Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Murder on Eid

23-year old Sameer was walking amidst crowds enjoying the Eid festivities, in the glorious late afternoon sunshine, when a couple of young men suddenly pulled up on a motorcycle and viciously stabbed him all over. As the shocked crowd looked on, some more intent on photographing the attack than assisting him, Sameer tried to flee his attackers, hit a pickup truck and fell, never to get up again. A little over an hour later he was declared dead in IGMH.

What was unthinkable in Male even five years ago is now a regular occurrence. In the last twelve month alone 5 young men lost their lives to what the authorities are describing as gang-related violence. To my knowledge nobody involved in any of those murders has been brought to justice. Knifings by young people, who're barely 16, are now commonplace in this once bustling but relatively crime-free island capita, and people are right to ask what law enforcement is doing about it?

When staff of One And Only Reethi Rah recently protested peacefully against discrimination and the lack of implementation of the employment act by the management, the then home minister Gasim Ibrahim dramatically stated: "If...buildings had been set on fire and people had been knifed who would the public hold accountable?" Although Gasim ordered the notorious "Golha Force" or riot police to Reethi Rah to stop the imagined burnings and knifings, neither he nor anyone else in the new government appears to be in any hurry to do anything to stop the actual blood-spilling in Male's streets.

It is said that police already know most of the gangs operating in Male and involved in the violence. There can't be more than 200 or so of these young people in total and the fact that Maldives police haven't been able to clean up the streets is a national shame. Gayoom has rightly been called the father of heroin and violent youths in Male, but the present government isn't doing much to make the streets safer. 

In the last 5 or 6 years violent crime has risen several times over. Like heroin-addiction, child sexual abuse and violence against women, police have failed to reduce it and now it looks like the Maldives has one of the highest rates of violent crime in the world.

In the meantime "cutter" incidents continue to happen daily, and the attackers are getting more bold, secure in the knowledge they will not be persecuted. 

Many of the attacks are taking place in broad daylight, in full view of a gawking public. Some of them have been captured on mobile phone cameras and are taking the Maldives to an international fame of a different kind on YouTube.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Gasim resigns, defiant to the end

Gasim Ibrahim has resigned as home minister, quoting inability to act independently from the president's office as a reason, but is defiant about his actions in the Reethi Rah crisis. He refuses to acknowledge the harm caused by the riot police on protesters, including beating them with batons and the use of pepper spray.

Gasim's resignation will let take some pressure off  the MDP-led coalition government, which is finding itself under increased criticism from the public and its own supporters. It also sends a strong message that this government will not be part of human rights abuses.

Most MDP supporters, and others who champion democracy and human rights, will not miss Gasim, but the government may now find itself without the parliamentary majority that it had, up until now, enjoyed.

Liberals will also be hoping that Gasim takes away the Adhalath contingency with him, which the MDP inherited when it formed an alliance with the Republican Party. 

Maldives Dissent welcomes this development and calls on the government to speed up the implementation of the employment act for resort workers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Golha Gasim" not sorry

Gasim admits ordering the riot police in and Anni apologises for the incident, but a big question mark hangs over the stated commitment to human rights of the new government formed by the MDP-led coalition. 

After the human rights commission stated that police used excessive force to break up a peaceful protest by workers on One And Only Reethi Rah Resort, including using irritant-spray and beating up people with batons, home minister Gasim Ibrahim was defiant. Instead of apologising to those hurt by the violence, he chose to thank the police for the "sincerity" with which they did their "duty". Maldivians will recall that after police murdered Hassan Eevan Naseem and other inmates in Maafushi jail, Gayoom also praised the police force and gave them promotions.

Gasim is aligning with the PR of Reethi Rah to conjure up bogus images of an island under threat: "If police had not been sent and buildings had been set on fire and people had been knifed, who would the public hold accountable?" Knifings have continued to happen in the capital Male regularly since Gasim took over as home minister but, to my  knowledge, he hasn't lifted a finger to stop it. It's not clear quite why Gasim thought the striking workers on Reethi Rah would torch the island and knife the guests, but the resort's PR manager Zhannie Long also claimed to Minivan News that there was violence although she failed to substantiate her claim. "They were running around the resort," was the best she could manage. In fact the only time the workers breached the guest area was when they ran to the main restaurant to flee the attack by the police.

It's not surprising that Gasim, who owns a fleet of tourists resorts himself, is more concerned about corporate interests than human rights abuses. Indeed, he showed outright contempt for the human rights commissioner who, he said, "based his statement on hearsay." 

Although the human rights commission should sue Gasim and Anni should sack him, it is unlikely to happen .

The Maldivian electorate rallied behind the MDP largely because they had had enough of the violence and human rights abuses perpetrated by the Gayoom government. Now, the new government has used precisely the same tactics to deal with the Reethi Rah crisis. The term "golha" springs to mind here and, by sending in the "golha force" to break up a legitimate protest, the home minister has clearly invited the title of "Golha Gasim".

Anni may have resolved the dispute between the strikers and the management of the Reethi Rah, but he must now see to the more difficult task seeing that justice is done in this sorry affair.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Reethi Rah protest resolved

The Reethi Rah protest was resolved around midnight last night with protesters, the resort management and the Maldives government signing an agreement to this effect.

The Reethi Rah management agreed to implement the new employment act and I understand all of the demands by the protesters have been met barring calls for the removal of the manager. 

However, the issue of the illegal crackdown by police on the peaceful protest and the use of excessive force, which resulted in injuries to protesters, remains. And, the Home Minister, Gasim Ibrahim, who called in the riot police, is yet to explain his actions in public. 

Meanwhile there are protests going in other resorts of the Maldives.

Resort owners need to understand that the new employment act is now an un-negotiable reality and any delay in implementing it increases the risk of prosecution for violation of the constitution.


Independent commission to investigate Reethi Rah protest

Last night the ruling party MDP held a council meeting to discuss the protest by staff of One And Only Reethi Rah Resort, and the government's shameful response. Members called for the formation of an independent commission to investigate and take legal action against those responsible. The commission is to complete its work by December 4 and to make recommendations to President Anni. Given that all the government has done up until now is try to cover up any wrongdoing, many will be skeptical about whether the commission will do anything useful.

Yesterday, Nasheed's 20-day-old government sent in riot police to break up a legal, peaceful protest in One And Only Reethi Rah Resort with excessive force, including kicking, beating, and pepper-spraying the protesters. When word got out, the police chose to lie to the public and deny what they had done. But the human rights commission published a damning statement and set the record straight. Since then, Anni's government has remained largely silent, even as the protesters, impatient with the lack of action, have since sunset today gone on hunger strike.

The government does not have to wait until December 4 to call on all resorts to implement the employment act and warn those failing to comply of legal action. Home Minister Gasim Ibrahim, who is said to have ordered the riot police to the resort, should also be made to explain his actions to the public. An apology by the police to those hurt would also go a long way.

Meanwhile One And Only bosses have reportedly been flown to Male and, at 10pm Monday, were said to be in a meeting with Anni and officials of TEAM, the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives.

Not all resorts want to go through all the this hassle to adopt the employment act. Kuredhdhoo today implemented the act after staff threatened to protest, while Bandos was one of the first to endorse employees rights. 

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Resort strike spreads to Raa

All Maldivian staff at Meedhupparu, Raa Atoll, about 150 in all, have been on strike since 10pm Sunday night. They're protesting peacefully against the lack of implementation of the employment act by the management of the resort, discrimination against Maldivian staff, and poor working conditions, especially food and accomodation.  Meedhupparu management at 11 am Monday morning had not met with the protesting staff.  The protesters say they have informed the tourism ministry.

Reethi Rah protesters

One of the Reethi Rah Resort protesters in handcuffs, with a gash below his right knee. Police denied using excessive force, but the human rights commission has said otherwise. According to the commission, police in riot gear used pepper spray and batons to break up a peaceful protest.

Anni's government has done very poorly in its first real test since taking power. To send in riot police to quash a legal protest is bad enough, but to do so in the early hours of the day can only mean one thing: someone wanted to bundle away the ringleaders before the guests, media, or the public got to know about it. In other words, whoever ordered the riot police did not believe in the right to peaceful protest, guaranteed by the constitution. Or did they hope that rounding off protesters on Reethi Rah would frighten protesters elsewhere from copying them? 

Maldives police have already acted unconstitutionally by attempting to break up a peaceful protest; on top of that they've lied to the public. The management of Reethi Rah Resort and the government clearly wanted the protest to die a quiet death, but the brave protesters held out and were firm in their resolve not to let this go like demonstrations of the past.

Latest reports suggest Reethi Rah Resort have been forced to relent. But the government still has a lot of explaining to do. "Sorry" might be a good start.

Anni should be ashamed that Maldivians still have to shed their blood for basic rights enshrined in the constitution.

Reethi Rah staff say police are lying

Maldives police have denied using excessive force, including tear-gas or pepper-spray, in their pre-dawn crackdown of a peaceful protest by staff of One And Only Reethi Rah Resort. But protesters say police are lying.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, about 50 or so riot police, they say, got on the luxury resort island, pepper-sprayed and severely beat up demonstrators to break up a protest. One of the protesters say he saw police tread on people's feet and spray pepper into their faces. 

Peaceful protesting is allowed under the current constitutional and police may have acted unconstitutionally in Reethi Rah this morning. 

Last night the protest,  which had been continuing all day, lead to the firing of 13 staff, including the president and vice-president of TEAM (Tourism Employment Association of Maldives) by the management of the resort. Protesters are now calling for the removal of the resort's general manager and the training manager, who they blame not only for failing to implement the employment act but also for the mess hotel finds itself in today.

Meanwhile president Anni has denied knowledge of the decision by his home minister Gasim Ibrahim to send in riot police to quash the protest. But it is unlikely to inspire the confidence of either resort staff or the general public for the way the government has handled the crisis.

If the government really means to make amends it must admit that mistakes have been made if, indeed, they have; officials must take due responsibility and apologise to the staff of Reethi Rah Resort who have been injured in the crackdown or fired from their jobs; and remedial action must take place at once.

For a start, the government needs to get tough on all resorts failing to implement the employment act. 

With parliamentary elections due early in the new year, Nasheed's government cannot afford to lose public confidence in their first real test since coming into power. 

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Anni's government uses 'golha force' to break up protest

9.30am: According to protesters Anni has denied knowledge of Golha Force actions and promised to take prompt action. It now appears Home Minister Gasim Ibrahim took the decision to send in riot police without consulting with the president. Meanwhile the number of staff sacked by the management of Reethi Rah has risen to over 30.

New Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed's goverment has quelled its first protest by sending in riot-police, notoriously known as 'Golha Force'. In a pre-dawn attack today about 50 officers, in full riot gear, landed on One And Only Reethi Rah to tear-gas and beat up 200 protesters, who were demonstrating against the lack of implementation of the new Employment Act. According to the protesters, 'Golha Force', showed no restraint whatsoever and left many staff injured. 

Earlier, yesterday evening, the management of One And Only Reethi Rah sacked 13 staff, including the president and vice-president of TEAM, the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives.  

Yesterday Tourism Minister Ali Sawaad told Haveeru that the problem was in the lack of a clear understanding of the Employment Act by the staff and the management and promised to do all he could do to mediate between the parties to solve the issue.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fareed attacks women again

Sheikh Fareed, notorious for his fiery anti-women rants before he switched to the more popular target of Gayoom, isn't wasting time. In his first "sermon" after being given a preaching permit by the new Ministry of Islamic Affairs, he told an almost exclusively male crowd of thousands at the weekend that more women than men would go to hell. This was, he said, because women were more likely to sin than men.

While Fareed quoted misogynistic and disputed hadiths to support his claims, hard evidence from this country paints a very different picture. A 2007 survey found out that 1 in 3 Maldivian women aged 15-49 years of age have experienced physical or sexual abuse, while 1 in 6 had been sexually abused when they were under 15 years of age. Perpetrators in an overwhelming majority of cases of child abuse and violence against women are men.

It's not clear what Fareed is trying to achieve with this attempt to rouse disrespect and contempt for women. But, given the increased violence that Maldivian women and children live with, Fareed is sending a very dangerous signal to the perpetrators and, society at large.

The underlying reasons for violence and sexual abuse of women are complicated, but social scientist say they relate to the maintenance of hegemonic masculinity, which depends on the sexual, physical and emotional degradation of women. In many cultures, becoming a man and learning to disdain women go hand in hand. Cultural patterns, thus, enable men to learn to instigate and justify the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of women.

Fareed and others like him, notably the 'scholars' of Adhalath Party, are the crudest examples of these patterns at play. Whenever the status of women have been raised in the Maldives in recent times these people have raised objections, usually in the name of 'Islam'. This is to frighten critics into silence. But these same people have ever uttered a word against the high prevalence of child sexual abuse in the Maldives, a fair share of it perpetrated by religious teachers and imams. Notably, not a single religious scholar raised their voice against the recent rape of a 14-year old girl by six men. Although the rapists confessed their crime they remain at large to this day, free to threaten and harass their victim and her family.

Fareed's sermon provides an implicit justification for these rapists, and feeds the disrespect and contempt of women necessary to maintain the cycle of violence against women and child sexual abuse in this country.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Urgent appeal to the police

Last night around 8.30 I was chatting to a friend on the street when we heard a group of people running round the corner and a woman screaming. There was a young people's hangout nearby and I thought some friends were having a good time. Then there was a distinct thumping sound and the screaming got horrible. My friend and I ran to the corner to see a boy, about 15 years of age, repeatedly hitting someone with what appeared to be a piece of wood. As we stood transfixed, trying to make sense of what was happening, the boy threw the stick and ran off to a waiting motorbike to ride off with his buddy. 

It looked like the boy had been hitting another boy and a woman had tried to intervene, earning a severe assault on herself. A crowd had gathered around them, including uniformed MTCC officials (the incident happened near the ferry station), but nobody appeared to have tried to stop the boy. By that time my friend had reached the spot he was furious, yelling at people for their inaction. 

The most striking thing about the incident, surely, was the audacity of the scrawny young boy for carrying out the attack in full view of more than a dozen people. How did he know that no one would act, and that he would get away with it? Was it a backup of friends lurking in the background that gave him the confidence?

Two weeks ago, someone I know was mugged outside an ATM. He told me that around ten boys had crept up on him and held him, beating him and emptying out his pockets. One of the boys had even tried to hit him on the head with an iron bar but was mercifully stopped by his friends in the nick of time. They stole my friend's phone and credit card and asked him for the code. When he refused to to give it to them, they produced box cutters and grazed him lightly, drawing blood. He mumbled an old code, which enabled him to escape.

It happened at night, but in a crowded street. However, because the gang had formed a wall around him, people passing by hadn't seen what was going on. Or, perhaps, they had chosen not to see.

Muggings and violence, especially in the streets of Male are now common place. Surely one of the highest priorities of the new government is to clean up the streets of Male and other urban centres. 

For a start, increased police presence in areas where gangs operate would help. The police should also issue urgent directives to the public on how to act upon experiencing or witnessing an attack. Unfortunately, Male is no longer the safe place it was and the sooner we acknowledge it the better.

It appears that most perpetrators of the recent spate of violence are adolescents, drug-addicts and disenfranchised youth, Gayoom's legacy now passed on to the new government. What to do with these young offenders should be one of the highest priorities of the government of Anni's "Other Maldives".

I lived for four years in a city of 250,000 in western Europe, which supposedly has higher levels of violence than the Maldives. But in all that time, there was only one murder and I don't remember ever being afraid to walk alone in its streets. 

I can't help comparing that city to Male, the number of murders in the past four years, and the rising violence. Apart from the highly-guarded political figures, I wonder if anyone is comfortable the city they've lived for so long. 

I did not sleep last night, because I thought I kept hearing a horrible thumping sound. But there was no screaming.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pension and protection

Defeated dictator Gayoom is wasting no time securing his own interests. Following his loss in the country's first ever elections in 30 years that the dictator did not rig, Gayoom invited president-elect Anni to his office to discuss, officially, smooth transition. 

In fact he was trying to save face and protect himself from a population which for three decades he persecuted.

In a joint press-conference, Anni called Gayoom "one of the most important leaders of this country" and suggested that his government would not go on a witchhunt or dig the past. Thirty years ago Gayoom did the opposite.

Asia's longest serving dictator caused unprecedented misery to the family and in-laws of predecessor Ibrahim Nasir, after he took office in 1978. He framed Nasir's in-laws of plotting a coup attempt, threw them into prison, including women, and had them tortured, bound and dragged round the streets of Male. For details check out prisoner of conscience Luthfy's YouTube messages.

For years Gayoom stifled dissent by locking up dissenters and torturing them. One of the earliest of his victims was Sheikh Ahmed Adam. Most of the journalists involved in the short-lived opposition press of the early 1990s were jailed and persecuted. Just before Gayoom took office for this last term, his police beat to death a prison inmate, Hassan Eavan Naseem, and shot at point blank range others who protested against it. Although he was head of police, the dictator never apologised to the families of the victims. Indeed shortly after the incident, he promoted senior police officers in a function held to mark the anniversary of the armed forces.

It was Eavan's death that exposed Gayoom's torturous regime first hand to Maldivians and the wider world. In Male people took to the streets leading to the formation of the opposition movement. The dictator continued to lock up any opposition to his rule and it was only when the EU threatened to boycott representatives of his government from entering its territories that he relented. 

But Gayoom today does not want to remember any of this choosing, instead, to brag how he introduced a modern liberal democracy to this country. Never one to shy away from blowing his own trumpet, Gayoom is remaining true to his character even in defeat. He called his contribution "the greatest legacy anyone can give." No mention was made of the findings of the auditor general's recent report on Gayoom's spending of his office budget. When someone mentioned the tsunami funds the dictator is alleged to have stolen, Anni brushed it off and said it hadn't been proved. 

I'm not sure what the many who bravely stood up for their rights, enduring Gayoom's brutality in the process, will make of all this. 

Meanwhile Gayoom likened losing the election to losing a game: "Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose."

Anni is remarkable if he can forgive and forget Gayoom for everything he's done. It remains to be seen, however, whether the rest of the Maldivians, especially those that suffered and have still been unable to clear their names, will follow his example.

President-elect Anni seems to appealing to people to treat the fallen dictator with honour and dignity. Many would argue that Gayoom has none.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Democracy wins

As a new day breaks, bathing the nation's capital in glorious sunshine, Maldivians are also waking up to the prospect of their first new president in 30 years.

At 7.00am, all the ballot boxes had been counted and Anni had a 54.21 percent lead over Gayoom, who got 45.79 percent of the votes in a final round of elections which has had a voter turnout of 86.58 percent.

Minivannews.com is reporting that Anni and Gayoom are having early morning talks about the handover, which suggests things are not going to be volatile like people feared. But it is difficult to imagine that a dictator with Gayoom's history, does not have a final trick up his sleeve. Many thought a military coup was in the offing, but it hasn't happened yet.

Although Anni is right to work with Gayoom to ensure a smooth transition, he must not accept any conditions from the fallen dictator. The new government has more important things on its hand, but it is likely that families who suffered under the dictator will want to hold him accountable, before the country can really move on.

Anni is also inheriting monumental problems from Gayoom, including high levels of corruption, drugs, youth and gang warfare, and a fractured society that may take some time to adapt to democracy. Then there's the question of what to do with religious hardliners who want to establish a clerical body, as in Iran, to oversee Islam in the Maldives and to control everything else in the process.

By voting for Anni, Maldivians have voted for democracy and human rights, and in the hope of a better quality of life.

But we must never again hold back criticism and lavish praise on a leader so that they forget that they are servants of the people. Many who today are with Anni know this all too well because they made the same mistake with Gayoom.

Dissent must never die.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Breaking news: another case of prisoner abuse

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is currently promising huge sums of money to the parents of an abused prisoner, to silence them in the final days remaining for the final round of votes.

Abdul Latheef, the young prisoner who is in his mid-20s, is said to be recovering from surgery on a broken collar-bone. He might have sustained the injury more than two months ago, from severe torture by prison guards, say sources, but police tried to treat him in prison.

It is now certain that Gayoom knew of custodial and prisoner abuse, even sanctioned it to curb dissent. Early victims include Maizan Ali Manik, the father of popular singer Fasy, and Masodi Ahmed Naseem.

In 2003 Gayoom, who was the head of police, could have stopped the murder of Hassan Eevan Naseem. Police officer Ashwan wrote a comprehensive report on torture in Maafushi prison and sent copies to Gayoom, Adam Zahir, and Ambary Abdul Sattar. None took action and a few months later Eevan Naseem was dead.

Gender minister Aishath Mohamed Didi and legal reform minister Mohamed Nasheed knew about Ashwan's report as they were part of of the commission which investigated the murder of Eevan Naseem and other inmates. But Gayoom effectively silenced them with the cabinet portfolios and other undisclosed benefits.

Well-known writer and historian Ahmed Shafeeg, who was himself tortured in prison for mocking Gayoom in a personal diary, says he has catalogued at least 111 custodial deaths during the dictatorship.

While MDP have been talking about reconciliation and forgiveness, it is unlikely that the families of the victims will forget what Gayoom and Adam Zahir did, or how Aishath Didi and Nasheed helped to protect them.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Adhaalath stake

After prostituting itself from party to party, the Adhalath Party is now trying to get back into bed with the Maldivian Demorcratic Party, and bragging about its supposed "stake" in an MDP government. But the religious conservative party, which does not even have enough support to function independently as a political party, had lost face somewhat in the run up to the first round of elections.

The Adhaalath Party enjoyed some support when it was first formed, probably for the melodramatic anti-Gayoom rants by its scholars thrown at a populace fed up of nearly three decades of the dictatorship. But the novelty wore off as Adhaalath slowly settled down to its staple themes of misogyny and women's clothing. It is said that no Adhaalath meeting takes place without a mention of the buruga.

But the democratic mood sweeping across the nation was at odds with the Adhaalath ideology. Women were an active, integral part of the demonstrations against Gayoom, and gender discrimination was slowly evaporating from the legislature. Despite vehement opposition by the Adhaalath Party and the MDP's own resident misogynist BA Ahmed Naseem, the constitution was amended to allow women not only to take up the post of magistrate but also the top job itself.

Finding itself increasingly out of touch in the shifting social and political dynamics, Adhaalath was silenced for a while. But the party soon started to tread on trickier ground by criticising Hassan Saeed's book Apostasy and Islam, even as its scholars failed to argue convincingly against the principal premise of that academic work. Having lost the argument, there was a point when Adhaalath was even supporting Saeed for president, before migrating to the Republican Party and all the money that the endorsement entailed. 

However, with the opening up of the media and greater audience interaction, scholars of the Adhaalath Party found itself embroiled in yet another crisis. On their live shows, orrdinary citizens were irreverently questioning their positions and openly expressing contempt. The Party, which for so long had exploited people's fear and ignorance of religion, was not in the habit of having to provide evidence for its sweeping statements. 

But their biggest defeat came when they challenged Gayoom in the Supreme Court with claims that the dictator was not a Sunni Muslim and, therefore, ineligible to run for office. Liberal scholars in Gayoom's payroll, however, easily tore into the arguments of Adaalath's Hussein Rasheed Ahmed and Abdul Majeed Bari. An observer remarked: "They didn't have either the academic background or the debating power to argue against Gubaad Abu Bakur and Afrasheem Ali." Fortunately for Adhaalath,  their humiliating defeat was not publicised too much.

The Adhaalath Party was subjected to further ridicule when it stated its reason for endorsing the Republican Party. Gasim Ibrahim, they claimed, had demonstrated that he could "control" four wives and, therefore, could run a country. In the event, the Adhalath's professed influence over the electorate was not so great after all; Gasim secured less votes than Hassan Saeed in the first round of elections.

With the formation of the coalition, the MDP have unwittingly inherited the Adhaalath Party. Although the support of the religious conservatives may serve as a useful counter-argument to Gayoom's allegations that the opposition party is Christian, MDP insiders are saying the Adhaalath Party is more a headache than a blessing. 

While the MDP want to be seen as a champion of democracy and human rights, they also want the conservative vote. Maintaining a balance can be challenging and Adhaalath are not helping with their persistent and, unconstitutional, rhetoric. 

Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari recently said that women can be teachers, doctors and counsellors but not the leader of a country because "it is directly against Islam". But a position paper presented by the government of Saudi Arabia at the UN Conference on women in Beijing in 1996 stated that: "There is absolutely nothing in the Quran which directly or indirectly forbids a woman to become the head of a state, or even suggests that she is essentially incompetent for the position."

The Adhaalath Party are also unable to keep quiet about the role they think they will have in a future government. The MDP have pledged to create an independent council of Islamic affairs and the Adhaalath Party obviously want to head that body. But the Adhaalath's vision of the council may differ to MDP's. 

The religious conservative party in 2006 called for a free and independent scholars council "that has priority over all the powers of the state." Moreover, the party's Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari has said that he supports the direct implementation of "hadd" punishments under Shariah Law, including the death penalty for apostasy if the person in question fails to re-convert.

But Maldivians have historically opposed "hadd" punishment and the death penalty. Indeed, no such punishment has been carried out in the country since the 1950s. The Maldives can also boast of having had one of first Islamic heads of state in the world, several centuries ago. 

But a group of failed, incompetent misogynists is now vying to turn the clock back. They have shown that they will sleep with anyone to reclaim a position of power in the new government.  

Where political prostitution goes the Adhaalath Party is the biggest slut in the Maldives.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cash for votes

It is emerging that Gayoom may have bought votes in the first round. Islanders of Hulhudhoo, Seenu Atoll, have reported to Minivan News that DRP representatives paid them 100-500 Rufiyaa to vote for the dictator. Meanwhile, there are similar allegations in Hulhumale, where MDP supporters claim to have seen Leela, a DRP supporter, paying out 500 Rufiyaa bills to residents to vote for Gayoom. In both cases, it appears that female DRP representatives have targeted mainly women voters.

An old hand at vote-rigging from a southern atoll, who has now defected to MDP, told me that a sizeable percentage of Gayoom's votes may have come from female voters. According to him, women's development committees were used by Gayoom on the eve of the elections to bribe women to vote for him. Blogger Abdulla Waheed has estimated that Gayoom may have got up to 20,000 votes through the work of loyal supporters in the island administration and the women's committees. 

According to senior officials of island administrations, semi-governmental organisations such as the women's committees and the island development committee habitually rig elections. Indeed, that may be the sole reason for their existence. 

The auditor general has also pointed out, in his latest report, that Gayoom made several appointments to the posts of atoll chief, deputy atoll chief and assistant atoll chief in the run-up to the elections. According to the auditor general, the appointments were made "to promote DRP's presidential campaign."

Attorney general Azima Shukoor vehemently denied the auditor general's findings, while her brother Athif Shukoor, the DRP media manager, has said complaints regarding vote-buying, illegal under the new constitution, should be "officially lodged at the appropriate bodies."

While both the Shukoors hold high offices in the Gayoom government, their father is a beneficiary of the controversial "loans" scheme operated by the president's office and uncovered by the magazine Adduvas two years ago. 

The auditor general has now called for an immediate cessation to the issuing of loans by the president's office.

The Shukoors are typical of DRP supporters, people who only rally behind Gayoom for money, loans, or high government posts.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Gayoom audit

The auditor general's audit of the president's office is so damaging that it may cost Gayoom the presidency. Maldivians have long known of the dictator's use of state funds to amass the wealth of his friends and family and to sustain the dictatorship, but this report provides the actual evidence needed to remove the man from office and out of running. 

According to the report the president's office has issued loans of millions of dollars to unspecified individuals and parties of which close to 4 million US dollars have not been paid back.

The report also reveals that the president's office made cash payments of more than half a million US dollars to two individuals in the armed forces most of it for undisclosed "government needs". The individuals may well be Anbaree Abdul Sattar and Adam Zahir, or the "chief torturer", believed by many to have been instrumental in setting up the culture of torture that has physically and psychologically abused Gayoom's opponents, even killed them, in Maldives prisons.

The auditor general has described these loans as politically influenced, warning that getting the money back will be tough.

The president's office, it emerged, has also been bribing the newspapers Haveeru, Afathis, and Miadhu.

But the most damaging thing in the report is the disclosure that the auditor general is currently investigating Gayoom himself: his possessions, money, business interests and loans.

This is political dynamite and MDP and New Maldives have already made statements in response to the report while former attorney general Azima Shukoor was on TV, at the time of writing this post, unsuccessfully trying to defend the dictator.

The opposition, including MDP who have been too soft on Gayoom lately, must call on the prosecutor general to take action against Gayoom.

This is no time for reconciliation. Gayoom must face justice for what he has done.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Anni or Hassan Saeed?

The way I see things, either Anni or Hassan Saeed may win the presidential race, with Gayoom and Ibra following close behind. Umar Naseer, to my mind, will sink to the bottom with Gasim for company.

These are extremely subjective predictions based solely on intuition and observation.

I think the turning point came with the live broadcasting of a Q&A involving all presidential hopefuls, in which Hassan Saeed shone, Anni was tame, Ibra spoke well, and Gayoom, Gasim and Umar Naseer slipped into insignificance.

Since a previous post in which I said Gasim had the best chance to clinch the presidency the mood of the people has changed dramatically. The about turn is  the outcome of growing engagement in politics by people of all walks of life. 

So here's my new "chart".

1)Hassan Saeed
Saeed has been amassing huge support for months and this is manifesting itself in every poll. Given that he lacks direct access to the media like Gayoom and Anni, his campaign can be said to be doing extremely well. Saeed's speeches and rebuttals are direct, economic, and stinging (as Gayoom found out at the Q&A). Saeed is standing up well to criticism by his envious opponents, mostly Gayoom and Anni, and daily gaining more voters.

Anni has bounced back somewhat, the result of door to door campaigning by hardcore MDP supporters. But his partnership with DRP, to powershare the elections commission, and endorsement of the religious right may have lost him some voters. At the Q&A, Anni refrained from criticising Gayoom as a result of which the limelight was stolen by Ibra and Hassan Saeed. Both DRP and Adhalath have now dumped him, and it remains to be seen if Anni can be exciting again. 

Nobody likes a dictator, but Gayoom will still get some votes because he gives orders to Atoll Chiefs, his stooges people the supreme court and the elections commission, and he owns the government media and the armed forces. I wouldn't be surprised if a contingency plan is already in place, should he lose the elections, for a military takeover of some kind involving Adam Zahir. Gayoom cannot accept defeat.

Ibra may be a good orator and he clearly has the cleanest slate of the lot, but he just doesn't have the resources to step up his campaign. However, he can still expect a respectable share of the votes.

Gasim had everything, money, manpower, and beneficiaries who would have supported him. Money can't buy everything, however, and his highly paid advisors and campaign managers have clearly failed him. Candidates with less resources are running better campaigns.

6)Umar Naseer
Totally out of touch with the mood of the people. The fight for democracy that this country has experienced in the last few years was the outcome of a reaction against police brutality on unarmed prisoners. But Umar Naseer is calling to empower the armed forces even more and, indeed, is alleged to have abused people in detention when he was in the NSS. His ill-informed reactionary rants are not helping either. 

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Gayoom: the biggest threat to human rights and the environment

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is in a marketing overdrive not only to sell himself to the Maldives electorate for a staggering 7th term in office, but also to the committee that will award the coveted Nobel Peace Prize this year. After causing 30 years of human rights abuse and environmental degradation, Asia’s longest serving dictator is now demanding international acclaim for what he and his family regard as exceptional contribution to the advancement of the environmental cause and human rights.

Maldivians will find it incredulous that the Nobel committee can even consider Gayoom for the prize but there is reasonable ground to believe that they actually might laureate the dictator. Firstly, Gayoom’s foreign ministry team, headed by his daughter Dunya Maumoon, is arguing that it was Gayoom who introduced the idea of environmental rights as a human right to the world, and this concept has been gaining support among international developmental circles. Secondly, the Nobel Peace Prize has never been awarded to anyone in South Asian, a region comprising a sixth of the world’s population, and the organisors may well want to broaden laureates geographically. With co-ordinated effort by the foreign ministry, unscrupulous diplomats in South Asia, and perhaps even a Maldivian environmental NGO hastily put together for the purpose getting Gayoom laureated, the prospect does not seem so inconceivable after all.

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in the 1980s embraced the environmental buzz sweeping the world, not really taking it to heart but regarding it as a means of earning international praise and aid, most of which is said to have been pocketed by his buddies with whom he ran the country.

Gayoom’s development policy has never in three decades ever seriously considered environmental impacts. For example, he has dynamited the fragile coral reefs of most of the country’s 200 inhabited island to build artificial harbours, and carried out dredging to reclaim land for the growing population. Gayoom also has a habit of building expensive artificial islands to move the population when there are several large island villages with perfect natural harbours. And, the dictator has resisted calls to protect threatened marine species such as sharks; shark teeth, for instance, are still allowed to be sold in souvenir shops even though ordinary Maldivians have long protested.

Moreover, Gayoom owns a fleet of 30-50 vehicles on the two-square kilometer capital of Male, as well as several speed boats for his personal transport, and can accurately be described as the biggest polluter in the Maldives.

In an article published in the International Herald Tribune Gayoom goes to lengths to market himself as a champion of the environment, deriding world leaders for appearing content to allow countries like the Maldives to disappear beneath the waves, while they continue to make a deeply unethical trade-off between human lives and rights on one hand, and economic growth.” Gayoom, while criticising others, fails to realize the neglect by his own government in three decades to meet the basic needs of his people. As much as 60 percent of the Maldivian population has no access to adequate sewage disposal or, indeed, safe drinking water.

When the 2004 tsunami struck the Maldives the dictator downplayed its impacts on national radio and TV without checking on the plight of the people first. Later, when it emerged that several islands, most of which had had its reefs dynamited by Gayoom, were irreparably damaged, he used the worst natural disaster in the country’s living memory to get unprecedented foreign aid. Four years later, nobody has a clue where all the money went but most of the displaced tsunami victims are still in shoddy temporary shelters.

Gayoom’s human rights record is even worse. Ahmed Shafeeg, a respected historian who was jailed and tortured by Gayoom for writing unsavoury comments about him in a personal diary and sharing them with friends, estimates that the deaths of more than 100 people may have been caused by the regime. There are several well-documented cases of prisoner abuse, far more shocking than anything that ever emerged out of Quantanamo, in what can only be described as a culture of torture. As head of police Gayoom knew of the abuse and, indeed, may even have ordered it to force would-be opponents into submission.

One of the earliest opponents of Gayoom, Ahmed Adam, the dictator’s classmate in Egypt, died from years of torture. Madulu Ahmed Waheed, a brilliant writer of the now banned “Hukuru” magazine, which openly criticized Gayoom in the 1990s, didn’t die , but years of abuse in police custody and prison has reduced him to a state of autism. Today, Waheed can be seen walking on the streets of Male, mostly in Machchangolhi, seemingly unresponsive to anyone or anything.

The 2004 beating to death of Hassan Evan Naseem by Gayoom’s police and the point-blank shooting of unarmed prisoners who protested against the murder are also well-documented. Custodial deaths have been happening even as late as 2007, but inquiry by the shameful human rights commission, which comprises of Gayoom’s friends who pretend to be independent, have always cleared the dictator and his regime of wrong-doing. Of the members of the presidential commission which investigated the murder of Evan Naseem and others in prison, Aishath Mohamed Didi and Mohamed Nasheed were silenced with ministerial posts. At present they are the most fervent defenders of Gayoom.

Instead of buying Gayoom’s paltry propaganda, the international community should be helping Maldivians send Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to Hague, for crimes against humanity.

If you’re as outraged as I am about Gayoom’s nomination for the Nobel Peace prize, write to Professor Gair Lundestad, Director, Norwegian Nobel Institute. His email is gl@nobel.no

You may also want to sign a petition against the nomination


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Gasim, Gayoom and the great Maldives election

With the emergence of Gasim in the presidential lineup, Gayoom's 30-year-dictatorship is looking more threatened than it ever did. Of the 8 candidates contesting this year's presidential elections here's a list of the only contenders who, to my mind, have any chance of swinging the first multi-party elections of the Maldives.

1)Gasim Ibrahim
Filthy rich Gasim has the resources, the people, and the willpower to get the job done. Yes, he may employ questionable methods to achieve his goal, whether it means buying parliamentarians or voters themselves. But nobody can argue that his chances of success are very high indeed. As much as half the Maldives population may have benefited directly or indirectly from his health handouts or educational grants. Now, Gasim is effectively asking them to pay him back by voting for him. On the positive side, he's less despised than Gayoom, has more vision, and has qualified and experienced people working on his campaign.

2)Maumoon Abdul Gayoom
Regarded by most Maldivians as a washed out dictator and an object of ridicule, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, nevertheless, thinks of himself as smart, handsome, young at heart, and loved by the people. This man continues to use state funds, TV, radio, and even the national football team for his campaign. He still has control over the armed forces, and has his stooges as Island Chiefs and Atoll Chiefs although the level of their influence over ordinary islanders has diminished somewhat. If Mohamed Amin modernised the Maldives through education and social change, Ibrahim Nasir continued the gains by laying the foundations for the country's greatest foreign exchange earners: tourism and fisheries. Gayoom basked in the results of the work of his predecessors but lacked the vision to build on it. On the positive side...no I can't think of anything good to say about him!

Gayoom will be remembered as the corrupt dictator who tried to crush every attempt by the people to bring democracy; the man who sanctioned the torture and killing of defenseless Maldivians; the advocate of child sexual abuse; and, most important of all, the bad cricket player.

Anni shone in the early 90, a true radical, unafraid to take on Gayoom's cruel and corrupt dictatorship to fight for democracy and justice. His work to expose Gayoom's dictatorship to the wider world is also commendable. But his misguided pandering to the religious right is downright shameful. He has ignored the role of women in the opposition movement, and in the formation and day to day running of MDP; gender equality is not part of either his "Clean Maldives" or his "Other Maldives". He lies when it suits him, patronizes ordinary people, and finds it hard to listen to anyone who disagrees with his views.

MDP today is a fragmented movement that has lost the ideals it stood for, ideals which were rooted in a widespread desire for democracy and human rights. Lately, Anni has taken to harping on Gayoom's positive contribution to the country and insists that the dictator can run for a seventh term in office, even though the amended constitution limits leadership to two terms in office. In return, Gayoom's apologist, information minister, and hearty blogger Nasheed has said the government does not consider Anni's sentence for petty theft a disqualification for his presidential bid. All very cozy indeed, but Anni may only be joining the enemy to fight Gasim.

One of the first casualties of Anni's "dictatorship", Ibra is a brilliant orator who is slowly and steadily winning the confidence of the public. His unwavering contribution to amending the constitution, a process which he rightly called the slow, systematic stripping of Gayoom's powers, must be lauded. Unfortunately, like Anni, he never found the right balance between the contradictory ideologies of the religious right on the one hand and human rights on the other. Ibra also probably doesn't have the finances to push an aggressive campaign to get himself elected.

4)Hassan Saeed
I really liked this man, as he stood for liberal ideals such as the freedom of religion, a fundamental human right. He stood up not only against Gayoom, but also extremists, something Anni and Ibra were too spineless to do. But he's also said to be a bit of an elitist and out of touch with ordinary people. Lately he's been heard a lot on radio and has reportedly built himself quite a fan-base. Nevertheless, his campaign, like Ibra's, just isn't aggressive enough to win a substantial electorate at this point of time.

So what does the future hold for us?

As things stand I predict a close win for Gasim. This will get Gayoom out, but will leave the country in the hands of unscrupulous, capitalist who will not only control its wealth and its parliament, but will also by the country's fledgeling media.

There's a way out, however, and that is for Anni, Ibra and Hassan join forces. If they launch a joint campaign, have elections pushed back to December as Ibra suggests, they may, just may, win the hearts and minds of the Maldivian public, if not fill their pockets.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

MDP's step backward

Last week saw Maldivian Democratic Party MDP step back, yet again, on its stated commitment to gender equality. 

Shortly after presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed Anni announced Dr. Aminath Jameel as his running mate, the party's religious right reportedly went into a diatribe against the nomination. It didn't seem to take too long to convince Anni to withdraw the nomination.

The party's Islamic consultative council, headed by Adam BA Naseem, declared the nomination un-Islamic but failed, as usual, to provide any evidence for the pronouncement. Naseem and fellow-misogynists from the Adhaalath Party have a history of openly hurtling anti-women rants on the populace in the name of Islam, without necessarily furnishing a supporting argument. In fact Islamic scholarship is producing a number of academics who are successfully challenging conventional positions. But when people like Dr. Afraasheem Ali and, belatedly, Dr. Hassan Saeed, try to present alternative interpretations, BA Naseem and co are unable to argue convincingly against them and, as a result, resort to name-calling. In some cases, hardline 'scholars' have even called for the death of people's whose views they're incapable of debating. 

These marginally qualified 'scholars' have only been able get their way in the "reform process" because of spineless politicians like Anni, who seem more fearful of offending a handful of Adhaalath supporters than safeguarding the rights of half of the country's population.

There will be those who jump at my dismissal of  Adhaalath supporters. But even from a political point of view, they're not substantial enough to justify the surrendering of basic human rights. If these people comprised a significant proportion of the population, the Adhaalath Party and the Islamic Democratic Party would have the highest number of members, not the DRP and the MDP.

Many MDP sympathisers say they are 'disappointed' with  Anni, and also Dr. Aminath Jameel and Maria for putting up with his shameful behaviour. But they should remember that MDP, despite professing otherwise, has a very poor record with regard to gender equality.

Early in 2007, the MDP's religious consultative council issued a fatwa against the party's assistant secretary Aishath Aniya, for an article in which she criticised 'scholars' for trying to lower the status of women through misogynistic interpretations of Islam. She was forced to go into hiding and resign from her post, while Anni and the party's president Munavvar didn't utter a word in public in support of Aniya's right to the freedom of expression. 

Also in 2007, BA Naseem threatened to leave the party because of its support for the appointment of female judges, but Anni put his foot down. "The policies of our party are very clear," he told minivannews.com. "All men are equal." 

The professed commitment to equality didn't stop MDP members from proposing an amendment to the constitution to bar women from running for presidency, which received the support of 'reformist' Mohamed Shihab and an abstinence by 'liberal' Ibra. Fortunately, Gayoom's unelected members defeated the motion and Maldivian women can now run for leadership, a right which the MDP did not want them to have. 

In defense, MDP members have tried to throw the tired argument that gender equality is secondary at a time when all effort must go into getting Gayoom out. All indications are, however, that MDP may lack the tactics or the resources for even its number one task.  

All is not lost though. Buruma Gasim and his Republican Party are reportedly buying all the politicians and voters necessary to dethrone Gayoom. If they succeed, MDP will become as 'insignificant' as the gender issue it tried to push under the carpet. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Gayoom scores another one

If Gayoom hoped to score political points with the national football team's first gold, he must be a happy man today. He seems to have fooled everyone, including the opposition, as he led the nation to a dance calculated to garner maximum support and exposure for himself and cover up those uncomfortable day to day events that just aren't part of the reality he wants people to see, hear, or question.

An unconfirmed report suggests that the high profile child sexual abuse case involving a close ally of Gayoom at the President's Office, which was conducted behind closed doors, may have quietly reached a not guilty verdict.

At the same time, scores of people from Kulhudhuffushi, who did nothing more than demand why the government isn't keeping its promises, have been arrested for allegedly inciting and taking part in the violent removal of minister Ahmed Abdulla from their island. Given well-documented human rights abuses in custody, people have a right to be concerned about the plight of these people.

Meanwhile the economy, which has been in shambles for a long time, has taken another downturn. Maldives Monetary Authority governor Abdulla Jihad is warning of a massive drop in the country's foreign reserves as a result of government overspending, even as Gayoom continues his extravagant campaign handouts. 

Each player and official of the national football team was paid an amount of over US$15,000 by Gayoom. The dictator later said that the SAFF trophy would travel to all inhabited Maldivian islands, the clearest signal that the dictator intends to milk the football glory for everything it's worth for his upcoming elections. 

But this shameful bribery by Gayoom on national television, mounting reports of human rights abuses by the police, the release of pro-government paedophiles, and the collapse of the economy seem to be the last things on peoples minds as the mad frenzy of the football celebrations enters its third day---just as Gayoom planned.

It's a sad day for the country when no one will raise their voices against Gayoom, even though everyone can see through him.

The national football team should apologise to the Maldivian public for selling out to Gayoom by presenting him with the No. 1 football shirt. With DRP's top Gayoom arse-licker Hanim behind the move, the football association of the Maldives has allowed its members and players to show political allegiance to the dictator. 

In the game against India, Maldivian footballers may have outshone in skill and tact, but in Gayoom's political game they've proved to be passive, greedy and gullible.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Father of football

Maldivians, for a change, are dancing to dictator Gayoom's tune.  As the sun set today, the entire country, if "Golha TV" is to be belived, was wearing red in support of its national football team in the SAFF final in Colombo tonight.

It should be noted that never in Gayoom's three decades has the Maldives football team clinched a championship, despite disproportionate spending by his government in a region dominated by cricket.

Maldivian football players showed their gratitude at the start of the championship by presenting Gayoom with a red football shirt emblazoned "Maumoon Number 1". This extraordinary endorsement of the dictator is, by default, an endorsement of his government's appalling human rights record and disregard to justice. 

There are those who argue that sport is above politics. But this argument doesn't really apply to a country in which the government controls everything to do with sports, from who gets invited to sit on the stage in the national stadium to the hairlength of footballers.

When a TV Maldives announcer a few years ago expressed support for Gayoom, in a public broadcast, the public was quick to label her "Golha Waleed". 

But when national football players endorsed the dictator, nobody called them "Golha Team".

Maldivians, by supporting the national football team, are turning their backs on the cold-blooded murder of Hassan Eevan Naseem and other inmates in Maafushi jail in 2003 by the dictator's police.

As I write this post, Gayoom is likely to be wearing his football shirt and watching Maldives play mighty India, hoping for a chance to call himself the "father of football".

If he succeeds, most Maldivians will have no right to make fun of him.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bastardising Islam

When Islamic Democratic Party leader Umar Naseer declared that only Muslims would have Maldivian citizenship, he was going against a fundamental right in Islam.

The Quran is very clear on its position on the freedom of religion. According to verse 2:256, "There is no compulsion in religion", while verse 109.6 states "Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion". A third, verse 18:29 says "Whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve". 

Religious belief and practice, therefore, is a personal matter as, indeed, only Reeko Moosa Manik seems to have had the courage to say openly. Anyone who wants to force Islam on others are operating outside the religious mandate.

This is the central premise of "Apostasy and Islam", which presidential hopeful Hassan Saeed wrote with his brother. The book seems to have suddenly offended the Adhalath Party and the IDP and its spineless co-writer has chosen to bend down under the pressure and distance himself from the book, in much the same way Anni and Munawwar looked the other way when the religious right literally called for former MDP assistant secretary general Aishath Aniya's blood after her anti-buruga article. 

The Adhalat Party, a political party that appears to devote most of its meetings to misogynistic rants and women's clothing, has declared the book anti-Islamic. As with their criticism of Afrasheem, the only openly liberal Islamic scholar in the Maldives, the party hasn't bothered to provide any intelligent argument against the book. Only ignorance and extremism can explain the Adhalat-IDP vilification of a book that so strongly argues for an essential Islamic right.

Umar Naseer, in his condemnation of Hassan Saeed for having been part of the book, has called for a ban. His main argument is that it might encourage Maldivians with lesser intelligence than himself to renounce Islam. In fact, its people like Umar Naseer and Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari that put people off Islam.

A former cop, probably still in Gayoom's payroll, Umar Naseer has been accused by 'backbone' Mahir of torturing him in prison. Although Naseer denies the allegation, he has always been pro-police. Recently, he even justified the notorious 2003 police shooting of unarmed prisoners, which sparked all the political developments in the Maldives and, in fact, allowed him to form a political party. 

Maldivians have habitually been easy-going Muslims. But Maumoon Abdul Gayoom changed all that when he came into office in 1978. Together with his buddy Zahir Hussein, Gayoom spread religious right wing ideology to remote islands and is today under threat from this very ideology. MDP's Kalhube Abdul Latheef, among others, helped Gayoom in the campaign and has since switched sides to carry on with the same work inside MDP.

The Maldives today must surely boast the most number of political parties per capita in the world. Although fragmented, these parties show a strange unity when it comes to religious matters. The religious right, whichever party they may belong to, always joins forces to oppose any attempt to educated Maldivians in more liberal interpretations of Islam. 

Some years back, when Amina Wadoud gave a lecture in the Maldives and 'scholars' of the religious right failed to challenge her, she was declared a lesbian. When Afrasheem started to introduce liberal interpretations of Islam, he was physically attacked  and called a stooge of Gayoom.

The outlook doesn't look healthy for Maldivians who want true democracy, including the right to the freedom of religion. Although the New Maldives manifesto appears to promise liberal teachings of Islam, this is yet to happen. For now, the Maldives is in the hands of the religious right and extremists, who have hijacked and bastardised Islam, and no  'reformist' will utter a murmer against them.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Murdering music

When former MDP chairman Mohamed Nasheed launched his campaign for the party's presidential nomination, he chose to call it "Thaahiru Dhiriulhun" or "Hygienic Life". While Anni may officially take hygienic existence to mean being able to afford ice cream every month, no one can fail to notice the right wing connotations in the phrase. It shouldn't, therefore, come as a surprise that Anni describes his party as a centre-right party. 

The largest political party in the Maldives has long allowed itself to be ruled by right wing ideals, particularly the religious right. When MDP's assistant secretary-general Aishath Aniya received death threats for questioning the need to wear the buruga, or the headscarf, from conservative Islamists within and outside the party, neither Anni nor Munavvar uttered a word to condemn the threats or to defend Aniya's right to the freedom of expression. 

Now, both these 'reformists' have openly gone against Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by publicly saying Maldivian citizens can only practice Islam. MP Ibrahim Ismail or Ibra, head of the officially unrecognised Social "Liberal" Party, has also repeatedly said that the country can only have Islam as its religion. As a member of the UN, the Maldives should in theory support its declarations; unfortunately in practice the UDHR is not binding. In 2005 the Maldives, under pressure, signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political and Rights or ICCPR with reservation against Article 18, which regards the freedom of religion, thought and conscience. Dictator Gayoom, in his last terms in office---and let's hope they are his last---signed any international treaty he was asked to sign, but continues to violate them at will.

Meanwhile, the religious right has bullied its way into the Maldivian way of life, by infiltrating its every facet. From the media to education, from family life to politics no institution has been spared. When a man was slashed and burnt severely on the island of Himendhoo in Alif Atoll, allegedly by its religious militants, police dismissed the case as one of self-infliction. The Adhalath Party had earlier advised them to practice extreme caution in its resolution.  Today, we're so scared of the religious right that even  marriage between "Haaby" adult males and underaged girls are failing to register public protest. 

Earlier in the year, when MDP members proposed an ammendment to the new constitution to bar women from running for presidency, its leadership failed to distance itself from the motion. Notable 'reformists' like Mohamed Shihab MP voted for it, while the 'liberal' Ibra abstained. Abstinence in this case can only be interpreted as siding with the misogynists, an accusation Ibra has repeatedly fail to address. Paradoxically, it was due to Gayoom's much criticised unelected members that this particular right of Maldivian women will now be preserved in the new constitution. 

And now, the religious right are targeting the arts. A recent meeting by former pop singer Ali Rameez's NGO Jamiyyathu Salaf, with representatives from the MDP and the government's supreme council for Islamic affairs, proclaimed music as "haraam", or prohibited in Islam. Ali Rameez, who made a fortune singing hundreds of songs to tunes stolen from Bollywood, is a success story in the religious right's infiltration of popular culture. The right wing organisation held the meeting in a reaction against the emergence of more liberal interpretations of Islam, especially by Dr. Afrashim Ali, who holds a PHd in Fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence.

Failing to challenge Dr. Ali in public debates, the religious right have resorted to character assassination and, even, physical assault. But what is disturbing about these developments is the part played by MDP's 'reformists' in the systematic rubbishing of liberal views. Believing Dr. Ali to be a stooge of Gayoom because of Information minister Nasheed's backing for him, the opposition has effectively joined forces with the likes of Ali Rameez, and the odious and hyprocritical Mohamed Rasheed Ibrahim, to stem the spread of liberal interpretation of Islam at a time when the country most needs it. 

Liberal scholars quote from Verse 2:256 of the Quran, and other texts, to argue that Islam prohibits Muslims to force any person into Islam. Interestingly, Dr. Hassan Saeed, in a book he co-wrote with his brother, "Apostasy in Islam', takes a similar position. In his manifesto, his first priority appears to be to strengthen Islam in the Maldives, but through moderate and liberal teachings. But Dr. Saeed has not come forward to defend liberal Islamic interpretation, suggesting that he intends to take a less risky road for his presidential campaign.

For musicians and artists who hold genuinely liberal views, the immediate future looks bleak. As democratic ideals and human rights get buried under pop-politics, and music overtakes the buruga as the latest target of choice of the religious right, it is becoming all too clear that Maldivians can expect little help from the self-proclaimed 'liberals', 'reformists' or 'human rights activists'.

Anni's "Hygienic Life" could well mean a life clean of democracy, human rights, and music.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ibra for president

Ibrahim Ismail, high-profile MP and leader of the Social Liberal Party, early this morning mass-texted Maldivians to announce his intention to run for the country's top job. Ibra is making the announcement less than a week after a parliamentarian committee he is chairing grilled police commissioner or "chief torturer" Adam Zahir over the treatment of detainees, particularly the custodial deaths of Hussain Solah and Muaviath Mahmood.

Ibra has been trying to address issues and bring change from within the framework of the parliament and the constitutional assembly, and has a high-level of support among discerning Maldivians. Moreover, he is easily the best orator amidst the "reformists" and "politicians" that have cropped up in post-Eavan Naseem Maldives. 

Ibra beat Munnavar and Zaki to become MDP's first president, but was later  isolated within the party due to differences with its chairman and populist trends.  Some have commented that Gayoom's two ex-ministers cajoled Anni into making things so difficult for Ibra that he was eventually forced to leave. 

But Ibra's commitment to human rights, particularly gender equality, has been questioned. When an MDP member introduced a bill banning women from running for presidency, Ibra chose to play safe by voting neutral. People who have worked with him claim that he considers women inferior to men; he has reportedly remarked to people that he believes women are unsuitable to be the leader of a country because they are "easier to manipulate". 

Ibra has also repeatedly opposed the freedom of religion. Islam, he has publicly stated, must remain state religion, and the country's growing and, largely, closeted non-Muslims are understandably concerned about such attitudes coming from a leader of a party that calls itself social "liberal" party. 

But with the right campaign, Ibra could well win the hearts and minds of a population not only disillusioned with Gayoom's dictatorship, but fed up of its fragmented opposition.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Teaching torture: from one Zahir to another

Systematic torture, ranging from petty torment to gruesome murder, characterises Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's three decades of dictatorship, and the detention centres of Dhoonidhoo, Atholhuvehi and Maafushi prison have a notoriety, in the Maldives, that is equal to Abu Ghuraib or Quantanamo Bay. While sources leaning towards the Maldives Democratic Party or MDP tend to credit the commissioner of police Adam Zahir with much of the torture that goes on in those places, its foundation may have been laid much earlier, by another Zahir.

Old Gayoom faithful Umar Zahir, an ex-cabinet minister who held every portfolio under the sun, might have been the single-most important influence in the making of the monster we now know as Adam Zahir or the chief torturer. When the younger Zahir was a student at Majeediyya School, the older Zahir was its headmaster and the generation that went to school then has a host of stories about Umar Zahir's sadism.

Now widely regarded as a corrupt crackpot, Umar Zahir, as headmaster, would go round Male on his bicycle, to sniff out Majeediyya students violating their curfew. The next day, he would make them undress and wear gunny bags, and subject them to cruel public humiliation.  Young boys also had to endure extensive detention at school, sometimes for weeks, in an era strangely reminiscent of a Charles Dickens novel.  The little we know of those days is enough to illustrate that the young Adam Zahir would have witnessed, perhaps even have been victim of, systematic torture, at an impressionable age, by a master sadist. 

The former president Ibrahim Nasir eventually wised up to what was going on and relieved Umar Zahir, widely suspected to be a psychopath, of his duties. But in Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's government Umar Zahir found ways to continue his exercises in tormenting young boys. In his years as home minister, he established a culture of abuse on deprived boys in a reformatory. Directly under his supervision, well-documented incidents of child sexual abuse, horrific punishment, and even death due to negligence occurred there. Umar Zahir appointed a known sadist and paedophile to supervise the reformatory, and had tiny cells built to lock up boys for durations of over a month, in solitary confinement, for minor offenses. During this period, one boy "fell into the water tank" and died while another's short life ended in a lorry accident in which the driver employed by Umar Zahir didn't have a license. The abuse and the deaths were never criminally investigated and when things hotted up Gayoom just reshuffled Umar Zahir. 

Even as sports minister, the sadist devised ingenious ways to torment. He famously refused to allow a top footballer on the field because he would not cut his hair to the length prescribed by the minister. He would also detain athletes inside sports ministry compounds, threatening them with bans if they didn't do as he ordered.

Less known are Umar Zahir's actions as a supervisor overseeing the building of Kurumba Village, the first tourist resort in the Maldives. A waiter, tending to newly arrived guests, accidently split water on them in Umar Zahir's presence. The ex-headmaster ordered the young man to kneel down on the beach in full view of all the guests for hours, only pardoning him when flabbergasted guests begged on his behalf. 

Umar Zahir may no longer able to practice torment on the scale he enjoyed. But he's left a legacy that is being followed by a faithful student. Of course it's a bit simplistic to assume that the commissioner of police learnt his craft from his former headmaster. 

I'm just introducing an idea here and hope readers with information will post their views and stories in the comments.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Coming out of the closet

When MDP's official press Minivan News announced that Mohamed Nasheed, or Anni, was quitting as chairman of the party to enter the presidential rat race, nobody was surprised. It's well known that Anni was always a closet presidential hopeful and, as the only thing keeping his disintegrating party together, this may be the right and inevitable move. Unfortunately, Anni is not the exciting political upstart he was in the early 1990s and his speeches and tactics no longer resonate with the populace as they did, say, even three years ago.

He is, of course, a better choice than Munavvar or Zaki, but Hassan Saeed and Ibra?

Hassand Saeed is courageous in the way he stands up to the religious right, genuinely seeming to embody liberal views, but he is yet to come clean on his part in Gayoom's crackdown on dissent. Ibra is charismatic, and a great orator, but as the founder of a party that calls itself the social "liberal" party, his lack of support in the constitutional assembly for gender equality leaves much to be desired.

Anni should be credited with much of the change taking place in the Maldives now. He played a crucial role in mobilising international intervention against Gayoom's atrocities, his courage and fighting spirit have been an inspiration for the younger generation, and he may be the sole force holding together the country's largest opposition party.

But his inability to take criticism, his patronising attitude towards people, and his distortion of the truth for political convenience need to be taken into consideration. His lazy responses to questions regarding MDP policy, or the lack of any, are also a bit of a joke. "Get Gayoom out" seems to be his policy for everything. 

It's taken Anni a long time to come out of the closet. Ironically, in that time, he may have grown more like the man he wants to get rid of.

The Maldivian hunt for an Obama is still on.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Gayoom's Nasir complex

People can't have failed to notice that Gayoom has a Nasir-complex. 

Ibrahim Nasir, the second president of the Maldives was a man of vision and didn't hanker after attention like Gayoom. Much of the wealth achieved by this country, that Gayoom takes credit for, was in fact due to Nasir's far-thinking economic policies and implementation. 

Unlike Gayoom, Nasir knew when he had outlived people's support and exited gracefully, paving the way for the Egypt-educated young(er) man. When Gayoom gleefully assumed power, illegally it seems, if his own admissions of having carried a firearm to the swearing in are to be believed, he inherited, amongst other things, an international airport, a tourism industry, and a high-quality fish processing plant that were already earning huge foreign revenues. 

The narcissistic Gayoom, on the other hand, was more interested in showing off his supposed intellectual abilities to his ignorant brothers-in-law and a horde of cronies, all of who played on his gigantic conceit for personal gains. It is said that Gayoom would gaze at the night sky and quote the distances between the earth and the moon and the stars, which enormously impressed his barely-literate audience. Gayoom's love for trivia-dropping now mostly manifests itself in the Heyyambo riddles, an avenue for the fast-deteriorating dictator to still feel he has something of an intellect.

Although Gayoom was initially all praise for his predecessor who, in fact, helped him get the top job, he soon started using the nation's resources in an attempt to lower the status of a man he obviously felt inferior to. Using people who would do anything for money and power, Gayoom launched a massive campaign to undermine people's admiration for Nasir. Stories of the ex-president's supposed  pilfering of the nation's wealth, manufactured with the help of Gogo Latheef, co-founder of the MDP, who is said to have got a resort for his trouble, resulted in a threat of lawsuit by Nasir's lawyers. 

Gayoom's government was forced to stop the circulation of stories about Nasir's thefts, so it commissioned cheap cartoons, mostly drawn by Chiliya Moosa Manik, and low-grade music albums to spout abuse on the former president. Abbas Ibrahim was instrumental in the production of this cheap culture for Gayoom, and it's no coincidence that no significant cultural creation has emerged during Gayoom's dictatorship.

Gayoom also commissioned songs, articles, and books praising himself, to cover his increasingly apparent lack of vision and innovation. The president's office would fund government schools like CHSE to send congratulatory cards to Gayoom. It is said he even wrote a few songs himself. 

Nasir has survived despite Gayoom's many attempts to character-assassinate him. Look at Nasir's photo and you can understand why he is regarded as an enigmatic leader, a man of integrity, and the person who laid the foundation for the wealth Gayoom and his cronies are today pocketing for themselves. Look at Gayoom's photo and you see a practically decomposing dictator struggling to still be valid in a country and a world that can't wait to see the back of him.

Gayoom may have succeeded in demolishing Velaanaage, Ibrahim Nasir's property in the centre of Male, but he will always pale in comparison to the his predecessor.

MDP double standards

One of the reasons MDP may not have been able to draw on the considerable opposition to Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in post-Eavan Naseem Maldives is their own double standards.

When Hassan Saeed and co resigned from Gayoom's government MDP suporters, who had only the day before heckled them at a debate organised by the newspaper Haveeru, couldn't hold back their joy. But when Saeed's growing popularity became a threat, MDP members began to call for Saeed to publicly apologise for his actions while he was part of the regime, a demand they never bothered make on their own president and vice-president.

Mohamed Munavvar and Ibrahim Hussein Zaki in their time with Gayoom opposed all democratic reforms and, less than a week after police murdered inmates of Maafushi prison, supported the dictator, then also head of police, in his bid for a fifth term in office.

Accusations of corruption leveled at the two have never been answered satisfactorily and it should be noted that Munavvar is the architect of the flawed constitution currently taking so much resources and time to ammend. To my knowledge neither have said sorry in public for anything they've done while with Gayoom. After Sandhaanu Zaki dramatically shouted at Munavvar, at his MDP leadership campaign, that he was responsible for the online editor's years of torture and suffering, the former attorney was forced to come up with with a half-hearted explanation. Apparently, Gayoom forced him to do all the bad things he did in office, while he was fully responsible for all the good things. In a laughable early speech at an MDP rally Munavvar blamed Gayoom for the constitution but took the credit for himself for creating the law school.

Unlike the New Maldives trio, the Old Maldives duo did not resign from office. They joined MDP when they were sacked by Gayoom and had no other option.

When the two made their way into the inner workings of MDP, the party had an indisputable command over the vast majority of Maldivians. But under their power, that command has diminished, the party has lost many of the key persons who helped to set it up, and MDP today is a fragmented entity given to emulating Gayoom tactics on the populace of the Maldives. The latest, the ridiculous Arumaaz trips, are a case in point.

That MDP couldn't come up with a decent opposition figurehead of its own to lead Maldivians into a post-Gayoom era has meant they have over-relied on the dictator's discards, which may have cost the party irreparable damage.