N Sathiya Moorthy 4 July 2021
From Germany, where he has to undergo a further surgery to set right the damage to his eardrum and treatment for numbness on his left side, Parliament Speaker Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed has cautioned against the emergence of suicide attacks in native Maldives. In a social media interaction with supporters back home to mark the 16th anniversary of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), of which he is the President, Nasheed said ‘many people should be arrested suddenly’ to secure the situation. “I want to make it clear to the President (Ibrahim Solih, also from the MDP), to do this fast without dragging your feet. You need to rise up to save Maldives,” he said.
Nasheed, who was President from 2008-12, said that many terrorists were still living in the Maldivian society and are also getting protection from such others. The arrested terrorists were getting bail and were freely walking away, he said in an obvious reference to a court in southern Addu City granting bail to five of the seven arrested terrorists, purportedly for want of evidence.
The reference was to the admixture of experts and the Shariat, the Islamic legal code, being appointed judges alongside foreign educated lawyers, in the absence of law colleges in the country, during the 30-year-long reign of former President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled from 1978-2008.
In Berlin, Nasheed met with the German Parliament President, Wolfgang Schäuble. In his social media chat with supporters back home, he said that a ‘big message’ should go to the judges in the country. As President, he had continually ridiculed that even unqualified persons were made judges. The reference was to the admixture of experts and the Shariat, the Islamic legal code, being appointed judges alongside foreign educated lawyers, in the absence of law colleges in the country, during the 30-year-long reign of former President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled from 1978-2008.
Ahead of Nasheed’s social media appearance, the first one after travelling to Germany for follow-up treatment in the aftermath of the 6 May targeted bomb-attack in Malé, supporters back home began complaining that even in his one-month absence, the nation had suffered. “I believe that the progress of the nation has slowed down. This is because Nasheed was connected to the day-to-day events of the country,” party MP Mohammed Raai said at a meeting of the MDP steering committee. After speaking to Nasheed, he said the latter was expected back home in July. He went on to liken the targeted attack on Nasheed as an attack on the MDP, adding, ‘Injuries to the ruling party MDP, are injuries to the citizens as well’.
Open messaging to President Solih was Nasheed’s way to gauge the post-blast public mood against terrorism and is preparing the nation for something worse.
Opinion is divided on why Nasheed should go public on his apprehensions about imminent suicide-attacks, daring incumbent President Solih to act fast. Party insiders feel that the ‘principled rift’ between the two leaders had only widened since the bomb blast. Some feel that open messaging to President Solih was Nasheed’s way to gauge the post-blast public mood against terrorism and is preparing the nation for something worse.
Others, however, feel that such ‘sensitive matters’, whether or not Nasheed had specific information or his caution was instincts-based, should have been discussed only with the top people in the government. This way, his public statements can avoid creating panic, that too in the midst of the COVID-centric confusion and demoralisation of the society. By daring the government to resort to ‘surprise arrests’, they feel that he was also sending out a warning notice to ‘hidden terrorists’ to escape.
Going beyond party politics and perceptions of leadership clashes, pro-democracy elements, both inside the MDP and outside, claim that Nasheed’s proposal for ‘sweeping arrest of terrorists’ could be misused to settle political scores. As they point out, both former President Gayoom and the PPM-PNC combine of jailed former President Abdulla Yameen, have raised ‘democracy concerns’ against Nasheed’s call. As may be recalled, the MDP, in general, and Nasheed, in particular, had continuously called the other two leaders ‘autocratic’ while in power.
Subjugation of women
Sharing media space alongside COVID, the attack on Nasheed and the follow-up on both, is the revival of radical religious views on personal lives. The campaign against the ‘hate crime’ bill is continuing, with the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) suggesting amendments to the ‘progressive law’ proposed by MDP parliamentarian Hinnan Hussain. Earlier, the Islamic Ministry, whose views were also sought by Parliament’s Judiciary Committee, in what supporters described as a ‘smart move’, wanted all hate crimes outlined in the draft bill, declared as ‘hate crimes’, instead of singling out hates crimes motivated by people being delineated ‘infidel’ or ‘kafir’ by Islamic hardliners.
Even more recently, conservative Jamiyaath Salaf Islamic groups in the country have argued that the bill in fact was propagating ‘secularism’, instead. Their arguments go back to the days of Nasheed’s presidency a decade back, implying that the nation would be made more and more un-Islamic, leading up to freedom for practising other religions in what is a Sunni Islamic nation, both under the Constitution and in practice.
In an ideologically-linked but even a more ‘radical’ suggestion, controversial Islamic scholar, Dr. Mohamed Iyaz, kicked up a new row by calling for ‘female genital mutilation’ (FGM). The suggestion comes at a time when the HRCM has reported that every third Maldivian woman faced ‘domestic violence’ (even otherwise), in what is still a ‘moderate Islamic nation’ with a modern social outlook.
Islamic Affairs Minister, Dr Ahmed Zakir, himself a scholar, has since ordered an investigation into the multiple complaints, including those from parliamentarians, against Dr Iyaz, for his controversial tweets, of which the FGM issue is only the latest. In May, the Islamic University of Maldives (IUM), where he is a faculty, had suspended him for 15 days, for other controversial tweets.
HRCM has reported that every third Maldivian woman faced ‘domestic violence’ (even otherwise), in what is still a ‘moderate Islamic nation’ with a modern social outlook.
Dr Iyaz and other contested conservative scholars claim to be apolitical and are believed to be so. However, their socio-religious campaigns have the potential to shore up the ‘centre-right’ polity, identified now with ‘political right’ group and electoral candidates, beginning with the Yameen camp.
Yet, issues like FGM have the potential to turn the nation’s women voters, a traditional support base of the MDP, back to the party. Though it is too early to predict their voter mood in the 2023 presidential polls, that too when in recent months they were seen as moving away to the ‘non-committal centre-space’, owing mainly to the Solih government’s unfulfilled poll promises and also the continuation of the tiff between the party’s twin leadership.
Incidentally, days before kicking up the ‘FMG row’, Dr Iyaz, who holds a PhD in Islamic studies, broke the COVID lockdown on public congregations of all kinds, by leading Friday religious prayers in the mosque, under his care. Two other mosques have since followed suit, leading to public outcry over bias in penalising others for lockdown violations, but letting the likes of Dr Iyaz get away with it.
Minister Zahir said that the government had not taken a decision on public prayer congregations as yet. For his part, former Islamic Minister, Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, however, urged the authorities to resume congregational prayers in Greater Malé region at the earliest. Dr Shameem, who was also Chancellor of the Islamic University of Maldives (IUM), was President Yameen’s running mate in the 2018 re-election that they lost.
‘India First’ but…
In Parliament, meanwhile, a ruling party member reasserted the Solih Government’s ‘India First’ policy. Participating in the debate on the bill to establish a separate foreign service with career diplomats, separated from the Civil Services Commission, parliamentarian Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef said: “Our people are concerned about the ‘India First’ policy, but it is necessary. The geographical formation of the Maldives does not allow the nation to physically extend too far from where it is situated. As one of the closest countries to the Maldives in proximity that is also the strongest in the region is India—Maldives must maintain good relations with the Indian Government for national security and other purposes,” he said.
However, the ‘India First’ policy does not mean that Maldives should abandon close diplomatic ties with other countries. “We should maintain good diplomatic relations with China, Canada, US, the United Nations, and also the Commonwealth,” he said, pointing out how Maldives has been able to remain as an independent nation because their ancestors and the previous administrations maintained fruitful diplomatic ties with all countries.
In a separate but India-related development, Planning Minister Mohamed Aslam said that the prestigious Thila-male bridge-link project will be awarded in about ten days. He was clarifying on President Solih’s earlier promise to decide on the construction-contractor by June end at the latest. As may be recalled, India has extended a US $400-metre low-interest credit and US $100-metre in grants for the project, which will be the longest sea bridge in the country, connecting three islands, helping to de-congest capital Malé, where housing problem is a serious socio-economic and politico-electoral issue, for long.
(The writer is Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation-Chennai Initiative)