Government taken hostage by the police and gangs operating in Malé: Nasheed

Maldivian Democractic Party (MDP) President, and former president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed accused the government of being taken hostage by the police and the many gangs operating in the capital Malé.

“At the moment, the government has failed in providing a path to bring perpetrators of serious crimes in front of justice,” Nasheed said while speaking at an MDP rally held in the carnival area of the capital last night (October 26).

Nasheed also alleged that four individuals from the MPS Special Operations (SO) unit were behind the recent chopping down of the areca palm trees planted on both sides of the city’s main thoroughfare Majeedhee Magu.

“Two nights ago, we saw Maafannu police chase and attack four SO police officers who were wielding machetes around the city. Maafannu police tried to arrest the culprits but the SO officers ran into Iskandhar Koshi where they were protected by SO commander sub-inspector Abdulla Ibrahim,” claimed Nasheed.

Nasheed also criticised the government for its decision to ‘freeze employment’ in an attempt to reduce the ballooning budget deficit.

More than 5000 students are to finish their O levels, said the former president, with a further 2000 completing A levels – suggesting that these groups would be lost to gangs without gainful employment.

“The budget deficit has risen higher than ever before. The government is in huge amounts of debt after selling treasury bills to make ends meet,” continued the MDP leader, referring to the budget deficit which is now believed to exceed MVR4 billion (US$260 million).

He also spoke again of President Abdulla Yameen’s numerous visits to Singapore saying that the President Yameen is carrying out his presidential duties and obligations at a time where the whole country is descending into fear and chaos.

“If President Yameen is ill, we would not criticise these visits. However, the President’s Office has informed the media that the President and the First Lady is in good health, making us question the motive behind trips to Singapore,” said Nasheed.

President Yameen and the first lady have since returned from their unofficial trip.

Nasheed pointed out that the government has taken little to no action when an MDP rally held at Addu City was attacked by masked men wielding batons or when an MDP office in Malé was set on fire by two individuals on motorbikes.

Last night’s rally was held amidst a large number of threats issued against the opposition party. During the party’s last rally in the Malé, MP Eva Abdulla received a message threatening a suicide attack at the next MDP gathering while vowing to ‘fight to the last drop of blood’.

Despite party members continuing to receive threats prior to yesterday’s rally, the event passed without incident. Earlier today (October 26), the MDP held a press conference announcing that over 12,000 new members has signed to the party.

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Elections and “judicial interference” among key topics in president’s inaugural address

Pursuing parliamentary-mandated early elections and avoiding interfering with the country’s judiciary are among a number of social and economic commitments outlined in President Waheed’s first state of the nation address.

In a heated Majlis session that took place yesterday, Waheed was finally able to deliver his constitutionally-mandated address to open parliament after several unsuccessful attempts.

However, he was still forced to give the speech amidst loud heckling and vociferous protests from within the Majlis chamber by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters.

The MDP protests were designed to stymie parliamentary functions until a date was set for early elections amidst concerns over the legitimacy of the present government. These protests were condemned yesterday by Commonwealth Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon, whose organisation has backed early election calls.

Despite the interruptions, an unofficial transcript of the address can be found on the President’s Office website here.

The speech itself outlines some of the key policies that Waheed will hope to perform in his capacity as president.

Policies

These policies include measures for taxation, international relations and plans to “empower” the independence of institutions like the Majlis and the country’s judiciary by not “interfering” with their work.

Previous attempts to bring reforms to the Maldives courts, at least in line with certain international judicial standards, have proved a controversial issue in the recent political upheavals that saw former President Mohamed Nasheed “resign” from office in a move later alleged to be the result of a “coup d’etat.”

However, President Waheed used his speech to commit himself to constitutional rule, despite the “coup” allegations surrounding his rise to the country’s top office.

“My highest priority is to perform the duties of the president in line with the constitution and laws of the country,” read Waheed’s speech. “I assure you that I will not take any action that goes against the constitution or law. Neither will I interfere with the work of the Judiciary.”

Speaking to Minivan News today, President Waheed’s spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said that the new government hoped to “strengthen” independent institutions like the parliament and the courts.

Riza claimed that over past three years, the executive branch under former President Mohamed Nasheed was often involving themselves in parliamentary and judicial affairs that were supposed to function independently as separate bodies under the constitution.

“We want to empower institutions not interfere with the decision they are taking,” the spokesperson said. “The president will give all the help he can to parliament. For instance on March 1, [a parliamentary session abandoned owing to anti-government protests in the chamber] President Waheed could have held the Majlis session with military officers to support him. Nasheed had done this in 2010 and 2011, but he chose not to. Even when he was being insulted.”

Beyond his own bodyguards, Riza said that President Waheed would not have any other external military forces in the Majlis.

Judicial interference

Amidst concerns over the independence and ethics of the nation’s judiciary by a former president-appointed member of national court watchdog, the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) as well as international bodies like the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the EU, the conduct of judges became a major issue of the Nasheed presidency.

Upon eventually coming under international condemnation for the arrest of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, Mohamed Nasheed’s government then requested assistance from the international community to reform the judiciary over claims that national security was otherwise threatened.

Although Nasheed is no longer in office, Riza stated that the new government would continue to work with organisations and legal teams from the commonwealth and the EU on judicial reform and the proposed all-party roadmap talks.

“The president is liberal enough to take advice on these issues.”

Referring to providing early elections, one of the key aims of MDP protesters that have attempted to stop the president from giving his speech at the Majlis, Waheed said that if that if a presidential vote was “required” at an earlier date, he would begin work on constitutional reforms to support it.

“I will do everything in my power to bring together all the political leaders, to hold discussions on the matter,” he said.

Riza said that the use of the term “required” related to a mandate from parliament to hold fresh elections, though he stressed constitutional reforms were vital in ensuring that any leader elected in early polls would have a full constitutionally-mandated term of five years.

“If parties are not willing to have two elections in 18 months, clauses need to be amended and the legal mandate to do this can only be through parliament,” he said.

International relations

In regards to diplomatic relations, President Waheed said that his government aimed to protect the Maldives’ sovereignty and Islamic identity, whilst collaborating with foreign governments in areas such as preventing terrorism, piracy and arms smuggling.

“The government will accord a high priority to strengthen relations with countries that respect our sovereignty and are concerned about our national well-being,” the president stated. “One of the key objectives of our foreign policy is to secure foreign aid for economic and social development.”

In addressing what the comments could mean for the country’s existing relationships with international partners, particularly in regards to the previous government’s decision to open diplomatic relations with Israel, Riza said it was too early to tell at present.

“Our position is being reviewed right now on this. The foreign Minister is working on what line to take,”

The country’s relationship with Israel under Mohamed Nasheed was deeply unpopular among some sections of the public, who called for the government to withdraw plans to allow Israeli airliners to bring tourists to the country. Some political parties at the time alleged that the Nasheed government itself held a “zionist agenda”.

Among other key points raised within the speech transcript were calls for no one individual in the country to endanger the country to protect the interests of a “few”.

“Political stakeholders should work to ensure that Maldives is free from political turmoil and that citizens live without fear,” read the statement.

Addressing the number of violent clashes that have taken place between security forces and civilians since he came to power last month, Dr Waheed said there were significant costs to be recovered.

“State buildings were burned down and destroyed as a result of these unlawful acts,” the address read. “In Addu City and Huvadhoo Atoll, which were among the most affected areas, the cost of destruction to Island Councils, buildings under the care of these councils, homes of citizens, and police stations is currently estimated at more than Rf 180m.

In considering the country’s religious heritage, the president reiterated the Maldives’ status as a 100 per cent Muslim nation that did not afford for other religions to be practiced.

“The government will work to revive the spirit and strengthen the principles of Islamic faith among the people,” the president stated.

Addressing economic factors, Waheed stressed that the country was currently undergoing economic vulnerability with a deficit between state expenditure and state income said to currently amount to slightly over Rf3bn (US$200m)

“Estimates for 2012 indicate that the debt component of the current account in our Balance of Payments will increase by 11 per cent as compared to 2011,” stated the president. “With respect to GDP, debt of our current account will go up to 28 per cent. This figure in 2011 was 26 per cent. The main reason for this rise is the expectation that imports will increase, resulting in an increase in expenditure for these imports.”

Riza said that the government was not willing to increase the state budget further and would look to find methods to “live within in its own means.” In order to try and balance its books, the government said it was looking into further financial reforms with the aid of the private sector.

While not presently wishing to review taxation reforms, Riza stressed that the government would not be looking to increase the current 3.5 percent rate tourism Goods and Services Tax (GST) introduced last year as had been suggested by the Nasheed government.

In areas of trade, the president said he would look to strengthen opportunities for small and medium enterprises, while also trying obtain “reasonable” prices for a Maldives fisherman’s catch.

“Work is in progress to obtain the Marine Stewardship Council’s Certificate which will enable Maldivian fishermen to get a better price for fish caught through the pole-and-line method,” Waheed said. “Last year, a number of training programmes have been conducted with the aim of increasing the skills of farmers and achieve greater productivity in our agriculture industry. A special school is to be established in Laamu Atoll to conduct agricultural research and training.”

Tourism

As the country’s foremost source of income, President Waheed claimed that the current government had already achieved a number of positive results regarding tourism. He claimed that counter measures against travel advisories issued in some major tourism markets along with potentially unfavourable headlines were one such example.

“I plan to form a Tourism Advisory Board to determine policy directions for tourism and address the challenges currently faced by the tourism industry,”

Like his predecessor, the new president pledged to be outspoken internationally in regards to the plight small nations faced from the potentially destructive impacts of climate change.

“The government will encourage the voice of small island nations to be heard in the global arena with regard to climate change,” added the president. “The Maldives will always participate in voicing out concerns of small island nations”

Issues relating to housing, sanitation and health were also mentioned in the speech transcript.

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“I cannot speak against music. I cannot stand against cheerfulness”: President Nasheed

The following is a translation of a speech given by President Mohamed Nasheed on December 17.

“When I spoke in Maafannu [on December 15], I said that we have been somewhat contemplating on what everyone is talking about in the Maldives today. This party or the government is, in no way, worried about the instigation of a mega protest [on December 23].

However, if any of the citizens spread fatwa, or talk about beheading or killing other citizens, I see it as a severe disruption of our social stature.

We all have been accustomed and have accepted moderate policies for our daily lives. I see that it is time for all those who support our traditional methods and believe that those methods are not wrong, to come out for its defense.

Lately some people, including political parties and NGOs, have been very vocal about the implementation of specific verdicts. Those that they identify include harsh religious verdicts which we don’t practice today, such as half-buried stoning, beheading and killing.

From the beginning, this government has been seeking and following the advice of religious scholars.

Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari is the Minister of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, the institution responsible for disclosing and implementing the government’s religious policies. Dr Majeed would agree that the government has always respected their decisions on religious matters, and has in no way attempted any reservations or objections on such decisions, even in my own capacity.

And Dr Majeed clearly knows that, quite often, I accept his word as the final word on certain type of matters, even at Cabinet discussions.

We have been able to hold our religious identity and its values at a par, for hundreds and hundreds of years. I don’t see a reason for us to get ourselves drenched arguing over different sectarian perspectives and intricate religious vocabulary today. Since ancient times we have been living in a harmonious Islamic culture, unlike those Islamic nations who are known for defending specific religious perspectives. I would rather stand up and show Maldives’ Islam as an example for them to follow.

We Maldivians are a nice lot. And we love Islam. Not this government, nor the people, nor myself, would allow room for the spread of another religion in the Maldives.

We or the government have never – never – endorsed for such. If some are of the view that the current religious situation is not better than before, I wonder where are all the scholars who were in the cells that surrounded mine?

They are here: because they pray; because they preach; because they clarify religious matters. Today, our people have the blessings of God, for all scholars to speak their will, and guide the public, within the rightful boundaries of religion.

Using [religion] to deceive as such, I believe, could be very perilous to the people. It could be very perilous to the Maldives.

While harsh religious policies are being defended; in reality, they can only be implemented through the Constitution.

To conduct half-buried stoning, cutting off limbs, beheading, flogging or to implement any other such verdict, it can only be done when it is deemed so in the Penal Code. Those responsible for doing this are the parliament members.

I always prefer to seek religious advice from religious scholars. They need to clarify it plainly to the public. What is it that they are so vocal about? What is it that they are seeking? Is it the same as what we have been practicing so far? I feel that we need to speak about these matters very clearly. All political parties need to spell out clearly what they prefer to include in the Penal Code.

What verdicts do they want to include? We also have many other not-so-clear matters in addition to these verdicts. And many other matters of dispute among the people. One such dispute would be about music. Many of us has a passion for music. Many of us Maldivians listen to music and like to play too. When some start to preach against it, we the people, need to know what the actual truth is.

Traditionally, Maldivian women have strongly participated equally both at work and at home, similar to its male counterpart, in raising children, in social and economic activities. We need to know what the social role of women is. Are we asking to change what we have been practicing for so long? Or are we only hearing from the loudest? Is this from the opposition’s TV and radio channels, trying all that they can to promote anti-government sentiment, in the heated political atmosphere? I believe that the public needs to have clarity.

We are the leaders of the people. We are elected by the people. According to this political system embedded in our constitution, we cannot part away from the people. We brought in this system, because we wanted to execute it. By God’s virtue, we are doing it. While we are at this, most political leaders would be swindling to comment or not to comment on my words here tonight, basically without expressing their perspectives at all, and remain deceitful to the public. They need to express, to the public, very clearly and specifically their views and perspectives on relevant matters. If the public don’t agree, it is their right to seek other leaders. We will continue to conduct free and fair elections.

I will say, I have been raised by my parents on the principles of Islam since childhood. I dearly believe the principles of Islam. I shall not let my conscience be affected by the worldly waves, or breach my own ways: the ways my teachers and my parents taught me.

I don’t see why some people should disapprove me for this reason. We all should be able to live together. We have spelt out the constitution for different circumstances.

Some people raised concern about the monuments placed by the SAARC countries in the city and the atoll, when Addu transferred into a city. We find a lot of commemorative monuments in Maldives. Male also has such monuments. This time, when it was requested to send in their country’s monument, the specifics had probably been subject to miscommunication.

I don’t think, under any circumstances, any of us intended to place an idol of worship, when it was placed there. It was only a commemorative monument sent in by the leaders of SAARC countries, placed by the mayor with the workmen from the islands. I only saw it when I was told that it had been vandalised.

This is not a government who will try to do anything that hasn’t been done before as far as religion goes. What we are trying to change are the social standards, economic policies and political philosophies.

We shall never denounce the religious policies and standards accepted by the people. We shall neither provide space for such a spirit to infiltrate into Maldives. But I shall repeat, I cannot speak against music. I cannot stand against cheerfulness. We require them as part of our daily needs, to sooth and calm our souls. I am sure; our youth population is not tiny. We cannot let them be demoralised or leave them to become useless. We need to provide them with modes of entertainment and other activities to fill their time, for if not, the outcome would be devastating.

When we rolled over in 2008, I myself was witness to the youth in street corners, being victims of strong addictive drugs. Some would say that I don’t see them now because I am not out there on the streets. I am actually looking for them now. We are implementing and managing different activities. We are taking care of them. When we took over the government, not a single month passed when there had not been a fire attack in a jail or vandalising of property. However, today they know they have the opportunity to come out on parole with an effort on their side. They know that this government is working on it. That is the society we want to establish. To find a way to bring them back in to their families and the society as productive good citizens.

We need shelter. We all know the obstacles we face in the Maldives. We know them now. I still remember around one and half years ago, what someone had told after some calculations. That if we were to build the number of flats that we promised, we were to erect a specific number of flats per minute. And that is exactly what we do: we erect a number of flats per minute. The waiting time, planning time, designing time is sometimes not considered as part of the project implementation time. During my visits some would ask when the physical implementation work would start. Physical work is considered only that from which you sweat. Or which can be physically seen on site. With God’s grace, we shall deliver our ‘shelter’ campaign pledge. We shall deliver our ‘health’ pledge. We shall deliver our ‘anti-drugs’ pledge.

The only one we would question would be the ‘price’ pledge, understanding exactly how much we can reduce the prices. Prices will reduce somewhat on January 1. However, we should consider giving serious thought as to whether it is possible to reduce the prices to match the levels that we initially wanted.

We shall not stop. We shall try all possible methods. We shall twist and tweak all possible economic options to find a balance. With God’s blessing, we are trying to achieve our goals of a ‘neater’ life, beautiful and happy: without serious worries; not having to beg for medical assistance or text books for school children; not having to worry about red notices. We are seeking to get beyond these. All the same, I would like to tell you, I shall not let go of any of these beliefs for any political reasons, and I will not keep quiet about them.

I believe that our citizens are very much aware. Misconceptions shall dissolve. And they know how things are moving ahead. What is being spoken about on a regular basis would be clear to all. However, some of us are concerned, that there are those citizens who only believe what they are made to hear and see by specific radio and TV stations. Not me. I know they are not misguided. I am leading a people that I know about. They are not strangers to me.

Most time, I would know. Those issues that aren’t rectified for you, are not unknown and not left without attendance. It is the current situation that is not allowing us to get in it on the right track. I believe we have achieved several objectives during the past three years.

Before I end my words, I would like to stress that, on December 23, as many of citizens as possible should come out to express themselves and to take a stand. This is the purpose of rallies under a democracy. To express your view and to show which views you stand by.

Some keep asking me why we should stand up.

We have to. Let me tell you this. On that day, when you happen to see a group of people on Male’ streets, who keeps a certain look, dresses in a certain way, and calls for certain calling, you will ask me where I was, if I wouldn’t be there. By God’s grace, I shan’t be lost. I shall be there where I should be.

My prayer is that we are blessed with a better tomorrow.”

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Democracy growing, but gender equality a key issue: UNDP

The UNDP International Day of Democracy was celebrated today under the theme “Youth Inclusion and Democracy” at the Nasandhura Palace Hotel. Representatives from the government, UNDP, and the Human Rights Commission spoke on democratic progress in the Maldives.

Youth in civil society were widely recognised as a key factor for democratic growth in the Maldives.

UN Advisor on Social Cohesion and Governance, Ferdinand von Habsburg-Lothringen, delivered the opening speech.

“Civil society in the Maldives is impressive. It is an important avenue for young people to engage with their community and to hold leaders accountable,” he said.

Habsburg-Lothringen noted that “democracy is still a new concept in the Maldives, and will take many years to mature,” and encouraged the Maldivian government to enact “crucial” laws, such as the penal code.

Gender equality remains one of the biggest issues in the Maldives, said Habsburg-Lothringen. He noted that only 5 of the 77 MPs are female.

“Gender equality is an area in which the Maldives is lagging behind most countries in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” he said. “Democracy is dependent on not just 50 percent of the people. With only half of the eligible work force participating, growth will not flourish in the Maldives.”

Home Minister Hassan Afeef called this year’s theme “relevant to the country – a majority of our population are young people.”

The ceremony featured a presentation of the report, “Comprehensive Study on Maldivian Civil Society” by FJS Consulting.

Managing Director Fareeha Shareef summarised the report’s findings on CSOs in the Maldives. Among the issues addressed was the disorganised categorisation of CSOs.

“The government is trying to provide aid but the structure of how to do it is not specified,” said Shareef. “Some sports clubs and organisations didn’t even engage in sports activities,” she said.

Shareef also commented on the CSO sector’s unique work force. According to the report, only 0.7 percent of employees are paid, and the average employee is age 25 with an education ranging between grades 6 and 10. There are 1100 CSOs registered in the Maldives.

Funding is also a struggle. The report found that donors were the least common source of funding, and many CSOs organise events to generate income. One example was a CSO that went fishing to generate program funding. The report notes that these events only cover about 30 percent of the total program cost.

The report recognises that the Maldives has the resources to support a strong civil society, but recommends bringing in older employees to provide guidance. “Imagine the potential of the sector if the resources were channeled in an effective manner,” said Shareef.

Chief Guest speaker Mariyam Azra Ahmed, Chair of the Human Rights Commission, said “a vibrant civil sector and independent media, among others” were essential for growth. She also advised a stronger dialogue between citizens and the government. “Lifestyles incorporating compromise, cooperation, and consensus building should be a consistent, recurring feature in  a democratic society,” she said.

The event included a performance by musician Yes-e and singer Grey, for whom the performance was her debut. “I was a bit nervous, and the audience wasn’t very lively, but it was a good event,” she said.

Following a tea break, a vigorous student debate was widely attended by members of civil society, UNDP, and the government. Gesticulating throughout the debate, the students of Aminiya and Dharumavatha schools demonstrated passion and ambition for democracy in the Maldives.

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World should rejoice that governments have forever lost the ability to control information, Nasheed tells UN

The chain of protests that rocked the Arab world this year have shown that governments have forever lost the ability to control information, President Mohamed Nasheed has said in a keynote address to the United Nations, including the 47 members of the UN Human Rights Council.

“Those of us who believe in individual liberties should rejoice at this fact because, quite simply, it changes the rules of the game,” he said.

Describing himself as a protester, “as someone who has spent much of his adult life speaking out against leaders who place their own interests over those of their people, leaders who seek power for power’s sake,” Nasheed observed that globalisation and the democratisation of information now meant that “governments simply have no option” but to listen to the demands of pro-democracy protesters.

“In a time of awakening, Muslims across the world are standing up, governments must see peaceful protests not as a threat but as an opportunity,” Nasheed said.

“It is a a moment when Muslims across the world are standing up as one to demand equality, human rights, democracy and the rule of law. These developments provide a fitting rebuttal to those, inside and outside of Islam, who claim that our religion is not compatible with democracy.”

Nasheed predicted that 2011 would come to be seen “as a tipping point for peaceful protests, as the moment when the balance of power swung, irreversibly, from the state to the streets.”

“In the past, when news and information were more malleable, governments had the option of suppressing protests in the hope of breaking them before news spread. Swift, decisive and often violent action at the outset could, in this sense, nip the problem in the bud. Life, especially for those in positions of power, could go on as normal,” he observed.

“In the past, facts and truths could be constructed and controlled by a few. Today they can be discovered and learned by everyone. The use of modern communication technology has allowed those with grievances to mobilise and spread their message. And, crucially, modern media also provides a lens through which the outside world can witness events unfold and learn the truth.”

As a result of globalisation and the communication revolution, “the more a government tries to control, the less control it actually has. The more those in power try to tighten their grip, the more power slips through their fingers,” Nasheed said.

“Today, the only way to rule sustainably is to rule with the trust and consent of the governed.”

Protests in the Maldives began eight years ago, changing the course of the country’s history, Nasheed explained.

“At one level we were protesting against something – against an autocratic system of government which had monopolised power for thirty years. But we were also protesting for something – for a better, fairer system of government, for equality and for justice.

“Today, we have succeeded in sweeping away the old. In 2008 the previous government was peacefully removed from power in free and fair elections under a new Constitution.”

Nasheed emphasised that the country’s first democratic multi-party elections were just the beginning of true democratic reform. The present challenges faced by the Maldives – not just the strengthening of independent institutions but also confronting the past – would be mirrored in Tunisia and Egypt, he predicted.

“One challenge is to establish and strengthen independent institutions, to ensure that democracy and human rights are guaranteed regardless of who is in power. A second challenge relates to transitional justice and reconciliation – how to deal with the past without endangering the future,” he explained.

“There can be no doubt that serious human rights violations were committed in the Maldives and that the victims of those violations deserve justice. But we must draw a clear line between reconciliation and revenge. To move forward, the search for truth and justice must be placed within an overall framework of national reconciliation – we must look forward, not back.

“A third challenge is to rebuild the economic fabric of the country. People cannot properly enjoy democratic freedoms if their basic needs are left unfulfilled. Without socio-economic development, political transitions quickly unravel.

“These challenges are relevant not only for the Maldives. They are also relevant for other countries that have dismantled autocratic regimes.”

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Comment: An Evening with Mrs Naik

Ever since my tenth grade in lower secondary in 1982, I do not remember being in a room full of only women until Wednesday night. And now I have completed my forty-fourth year of living.

Wednesday night was womens’ night at the Islamic Centre. The occasion was a lecture by a Mrs Zakir Naik hosted by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. Her husband Dr Zakir Naik was invited by the ministry to the country to deliver Islamic lectures. And the couple, their son and three daughters were also involved.

The local media has over the past three weeks made headlines of Dr Naik’s visit to the country. Many locals seems to believe that Dr Naik, who is the founder of the Mumbai based channel, Peace TV is a renowned Islamic Scholar.

While I am under the impression that he is a medical doctor, one of the senior government officials referred to him as a tele-evangelist.

I believe since the nation converted from Buddhism to Islam in 1153, Islam has been fundamental to Maldivians. But lately, I have been aware that the word “Islam” has a special ring to it that it attracts, assembles, arouses and angers my country folk.

I have been long convinced that the power of Islam as the topnotch political power tool to mobilize the Maldivian masses cannot be overlooked. And while the Maldives struggles to move forward nursing its infant democracy and wounded economy, my eyes are fixed on the hands of the evil but the smart who hold Islam as a weapon as we close on 2013.

I find Islam enlightening, progressive and intriguing. Social justice is a passionate concept to me as much as I believe it is central to Islam. So I was at the lecture venue fifteen minutes before it started to learn from Mrs Naik about Islam.

When I arrived at the venue I was not surprised to be told that the main hall was full. The place was swarming with mostly black figures. Rows of chairs lined up on all possible space outside the hall and women were seated on all of them. Some were climbing up the stairs to the mosque above the hall.

I spotted some nervous officials belonging to the host. Obviously, they expected a large turnout and had made careful arrangements with two screens to display Mrs Naik for the people outside. But this response, I was sure, was unexpected.

I looked around. In addition to some officials from the ministry, the only men were some two dozen seated on the low walls in the compound.

I was lucky to get a seat in the main hall filled with nearly three hundred women. The majority was dressed in black. I counted ten wearing no scarf or buruga. The rest showed only their face and hands. Some showed nothing. I noticed three movie cameras operated by young ladies who I assume were journalists from the TV Maldives. The Islamic Ministry estimated 6000 women attended the function.

The evening began. One of the daughters of Mrs Naik recited Quruan. The next daughter, looking close to ten years recited a poem. It praised the hijab while outrightly insulted those who did not wear it.

Next we heard the introduction of our lecturer Mrs Farhat Naik.
We heard Mrs Naik is from Mumbai and has a masters degree in commerce. We were told she is a well known figure in the Islamic community and has traveled all over the world. We were told she lectured on Islam in countries such as the United States, Australia, Canada, etc. We heard she is a principal of one of the Islamic schools and Mr and Mrs Naik has even opened Islamic Schools.

What I do not remember hearing was her qualification in Islam and who gave it to her.

Mrs Naik took the microphone, standing in front of me. She was tall and a pleasant lady. She wore a black gown and a dark buruga and her face and hands were the only visible skin.

Hoping for some stimulating valuable information in Islam, I listened intently.

She started saying her topic for the night is “My purpose of life” and not “roles and responsibilities of women in Islam” as displayed behind her on a board.

The lecture went on for over an hour. My expectations turned to disappointment. And then, to concern.

The “academic lecture” that I expected turned out to be a memorized inconsistent contradicting jumble. It contained information downloaded from internet mixed with outdated and inappropriate examples that was pinched with selected verses from different chapters of Quruan and decorated with rhetoric. The “world famous Islamic Scholar” turned out to be a “performer” very suitable to school kids from primary to secondary. I later checked her quotes from Quruan and found they were used indeed out of context.

Mrs Naik first quote from Quruan was 51:56. She said “We have created man and jinn only for the purpose of Ibadhaa (worship).” She interpreted it saying “worship is what pleases Allah and our salvation and success depends on Allah being pleased.”

I checked a translation of the verse. It has “worship” replaced with “service” and the verse had a very strong yet broad meaning that encompass the diverse activities of all human life. To my dismay, Mrs Naik’s entire interpretation was in a total vaccum where human life, activities and times were concerned.

In her speech Mrs Naik preached us to be Allah-centred and said the purpose of a Muslim’s life should be to pleasure Allah. She preached not to have meaningless purposes in life and elaborated it with an example of a dog chasing a car on the highway. She came up with a word for each letter in Islam. She said “I” is for Quruan and Sunnah, “S” is for specific goals, “L” is for lucrative – in this world and afterlife, “M” is to measure how much is achieved and “I” is for intentions – which is to pleasure Allah” and “C” is for consistency. She did not tell us how a Muslim could measure the achievements made toward the goal of pleasing Allah.

She preached the values of having strong desires, having focus, putting consistent efforts, disregarding worldly ambitions and not to let society decide what a Muslim should become. She elaborated it with the story of the 1960 Olympic medalist Wilma Rudolph. But she never mentioned the relationship between Wilma’s success and her worship to Allah.

I wonder whether Mrs Naik, as an Islamic scholar did some research on our 100 percent Muslim country prior to her visit. Obviously, she was not aware that murder and stabbing are nearly a weekly affair which the Maldivians are increasingly getting de-sensitized to. She preached repentance and elaborated it with a story of a man who committed 100 murders and fell dead on the way to repent but went to heaven because his intent to repent preceded his death.

Mrs Naik went on to say “do not judge people on what people think of you”. She said the message given by girls who wear hijab is “We are prohibited” while the message girls who wear skirts give is “You are invited”. Is Mrs Naik reinforcing her audience to harass girls who do not wear hijab? Doesn’t she know that in Maldives there are many women who do not wear hijab? Is Mrs Naik saying that harassment, abuse and rape do not occur in communities where women wear hijab? What data does she have to support her argument? Mrs Naik asked her audience to imagine a world where all women wear hijab saying that there would be no such crimes as harassment, rape, abuse, etc. Does she know that rape and sex abuse often happen within family? As a scholar how did she come up with such an assumption?

Mrs Naik expressed her distaste for western values and said “if we copy the west we have products of the west”. I wonder what she was thinking when she sat watching her two daughters emulate a rap song at her microphone after her talk.

Mrs Naik called the TV an “idiot box”. She urged her audience to throw it and switch on the Islamic TV mentioning Mr Naik’s Peace TV. She said cartoons are made to brainwash the children and spoil generations. She disregarded the positive values put across to children through cartoons and the valuable information received through those such as the National Geographic Channel. Her rhetoric seemed to totally disregard modern technological advances and any child’s basic right to walk the path to wisdom.

She said all TV channels except Islamic ones ‘are designed to stop the (imminent) revolution that Muslim Ummah is going to bring to the world’. I saw this message in the context of her entire lecture that can be summarised as, “Allah created humankind to worship Him and while everyone should have a purpose in life it should be the jihad of converting all human kind into Islam.”

I wonder why Islamic scholars always continue to portray Allah in the image of a human being – a human being who gets pleasure from the praise and deeds of his slaves and rewards in return. I wonder how the audience will perceive the divine when Mrs Naik told a story involving a clash between the Angel of Paradise and the Angel of Curse on who would take out the soul of a dead person. She said to determine who gets the soul, Allah asked them to find out which distance is longer – between where the man was when he decided to repent and the spot where his dead body lay or from that spot to where he was going to repent?

I wonder whether a true Islamic scholar trying to win the hearts and minds of twenty-first century Maldivians should talk in such terms.

The superscript of the Naik’s whole visit was revealed when Mrs Naik answered a question from the audience who asked her where she can provide Islamic education to her children. She answered by telling that if she wanted an Islamic school why doesn’t she get together people who want it and call her husband for it at his lecture following evening.

When I left the hall close to eleven thirty, I saw a state car and two security officers in full gear waiting outside in the drive way.

And my mind struggled to reconcile the cost – benefit ratio of this enchanting evening with Mrs. Naik.

But I know, tonight is an accomplishment for those. They’ve seen the blue print for the transformation they require. And this transformation is the final step to the Rule by the Ulaama.

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]

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“Islam and commerce are synonymous”: President Nasheed

President Mohamed Nasheed addressed the 6th World Islamic Economic Forum in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, outlining the links between Islam and trade and expressing hope that the forum, and commerce between Muslim countries, will grow in the future.

The forum, which was held from 18-20 of May, was a platform for governments of Muslim and non-Muslim nations, and business leaders, to meet and discuss trade and economic issues.

This year’s theme, Gearing for Economic Resurgence, focused on the role of Islamic banking and financing, and how it can play a role in building a more stable global finance system.

Speaking at the forum, President Nasheed said he believed it was “appropriate that modern day Muslim nations meet to trade and invest with one another.”

He added it was important to “forge ties with nations of other faiths, just as Muslims have done over thousands of years.”

Nasheed noted that “it was through trade and commerce that Islam was introduced to many parts of the world.”

The spice trade brought Islam to Central and South East Asia, China, and Sub-Saharan Africa, he continued, and it was trade that brought Islam to the “then Buddhist Maldives.”

Arab merchants were attracted to the Maldives in the 12th century when they found out about the “abundant supply of Cowry shells…[which] were used at the time as an international currency. “

Because of the islands’ geographic location, said Nasheed, many merchants also stopped in the Maldives during their travels from the Spice Islands to the Middle East, and waited for the monsoon.

President Nasheed noted that the famous 14th century explorer, Ibn Battuta, also came to the Maldives during his travels and was “impressed by combs made from turtle shell, as well as rope and fibres, which were exported abroad.”

Nasheed reiterated that Islam and trade have always been closely tied, as “in the past, trade brought Islam, and Islam brought greater trade. To my mind, Islam and commerce are synonymous.”

Moreover, he said, “Muslim people have a strong culture of commerce” and the Qur’an was “explicit about correct terms of trade and commerce.”

President Nasheed said although “some people belittle Muslims and Islam—they like to portray Muslims as backward and impoverished people,” he believes “the signs of growing Muslim prosperity are everywhere: from the glittering desert cities of the Arabian peninsula, to the vibrant export economies of Malaysia and Indonesia.”

He added that, “as Muslims, we can be confident in trading and investing with one another.”

Open economy

Although the Maldives’ economy was once “relatively closed”, the president told the delegates, the current administration had “introduced a radical programme of privatisation and public-private partnerships.”

“We believe that the free market is the most efficient and effective mechanism to deliver goods and services,” he said. “We are offering investment opportunities across the board: from housing to hotels; from energy to education.”

The president said historically Maldives “exported cowry shells and provided respite for sailors. Today, the mainstays of our export-oriented economy are tuna and tourism.”

He added that Maldivian tuna is “caught sustainably” by pole and line, making it “some of the best tuna available on the market.”

A ruling made in March by the Cabinet has now allowed long-line fishing for Maldivian vessels, which is more harmful to the environment. Although the government has defended its decision, there are still concerns from the fisheries industry and environmentalists that long-lining will adversely affect the industry and the environment in the Maldives.

President Nasheed ended his address by saying Maldivians and other Muslims have “always been entrepreneurial people” and the “dynamism and creativity of the Muslim peoples” should be harnessed and built upon.

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President Nasheed addresses the SAARC summit

During his first speech to South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) leaders at the sixteenth SAARC Summit in Bhutan, President Mohamed Nasheed called on his fellow leaders to review the effectiveness of SAARC.

He said South Asia is one of the most dynamic and important regions in the world, and all countries must be prepared for both challenges and opportunities in the future. For the benefit of all members, he said, SAARC member countries must increase cooperation.

One of the regions the president noted to be of great importance was green investment and development.

The president said South Asia could become a testing ground for innovative green technologies, research in renewable energy and new forms of sustainable development.

He called for member states to establish a Low-Carbon Research and Development Centre in the proposed South Asian University.

Speaking on democracy and human rights, President Nasheed expressed content that South Asia “is now a region of democracies,” but added there were many challenges ahead in consolidating democracy and strengthening human rights.

The president proposed a regional human rights mechanism, to help South Asian countries promote and protect the rights of their citizens.

President Nasheed noted South Asia was badly affected by the global food and energy crisis, and supported the proposal to jointly import crude oil to the region, saying it would increase energy security and would improve a bargaining position in the world market.

He added fostering inter-cultural exchange, especially amongst the youth of the region, was of high importance.

President Nasheed then called for a meeting between India and Pakistan.

The summit marks the 25th anniversary since the formation of SAARC in Bangladesh in 1985.

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Comment: We need help to make the medicine go down

Extract from a speech given by President Mohamed Nasheed to the Maldives Donors Conference 2010.

We have come here today from many different parts of the world. Some of you are based in the Maldives. Some of you have visited many times. For others, it may be your first visit to our country. We are a diverse collection of people.

Some of you are from government, some from multilateral institutions, some from grant giving organisations. Although we are many different people, we are brought together by a common goal: We all want to see a peaceful Maldives, and we all want to see a prosperous Maldives.

And so, I welcome you here as friends. And I hope we can work together towards our common vision. The Maldives has made considerable progress over the past eighteen months. This administration was voted in because people wanted political change. There is much work to do.

Politics

The separation of powers enshrined under the new constitution has been respected. Last year, we held this country’s first democratic parliamentary elections, which were judged free and fair by international observers.
We now have a Majlis that is democratically elected, doing away with the old system where 20 per cent of MPs were appointed by the President.

The judiciary is independent of the executive and legislature. I have made no secret of my concerns over the capacity of the judiciary to dispense justice. Nevertheless, we respect its independence and I hope that with training and capacity support, the judiciary will grow into a respected institution.

This administration respects fundamental rights and liberties. People are now free to join political parties, and participation in politics is very high. Over 80 per cent of the voting public took part in the presidential and parliamentary elections.

Almost 10 per cent of the population has joined the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party; and a further 10 per cent of people have signed up for the main opposition [Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party]. Free, open and competitive politics is now part and parcel of people’s daily lives.

Media

Press freedom also goes from strength to strength. We have dozens of newspapers, TV and radio stations, websites and blogs all free to report and comment as they see fit. Newspapers frequently criticise the government; in fact many newspapers lean heavily towards opposition parties.

We don’t mind criticism; indeed we welcome it. I would, however, call on certain sections of the media to be more responsible. Journalists should be mindful of the consequences of their actions. It is not OK to spread rumours or unsubstantiated allegations against anyone, whether they are in government or opposition.

To be honest, I don’t really care what people say about me. But in a small society, false allegations can be very hurtful. So I appeal to the media to act responsibly. And I ask journalists to try, to the best of their abilities, to report the truth. Of course, humans will always make mistakes. When the media makes a mistake, people who have been wronged should be allowed redress.

At the same time, we don’t want defamation laws to create a chilling effect on press freedom. For these reasons, this administration has decriminalised defamation, so journalists no longer have to fear jail for anything they write.

And with the help of the press freedom watchdog, Article 19, we have submitted a new broadcasting bill to the Majlis. The broadcasting bill will improve the integrity and independence of the broadcast media, and I urge all MPs to support it.

Last year the Maldives climbed 53 places in Reporters Without Borders’ global press freedom index. We are now ranked six places behind France for freedom of the press. This is a remarkable improvement.

But I do not want to sound complacent. Earlier this month, a gang of youths threatened and attacked journalists from DhiTV and Haveeru newspaper. This was a disgraceful attack on the press. The police swiftly arrested the suspects.

But let me be absolutely explicit about this; let me make this crystal clear: I don’t care whether you are a gangster, or whether you are a senior politician controlling the gangsters. If you attack, or orchestrate attacks on the media, this government will take appropriate legal action to protect the media.

Despite some setbacks, freedoms are improving. We still have much work to do. But I can say with conviction, that Maldivians enjoy more freedom today than at any other point in history. That, I believe, is something in which we can be proud.

Economic liberation

Through political change, we have managed to emancipate people, so they can play a full and active role in society. And just as people need liberty to progress, we believe business also needs freedom to prosper. We are therefore implementing reforms to liberate the economy.

Our economic reforms involve three crucial parts:

Firstly, we are committed to financial prudence and long-term stability. We have scrapped the reckless policies of the past, which saw money printed to finance a growing budget deficit. Instead, we are working with international multilateral organisations, to ensure we do not spend more than we can afford. And we are reducing our budget deficit to sensible and sustainable levels.

The second plank of our economic reforms is a far-reaching policy of privatisation and public-private partnerships. We do not believe that the state can, or should, play the role of business. Privately run firms tend to be more efficient, more profitable and provide better customer service and job satisfaction. We are therefore offering private parties the chance to invest in a wide range of state run enterprises.

The third part of our economic reforms involves cutting red tape and reducing government bureaucracy. In the past, the government offered people jobs not because there was work that needed doing. The government offered people jobs as bribes; to get their allegiance to a repressive regime. Almost 10 per cent of the population works for the government – a staggering amount.

And there are more civil servants than there is work to be done. Many government employees are under worked; chained to demoralising jobs. Our administration will therefore dramatically reduce the number of civil servants. But we must provide loans for outgoing civil servants, to help them set up businesses or acquire new skills.

We make these changes because we believe in the rights of the individual, over the regulation of government. We implement these reforms because we believe in the dynamism of the market, over the indecision of the state. We make this shift because we believe in business over bureaucracy. I believe that a free economy is the path to success in the Maldives.

Economic Crisis

Of course, we face many challenges. When we came into office, we inherited an economy in crisis. In the years leading up to the 2008 presidential elections, the former regime went on a spending spree that almost bankrupted the country. Our administration inherited a huge national debt from the former regime.

We took over a budget where 70 per cent of government revenue is spent on civil servant’s salaries. We were bequeathed millions of dollars of unpaid bills. And we inherited this situation, just as the global economy faltered.

According to World Bank statistics, the Maldives faced the worst economic situation of any country undergoing democratic transition, since records began in 1956. It has not been an easy 18 months, and we continue to face serious budgetary shortfalls.

As I mentioned earlier, we are embarking on major fiscal and economic reforms, overseen by the IMF. These reforms will see the size of government radically reduced. And reforms will enhance the government’s tax revenues. When fully implemented, the changes will ensure fiscal responsibility and macro economic stability.

Some reforms will be painful and costly. And the economy is still vulnerable. We are not out of the woods yet. We still require significant budgetary and developmental help, to see us through this transitional phase.

We must not falter. We must swallow the bitter economic medicine, to ensure our long-term health. But we need your help. We need your spoonful of sugar, to help the medicine go down. We need the assistance to foster people’s confidence in the changes we are bringing during this turbulent transitional stage of our budding democracy.

Violent opposition

Already, we see the warning signs. There are elements in the opposition determined to block progress in the Majlis. And some opposition figures are flirting with violence in the streets.

This weekend, some members of the main opposition party, the DRP, have been doing their best to get arrested. They are starting fistfights and goading the police to arrest them. Why do they behave in this fashion? Well, it may have something to do with this conference.

I must stress that most members of the opposition are sensible and respectable politicians. But the DRP, I fear, is in danger of being hijacked by radical elements, that the new party president appears incapable of controlling. These radicals call for revolution – disregarding the democratic mandate the electorate gave our administration.

DRP radicals are trying to obstruct this conference from being a success. They are hurting the Maldivian people, just to score a cheap political point.

I understand that the Maldives is in the infant stages of democracy. But it’s time that certain politicians left the nursery, and learnt to grow up.

There are also vested interests in the country trying to prevent economic reform. Many people made huge profits from the closed and corrupt economy of the past. They are trying to prevent a clean, open and transparent economy from being created.

The Auditor-General has compiled evidence implicating senior members of the former regime in corruption and embezzlement of state funds. The opposition is now trying to remove the Auditor-General – even though it was Former President Gayoom who appointed him.

I am under tremendous pressure to act against members of the former regime, who stand accused of corruption and human rights abuses. But I am loath to take this action. If we took action against everyone implicated in corruption and torture, we would end up arresting most of the opposition.

I do not believe that arresting the opposition, is the best way to build a healthy democracy. But you can understand the pressure I am under, during this period of democratic consolidation.

There are also religious extremists attempting to undermine the core values of our democracy.

On the issue of extremism, allow me to go back four or five years ago. Back then, the ruling regime did not allow political parties, and opposing voices were brutally crushed. The only avenue for dissent was underground religious groups.

When the MDP was formed, first in exile and then in the Maldives, a lot of people left these underground groups and joined the opposition. Organised political activity helped to keep fundamentalism in check. As society has opened up, the remnants of the underground, extremist movement have legitimately come into the open. These groups have moved quickly to fill a large space in civil society.

Dealing with fundamentalism

I am often criticised by liberal Maldivians because I refuse to censor religious groups. I am criticised because I won’t crack down on the fundamentalists.

But my point is this: the ends do not justify the means. You cannot arrest and imprison people just because you disagree with their views. Moreover, the battle between liberalism and fundamentalism is a battle of ideas.

Liberally-minded Maldivians must organise, and reclaim civil society if they want to win this battle of ideas. People with broader viewpoints must become more active, to create a tolerant society.

A few nights back, 32 young people came to see me. They were furious about the rise in extremism. To my mind, these are just the sort of people who need to reclaim civil society, if they want to foster a more open-minded society.

We must defeat the rejectionists, who hanker for a return to authoritarian rule. We must overcome the vested interests that want to stymie economic progress. And we must win the battle of ideas against extremists who want to replace democracy with theocracy.

I believe we will not win by going for a crack-down, or a witch-hunt or mass arrests. To my mind, violence only begets violence. Instead, for democracy to flourish, the government must show that people’s lives are improving. We must be able to say, that things will get a little better. We must be able to highlight a brighter future. We must use hope, to overcome fear.

Helping Maldivians

I believe the Maldives is becoming a better and fairer place. Aside from political and economic reforms, we have been able to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable people in society.

We’ve introduced an old age pension for over 65s, to free elderly citizens from the bondage of begging for basic needs.

We’ve started universal health insurance, so every Maldivian can work freely without having to fear the cost of falling sick.

And we’re developing a national ferry network, so people, goods and services can move around the country cheaply and quickly.

But we need help to ensure our economic reforms are successful. We ask for assistance to help the government fulfil its modest election pledges. And we need you to support our vibrant democracy, to safeguard hard-won freedoms.

Climate change

Climate change is real, it is happening and it is getting worse. I know many people are bitterly disappointed with the Copenhagen Accord. The Accord, in its current format, falls well short of a planet saving deal. But it does provide a foundation on which we can build.

Time is of the essence. Sadly, we are falling behind. Climate deniers seem to have gained the upper hand, and vested interests are using leaked emails, and minor errors in the IPCCC reports, to undermine the case for action.

The talk now is of waiting another two years, for Cancun and then South Africa, and perhaps then we’ll have a deal. But we cannot wait for ever.

The scale of our challenge is immense. To solve the climate crisis, the world needs to go carbon neutral by mid-century. This is why the Maldives is pushing ahead with its carbon neutral goal.

We want to break the link between carbon and development. We want to show that carbon neutral development is not just possible; it is profitable.

Energy

In the Maldives, we know how costly fossil fuels can be. Fossil fuels damage the environment and the economy. On some islands, people pay over 80 US cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity. This is obscenely expensive. High prices dampen demand for energy, which in turn hinders economic growth.

The Maldives cannot develop, unless we have a plentiful supply of cheap energy. And the Maldives cannot survive, unless we persuade the world to abandon carbon.

For both these reasons, renewable energy and carbon neutral development makes sense. There is so much at stake for the Maldives. The threats to our democracy, our economy and our environment are real and deadly.

We are walking on a razor’s edge. But I remain optimistic. With your help, we can consolidate democracy. With your support, we can maintain economic stability. With your assistance, we can help ensure the long-term survival of this country and this planet.

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