented within its walls, as was the revolutionary double helical model of DNA.

Student athletes trained in University gymnasiums have racked up scores of Olympic sports medals, whereas some of the biggest bands in the music industry have at some point shared dorm rooms while living on campus.

In every field of progress, universities and academics have traditionally been a few steps ahead of mainstream society and making giant strides into the future.

Some might be sceptical that a university in the Maldives, without the luxury of a self-contained campus or an atmosphere of academic seclusion, or even a sizeable student or faculty body can quite leave a comparable footprint on the national intellect or society, as is visible in so many other countries.

During the inauguration, however, the Maldivian President recognised the role of universities in upholding democracy and freedom of expression, and the Chancellor of the newly instituted University, former Education Minister Dr Musthafa Luthfy has promised to follow in the illustrious traditions of Oxford.

As Chancellor, he has the monumental task of directing the youth’s energy into strong intellectual and academic pursuits and to nurture a conducive, stimulating environment in which such pursuits can be undertaken without undue political control and societal intimidation – with full intellectual freedom of thought and expression; an atmosphere of research, curiosity, questioning and free inquiry that are crucial to keep the flames of intellectualism burning bright.

As a country that has only recently tasted democratic freedoms, the Maldives counts on its first National University to produce the future leadership and become engine of national growth and prosperity, while simultaneously charting the country’s destiny.

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]


Rothschild banking dynasty to assist Maldives with goal of carbon neutrality

The Rothschild banking dynasty in Europe has agreed to help the Maldives towards its goal of carbon neutrality, following a meeting between President Mohamed Nasheed and Baron Benjamin and Baroness Ariane de Rothschild in their Genevan chateau.

In the first phase of the agreement signed on Monday, the family’s financial services arm La Compagnie Benjamin de Rothschild (CTBR) will secure international financing to fund a carbon audit of the Maldives.

CTBR is one of the arms of the US$137 billion Edmond de Rothschild Group, one of the world’s oldest banking dynasties and an early investor in the Shell Oil Company and the De Beers diamond firm.

The Rothschild’s website describes the banking family as “brokers and financers, as bankers to royal houses and governments, as railway magnates, personalities, patrons and philantopists, the Rothschilds have never forgotten how to walk with Kings – nor lost the common touch.”

In the second phase of the agreement, the company’s environmental and sustainability wing, BeCitizen, will spend two months assessing the report and analysing emissions from all sectors of the country’s economy, including transport, housing ,tourism, energy and waste management.

The final report, expected at the end of 2010, will contain a detailed plan of how the Maldives can reach carbon neutrality by 2020. In the third phase, CTBR will then help the government secure international financing to build the wind farms, waste recycling plants and sustainable transport solutions suggested in the report.

Benjamin and Ariane de Rothschild said in a statement that the agreement between the family and the Maldivies “is not only important for reasons of moral leadership in tackling climate change – the greatest challenge facing the world today – but also because it places the Maldives at the head of the pack in the transition to a low-carbon world.

“The Edmond de Rothschild Group is convinced that, as well as helping Maldives becoming carbon neutral, the partnership will spur domestic economic growth and new revenue-generating business opportunities for the country,” the family said.

Presdient Mohamed Nasheed said the partnership would allow the Maldives to “make rapid inroads into our national carbon footprint”, and set an example for other developing countries.

“The Maldives wants to set an example, by demonstrating that a country can develop without having to pollute the planet. After all, it is not carbon we want but development, it is not coal we want but electricity, it is not oil we want but transport. The Maldives aims to grow but we want our growth to be green.”

Spokesman for the President Mohamed Zuhair said the project was a “win-win” and “won’t cost the Maldives money.”

“[Rothschilds] have financed other industrial revolutions, and for them the Maldives is an ideal partner for the green revolution,” he said.

Ali Rilwan, director of environmental NGO Bluepeace, meanwhile acknowledged the country’s need for a “carbon master plan” and said he did not believe the agreement with Rothschilds had strings attached.

Instead, the support of the banking dynasty could allow the Maldives to become a ‘proof-of-concept’ for carbon neutrality and alternate energy, he suggested.

“Carbon neutrality is very fashionable in Europe at the moment, along with corporate responsibility,” he said, “and the Maldives is the first to initiate [carbon neutrality] with such a short target. And as the country is small, the targets are achievable. The push to move main electricity from power stations to windmills is also encouraging.”

Rilwan explained that while the Maldives’ carbon emissions “are small on a global scale, we can set an example.”

“We won’t change the world’s climate but upmarket resorts are increasingly attracting toursists looking for green holidays. This will also help them,” he said.