President Yameen’s First Five Years in Office: The Good, the Bad, and the Despicable

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President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Qayyom with his half-brother, former President Maumoon Abdul Qayyoom and coalition partners. Source: The Hindu

On 17th of November 2013, President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Qayyoom was sworn in as the 4th elected president of the second republic of the Maldives. With the blessings of his half-brother, former President Maumoon Abdul Qayyoom (who is now in jail), and coalition partners that included the likes of Qasim Ibrahim, leader of Jumhooree Party (now living in exile in the UK), and religious cleric Sheikh Imran Abdulla, leader of Adhaalath Party (now serving a hefty jail sentence on charges of terrorism), President Yameen managed to clinch the victory by garnering 51.39 per cent of the votes in 2013’s runoff election. We are now coming towards the end of President Yameen’s first term. The Constitution of Maldives allows a sitting President to contest for a second term; two terms being the maximum number allowed for any President stay on in the position.

One of the most prominent features of President Yameen’s presidency would be his contentious relationships with his vice presidents. The first being Dr. Mohamed Jameel, who was his vice presidential candidate, who fled the country amidst the dirty politics that took place to remove him from office. He too is now living in exile in the UK. The second vice president, Mr. Ahmed Adeeb, who came in with all the glamour and pomposity that had been afforded to him through his rise to stardom in President Yameen’s inner circles,  fared even worse. Accused of plotting to assassinate the President, Adeeb is now languishing in prison, looking to serve consecutive jail sentences that would in all probability place him solidly behind bars for the rest of his life. President Yameen’s third vice president Mr. Abdulla Jihad, is the only candidate who seems to have stuck, who has served in previous administrations as the Minister of Finance, the Governor of the Central Bank, and even as a member of the Civil Service Commission.

President Yameen’s coalition campaigned with a manifesto entitled the Yaqeen Manifesto. Special focus was given to areas such as the fisheries sector, promising an income for fishermen even during those periods in which they are unable scrounge up enough of a catch to make a viable income out of it. Empowerment of women was also a notable pillar of this document, promising the female workforce that policies would be made to pave the way for women to work from home. Another pledge was to establish reliable childcare centers subsidized by the government; once again to pave the way for the female workers to play a more contributory role in the labor force. Come today, none of these policies have fully materialized on the ground.

While the public is geared to vote on Sunday (September 23rd 2018), to elect the leadership of this country for the next five years, no one can accuse President Yameen’s administration of having being an uneventful one. Dogged by one scandal after another, which forced the incumbent to tighten his hold and oft times reveal his true colours, President Yameen’s presidency has been one of the most dramatic of reigns, perhaps even within the South Asian region. With his foreign policy strongly China-centric, President Yameen’s regime has sidelined India and other neighbours, and continues to snub the European Union and the US for “meddling with the country’s sovereignty”.

This article is an attempt on my part to take a look at  President Yameen’s policies during his five year term with as much of an objective mindset that I can muster. It takes into consideration the good, the bad, and the despicable about his government. These are based on various news articles that I have read as well as my own beliefs when it comes to his developmental agenda and good governance. Having an avid interest in public policy, I have this drive to try and understand leaders, their policies, the implementation of said policies, and the idiosyncratic factors that defines a leadership, which I believe goes a long way towards establishing key moments of any administration.

The Good:

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Sinamale’ Bridge. Source; Raajje MV

Whatever good that has come out of President Yameen’s first five year term belongs in the “infrastructural development” category. President Yameen’s presidency will be remembered for the infrastructural development that it brought to certain selected areas of the Maldives, garnering him what little support he has been able to muster throughout the country. How these projects were carried out, at what cost; that is not the focus of discussion at the moment. Highlights of some of the key projects are listed below.

  1. Sinamale’ Bridge: First pledged by President Maumoon during the final years of his 30 year dictatorial regime, the credit for realizing this dream would undoubtedly belong to President Yameen. The bridge which measures 2.1 in kilometres, connects the capital Male’ with the Velana International Airport (VIA), as well as the island of Hulhumale’ which is hailed as part of the Greater Male’.
    A total of 200 million US dollars were reportedly spent on the bridge, out of which 116 million of it was given as free aid from the Chinese government, 72 million procured as loans from China, and lastly with the Maldivian government having spent 12 million.
    Inaugurated on the 30th of August 2018, with the largest fireworks display this country has probably ever seen, the Sinamale’ Bridge is definitely the pride and joy of this regime. All squabbles regarding the bridge aside, connectivity is always a good thing, especially for those who travel between Male’, the airport, and Hulhumale’ on a daily basis irrespective of the turbulent weather conditions at times. Connectivity also ushers in prosperity, which is undeniable.
    However, it remains to be seen the tariff the government will impose as toll charges on those who use the bridge. In the meantime, the bridge remains open for use, free of charge, until most likely the elections are over, and the presidency once again secured.
  2. Implementation of water and sanitation systems in multiple islands: According to PSM, when President Yameen was sworn in, only 30 islands out of the 190 inhabited had established sewerage systems, with only four having proper water systems in place. By mid-June of 2016, 10 islands had sewerage systems established, and 10 had proper water systems. At the same time, 53 islands had ongoing sewerage projects in place whereas water projects were ongoing in 40 islands.
    Having traveled to a mere handful of islands for work, I have also come across the lack of proper water and sanitation facilities in islands, a sad state and indignity that people have suffered for so long. These are basic services that should have been established long back, but sadly has not been the case.
  3. Implementation of airports across the country: Being an island nation, one of the biggest challenges to our development remains the scattered nature of our geography, with sparsely populated islands strewn across the country. Traveling by sea has always been the norm, but changing weather patterns and advancements in technology has meant that there is more of a demand by people to be able to travel from one point to the next without the hassle of rough seas and the time incurred. The most contentious of these projects would perhaps be the airport that was inaugurated at HDh. Kulhudhuffushi on 21st September 2018, during which the President stood in the pouring rain and pleaded the people to vote for him at the polls on Sunday.
  4. Repairing the roads of Male’ City: It was incumbent regime that kick-started the ambitious project of repairing and repaving the roads of the congested capital city of Male’. Initial plan was to complete a total of 13 roads, the work on the main road Majeedhee Magu being scheduled from 1st of October 2016 to 4th January 2017. However, through a myriad of delays, the work was completed only towards the end of 2017. The other roads planned, still remain as they are, with parts of the outer road of Bodu Thakurufaanu Magu having undergone a tremendous facelift to facilitate the inauguration of the Sinamale’ Bridge.
  5. The Industrial Village Project: On 13th January 2016, the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure signed an agreement with the Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) to develop an industrial village in the capital, for which land was reclaimed from south of Male’. Towards the end of the presidential term, while a huge chunk of the land remains with sporadic activity to be seen here and there, a lot of work remains to be done. The Housing Minister stated that MVR 159 million would be spent in total from the state budget for this project.
    If this project is realized as envisioned, garages, hardware go downs, and other industrial work premises would be moved to the location, making things easier for those seeking services of such vendors in the long term.
  6. The Harbour Food Court: Initially, a project that was forecasted to be completed within 7 months and 15 days, the agreement for which was signed on January of 2016, the Harbour Food Court was finally inaugurated by the Housing Minister on the 5th of May 2018.
    With many new attractive food vendors in the mix, the Harbour Food Court which previously used to be a hotspot for locals to sample cheap local food has now become a hip hangout point for those living and visiting the city.
  7. Rasrani Bageecha, Rasfannu, and the Pavilion: Amidst much controversy and criticism, all projects implemented attracts droves of people who have nowhere to escape when it comes to the congested living conditions that is the reality of life in Male’ City.
    Rasfannu Beach provides a brief reprieve for many, drowning out the incessant noise pollution that is often part and parcel of city life. Rasfannu Beach is the second artificial beach to be implemented in the capital, the first being the Artificial Beach in the Henveiru ward, inaugurated during President Maumoon’s time.
    Meanwhile, Rasrani Bageecha was inaugurated on the 21st of August 2017 by the first couple, with edutainment and heritage being the main concept theme of the revamped Sultan Park. According to Maldives Independent, “the Sultan Park was opened on the former grounds of the royal palace after the monarchy was abolished in November 1968.”
  8. WAMCO and Waste Management: With congestion, it is inevitable that services such as waste management will become inundated and overloaded. Previously, a service that was handled on an individual basis by households through employment of the expat workforce, a bold and ambitious plan by WAMCO was implemented to streamline waste management.
    Amidst a lot of false starts and much criticism, WAMCO started collecting garbage from households in Male’ effective December 25th 2016. The difficulties that are faced, both by households and the staff of WAMCO in taking over this humongous venture has to be taken into account, as apartments and buildings in the city are not designed for central waste collection mechanisms that facilitates this kind of project. It was also on August of this year that incumbent regime signed an agreement with the Asian Development Bank for a US$ 35 million grant to implement environment-friendly waste management practices in the Greater Male’ region.

For supporters of President Yameen and his developmental policies, there would be many more programs and projects which they would consider to be a success, worthy of a mention.

The Bad:

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Ex-Auditor General Niyaz, who was ousted through amendments to the Audit Act. He was ousted for investigating the MMPRC scandal. Source; The Edition

Most of what is listed under this category has to do with governance, transparency, and accountability of elected officials and independent institutions that are the guardians of the democratic system. President Yameen’s five years in office has ensured that corruption become endemic, institutionalized, and the accepted norm owing to various rhetoric used by government officials to justify this atrocity. Statements like, “there is development even if there is corruption”, or “corruption is a bi-product of development”, or “we spent double the amount it would have incurred to speed up the implementation” – these are all designed to make norm of a practice that rips off a country’s wealth and destroy its future.

  1. Lack of confidence in long term viability and sustainability of developmental projects: in the era of sustainable development which refers to development that does not put into peril the future of generations to come; these five years have seen a lot of tussle between the government, institutions, and the citizens owing to harmful developmental practices, often bogged down in bureaucracy and the state’s refusal to divulge actual details of projects being undertaken.
    Mahaa Jarraaf
    , the dredger that was purchased by MTCC to reclaim land to pave the way for infrastructural development, is destroying many a reef along with habitats and entire ecosystems, while lining the pockets of the movers and shakers of the country with cash.
    President Yameen who exhibits characteristics similar to that of President Donald Trump as a climate change skeptic, during the presidential “debate” held by the Maldives National University (MNU), stated that he was actually doing the citizens a favour by reclaiming land from areas which had been dump grounds of waste for many years.
    Foregoing the advice of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), projects have proceeded in the fashion that is one hundred percent reminiscent of this government. Furthermore, many of the projects that had been implemented, have been riddled with a host of problems owing to use of poor quality construction materials and lack of proper management, leading to an increasing loss in public confidence in government projects.
  2. Lack of Transparency: Projects, finances, and under the table deals; all of this and more remains under a shroud of secrecy when it comes to incumbent regime. Expenditures incurred for mega projects revealed by the government are hardly trustworthy given the contradicting statements often quoted from different key figures within the President’s inner sanctum.
    Mandates of different agencies often crisscross; it is normal for us to see the Fisheries Minister Dr. Mohamed Shainee handling matters related to the foreign policy of the country, taking a leading role where in reality the Minister of Foreign Affairs should. This leads to a lack of public trust in officials, both elected and otherwise who are touting the government’s message, leading to further issues when it comes to understanding the integrity of the government and its officials.
  3. Derailment of Decentralized Governance: From the very early days of this government, the Decentralization Act and the powers that it bestows upon the people has often being met with scorn and ridicule from officials associated with the regime. Cited often as a failed policy, little is however said of the various policies of the incumbent regime that forced Decentralization Act to lose its prominence and power. This has rendered the councils to flounder and become ineffective, without proper budget and the central government’s support to take their plans forward.
    Recently at the MNU debate, President Yameen professed to be a non-believer of decentralization governance in the current context of the country. He mentioned that with the levels of awareness of the public and officials as they are, it is mighty difficult to work alongside with the councils who give into partisan politics and make things extremely challenging in terms of implementation of projects.
    While I believe this to be true regardless of which political party is in power, this toxic environment is further helped along by the divisive attitude of the incumbent regime at large.
    The Local Government Authority (LGA) in the meantime, headed by the Home Minister Azleen, is quick to penalize councilors and place them on suspension whenever they dare something that displeases the regime. The Decentralization Act was amended on 12th April 2017 to pave the way for the President to have full control of the board of LGA, which is tantamount to the President being in full control of the councils themselves.
  4. Lack of Accountability: President Yameen’s second VP Ahmed Adeeb, who has many charges against him for embezzlement of state funds, became the scapegoat for a lot of scandals surrounding the government, especially in terms of the massive corruption implicating key figures of the regime.
    Often at various podiums, the President deflects blame for what has taken place. This sentiment was echoed at the MNU debate once again, where the President shed light on how it was the “system” that had enabled the rise of someone corrupt like Adeeb through the ranks to become the VP, and at the same time steal so much money from the state funds.
    Investigations carried out by the “independent” organizations are more often than not, based on political affiliation. The minute you switch your political allegiance to what is favoured by the regime, away goes that pesky little problem, or some coffee just happens to accidentally spill on the case file.
    Anyone who dares rise against the tide is quickly snuffed out by levying hefty jail terms to silence other whistle-blowers who might come forward, making an example of people such as Gasim Abdul Kareem, who was arrested in February of 2016 for leaking detailed bank statements of SOF Pvt. Ltd., that is at the centre of one of the biggest cases of grand corruption that has taken place in the country.
    For the people, there are no avenues left to turn to for justice. The entire country is left in a limbo, and the people are helpless in the face of the many grave atrocities that are being committed without shame and paraded in front of citizens, daring a response from anyone who is brave enough to weather the storm.
  5. Erosion of Democratic Norms, Values, and Institutions: I have always held the belief that President Yameen is a page right out of President Maumoon’s handbook. President Yameen has taken the ideals of the dictatorial regime that he himself served in many capacities, and almost perfected them to a sense to ward off any means that can hold him accountable.
    Fear mongering is an age old tactic as such, used by his half-brother to keep people in line. By dangling the security of their jobs in front of them, President Yameen uses at times a more sophisticated and bull-headed approach to do the same.
    Changing laws to suit circumstance, Auditor General Niyaz was “fired” from his position through an amendment to the Audit Act which was ratified on 30th of October 2014.
    Similar tactics have been used to keep other institutions in line, paving the way for erosion of all norms and values that is essential for the functioning of a healthy and vibrant democracy.
  6. Politicization of Law Enforcement and Public Media: This is not a characteristic unique to just President Yameen’s government alone. Regimes that have come and gone have in one way or the other, influenced the functions of the law enforcement and public media to suit their needs.
    President Yameen being part of the “accepted norm” therefore, should be of no surprise to citizens. However, as with everything else that is this government, the politicization has reached new heights, whereby it is now impossible to understand the structure under which officers of Maldives Police Service often operate.
    In the months leading up to the elections set to take place on Sunday, police officers were “trained” to confront the people who might come out to the streets demanding for their “rights”.
    Meanwhile, public media shamelessly continues to propagate campaign messages of the President, acting as the mouthpiece of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), whereby it is often impossible to draw the line between the functions of Channel 13 (a pro government, privately owned channel) with that of the state TV channels PSM and Television Maldives.

The Despicable:

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The most despicable aspect to the regime is its disregard to the sanctity and dignity of human life. Photo shows journalist Rilwan’s family members holding posters related to the #FindMoyameehaa movement. Source; Maldives Independent

President Yameen’s regime has definitely left its mark on the people in the five year period that he has been president. His MPs have zero shame, following in their leader’s footsteps, taunting citizens with just how untouchable they believe themselves to be. Sexual molestation cases submitted to law enforcement agencies have often being halted because of an affiliation the accused has with a key member from PPM. Similarly, when it comes to the sanctity and dignity of the human life, this is where the government’s actions are unconscionable and most despicable. According to Mv Murders, a total of 27 murders have taken place in the Maldives between 2014 to-date, most of which bear strong evidence of being gang related. However, the President continues to deny the existence gangs, and goes as far as to tell us that they are contributing members of society. Here I list some of the most despicable aspects of this five year regime. I am sure I must have missed out on many, because there are just too many to pick and choose from.

  1. Massive Corruption & Embezzlement of State Funds: No scandal has rocked this regime’s boat more than it did with the MMPRC scandal. Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim was “dismissed” owing to the investigations carried out to unearth what had taken place.
    Having embezzled MVR 1.2 billion from state funds, the actual amount which Niyaz believes would be higher, the public has yet to see transparent investigations into the matter by relevant authorities. The police concluded a hastily conducted investigation which implicated VP Adeeb, and institutions like the Anti-Corruption Commission have been unable to come up with proper investigative reports that are credible on the matter.
    It is evident that the government is hiding many facts surrounding the debacle, and Al-Jazeera’s investigations into the case with its documentary “Stealing Paradise” just drives home the point further.

    What is more harrowing is the way this government continues to justify their actions, the President talking about the “demand” for speedier implementation of projects everywhere in the country.
  2. Deterioration of Justice, Law and order: Justice in this country has more or less always been the right of the affluent few. It is often said that justice in the Maldives is for the highest bidder.
    Our courts remain trapped inside a vicious cycle of corrupt practices, and our law enforcement remains under the control of politicians who dictate what investigations should be carried out, when they should be carried out, and where those investigations should lead them.
    Listed are some of the most prominent cases that have come and gone in the five year period, which have left its ugly mark on the country as a whole.

    • Rilwan’s disappearance and government’s reaction, gross mishandling, and miscarriage of justice that followed is one of the most prominent under this category. The callous disregard of elected officials aligned with the government towards the family seeking answers, the mockery and insults that have been hurled towards them and Rilwan’s friends, all lead one to circle back to the point that Rilwan’s abduction was state endorsed.
      Four years since Rilwan was last seen at the Hulhumale’ Ferry Terminal, there have been many instances for the public to mistrust the government and its actions surrounding the case, ranging from the President’s dismissive attitude when questioned about it, to the verdict from the Criminal Court recently on the case, where the judge criticized the prosecutors for doing a half-assed job of making a conviction.
    • Blogger Yameen Rasheed’s murder and the fallout is another case worthy of mention. A prominent blogger and critic of the government, Yameen was one of the closest friends of Rilwan and one of the most active figures in holding accountable the concerned authorities of the government.
      Murdered just as he reached home during the wee hours of the night, his murder has scarred many, put fear in the hearts of the most vocal in society, and done the job where corrupt practices fail when it comes to those with integrity.
      The Maldives Police concluded their investigations and blamed religious elements for being responsible for his murder, an easy cop-out if ever there was one.
      Come today, Yameen’s family members stand in solidarity with Rilwan’s and vice versa, knowing that justice is nothing but an oases on the scorching desert that is Maldives.
    • Politically charged trials and use of terrorism charges to put political opponents behind bars became the norm since 2013. Starting with the trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed which saw him sentenced to jail for 13 years on charges of terrorism on 13th March of 2015, this was rapidly followed in succession with the speedy trials of many high profile politicians, who have been given hefty prison sentences.
      The most recent debacles saw former President Maumoon’s son Faris Maumoon, the MP for Dhiggaru constituency, held under imprisonment arbitrarily for months, followed soon with the incarceration of the Maumoon himself, on charges related to a “judicial coup” that had allegedly attempted to usurp President Yameen.
      The international community at large have raised concerns which have gone unheeded, as President Yameen’s foreign policy of forging stronger ties with China has taken precedence, which helps Maldives turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to international condemnation.
    • Gang violence and preventing key policies from being implemented to curb and address the phenomenon; it was once again at the debate that was held recently by MNU that President Yameen stated that he does not believe that violent gangs operate in the Maldives. Going as far as to admonish the use of such a word that paints groups of youth in such a negative light, President Yameen makes light of the many investigations centred around the existence of such groups in society, the many murders that have been committed during this five year term, and even the disappearance of Rilwan himself that is connected to gang elements.
      Furthermore, there is reason to believe that these gangs are infiltrated by those preaching religious extremism in a setting where the violent hate filled minds find a calling.
      It was also President Yameen’s ex-Home Minister Umar Naseer, a hardliner when it comes to gang activity and drugs, who saw his powers reduced by the President during his term in office, which meant that he was prevented from issuing direct orders to police officers in any sort of operation that was being carried out.
      This change in mandate was allegedly owing to Naseer’s investigations into then Tourism Minister Adeeb for his alleged unlawful activities, a man who was suspected of having ties to gangs himself.
  3. Criminalisation of Defamation: 11th of August 2016 saw President Yameen sign into law, a draconian bill that sets hefty fines and jail terms on journalists, if found guilty of slander. Following this, RajjeTV has borne the brunt of the heftiest of fines, followed by Villa TV owned by Qasim Ibrahim. This has created an environment of fear, where hesitancy to write about what matters is quickly becoming the norm.
  4. Constitutional amendments that became everyday business: President Yameen always boasts of how his government does everything within the boundaries of the laws in place. Easily said, when the said laws are changed to suit circumstance and need of the regime, at the President’s whim.
    In line with this, constitutional amendments, which requires two-third majority of the sitting Majlis became an “everyday” phenomenon. At first, it was to pave the way for then Tourism Minister Adeeb to become the next VP, the amendments at the time which also saw new age limits being set for presidential candidates. Furthermore, constitutional amendments also paved the way for sale of Maldivian land to foreign investors, a move that saw the split between President Yameen & his half-brother become prominent.

With all that has happened, there remains the fear that more amendments along these lines will come in the course of the next few years, if President Yameen manages to secure his second term in office.

Critics say that we would most likely see the removal of the term limit for the presidency, alongside with amendments to the requirement of the two-third majority of the sitting Majlis needed for Constitutional amendments.

Furthermore, we have also seen President Yameen’s regime use the military to control the Parliament and storm the Supreme Court premises, which saw the arrest of two Supreme Justices for being party to a plan set to reverse the tide of strong arm tactics being used by a presidency riddled with legitimacy issues, dodging one scandal after another. I believe that the fate which awaits us would be much worse, if the next five years are handed to him on silver platter.

My compilation is paltry in the face all that has happened during the last five years. But it is a starting point for anyone who wants to know more, in order to perhaps make an informed decision, before heading to the polls on Sunday.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

 

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Forever Indebted I Remain; Goodbye @Yaamyn

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Yameen Rasheed who was found brutally murdered on 23.04.2017; Source: Mihaaru.com

Today yet again, I put down my words with a heavy heart. My soul feels as if it has aged rapidly overnight. I have been walking around in a daze since I woke up to hear the news of the brutal murder of social media activist, prolific blogger and human rights defender Yameen Rasheed. He was known to many via his twitter handle @yaamyn, just like his friend Ahmed Rilwan, journalist at Minivan News who was forcibly disappeared in August of 2014, who was known to many as @moyameehaa (mad man).

Yameen was found on the staircase of his home, with multiple stab wounds on his body around 3am. His routine of late had been to work until wee hours of the morning. Mihaaru reports that even though he is someone who continually received death threats, because the number of threats had receded to an extent, he had taken to walking home rather than taking a taxi which he usually does. CCTVs at his residence were reportedly facing a different direction when the murder occurred early morning. Reading what little news that has trickled down indicates and points towards premeditated murder.

Yameen reported the death threats he received to the Maldives Police Service (MPS) on many occasions. Yameen had reportedly even sought protection from the police at different junctures. MPS reportedly questioned people regarding the death threats that were received by Yameen. It is not clear whether charges were pressed, nor of any arrests made in that regard. Yameen himself tweeted many times of the failure of MPS to take up his cases with any modicum of seriousness. Today, he is no more and MPS will once again get away by suggesting that there exists no negligence whatsoever on their part in upholding law and order in the country. After all, the regime is safe and sound, so are its affiliated members of society. MPS deserves a pat on the back and commendation rather than condemnation.

Yameen’s shocking murder is one that carries significant similarities to that of the devastating murder of Maldivian parliament member Dr. Afrasheem Ali. His supposed killer is now waiting to be put to death by the state, the moratorium on the death penalty which was lifted after six decades to make way for his sentencing. Too many questions remain unanswered surrounding Dr. Afrasheem’s murder itself. No free thinker believes that the state has ensured that justice was done nor that due process was followed. Some link Rilwan’s disappearance with unearthing the truth behind Dr. Afrasheem’s murder. Allah SWT knows best.

Rilwan’s disappearance left scars that still remain festering in the cesspool that is known as Maldives. Rilwan was the voice of reason for many of his friends and twitter peeps alike. I saw and felt the hard blow it was for close friends of Rilwan like Yameen. One of the many failures of MPS has been their reaction towards Rilwan’s family’s attempts to seek answers for his disappearance.

Yameen was never far from Rilwan’s family’s side when they faced Maldivian authorities. Nor was he swayed to give up in campaigning for justice for Rilwan and his family. Mihaaru reports that Yameen was in fact preparing to come up with activities that could be held to commemorate the 3rd year since Rilwan went missing, a task that requires a lot of creative thinking and maneuvering given state’s lockdown on any activities as such that could rock the boat of ‘stability and prosperity’ Maldives is currently traversing upon.

What makes Yameen stand out is the fact that he was steadfast in his criticism of a regime that seems to have zero tolerance for the freethinker. A free thinking society is after all what regimes like ours fear the most. That fear manifests itself in bogus politically charged trials, reputations soiled through fabricated and planted evidence at the behest of the regime and if you are one of the thorniest of thorns in the government’s side, you get forcibly disappeared or at worse, stabbed and brutally murdered. The free thinkers have effectively become refugees in their own land.

Yameen stood for principles that I believed in. We at times clashed on issues where our views differed. But deep down inside, I respected him for his core values and principles which echoed with mine. A society free of corruption, where institutions are able and just, where liberty and freedoms are rights not owing to political affiliation but in spite of it as enshrined in our Constitution as everyone’s right. Yameen represented to the Maldivian society and the world, the few of us who shared his values, most being too scared or intimidated by the thought of standing up against the rising tsunami that is the Maldivian government, cracking its whip on dissidence of any form.

Yameen was a contributing, valuable member to a society that is rotten at its core. He understood that. A society so deeply divided by partisan politics, religion and other issues that are brushed under the carpet. Most Maldivians are a complacent lot. We human beings are a complacent lot. We think very little of the suffering of the other person, unless we ourselves one day stand looking at devastation of the same kind or worse. Our education system and living conditions demand nothing less from society, except to be ‘law abiding’ in the form that the government deems creates a stable society ripe for ‘development’.

Talking about corruption, injustices, the sheer magnitude of failures of successive regimes gets you locked up or worse. There is no safe space for the free thinker in Maldives. Today more than any other day in recent history, I have come to realize that there is no place in Maldivian society for people like myself who wants to do right by the people. Who actually want to live a life of dignity and afford the same to the rest. Perhaps there never was room for people like Yameen, albeit for a brief period of time when a people elected government ruled until it was toppled through a coup d’état that we as a society have yet to recover from.

Yameen represents the kind of mind and spirit that regimes like ours despise. Because people like him are not swayed by partisan politics. They see wrong for wrong, no matter who does it. Even though labeled and affiliated with MDP and ‘yellow fever’ as some put it, Yameen stood up for values that perhaps echoed most with what MDP represents. Because whether we accept it or not, MDP seems to be the only party that remotely even talks about values of justice, peace and freedom that people like him and a few members of Maldivian society actively advocate for at the risk of their own lives.

Today, I feel indebted to Yameen. Because he actively worked for things and values he believed in. Those that I believed in. He gave the middle finger to everyone who thought they could intimidate him with death threats or worse. He never gave up the fight to find answers for his friend’s disappearance. He never stopped asking. He never ceased in his efforts to take on the institutions of Maldives that have failed so miserably in creating an equitable and just society. He never gave up. That is the lesson we all need to take from his death.

It is often said that the brightest of souls are those that leave us all too soon. Their brief sojourn through life touches us in profound ways that remains inexplicable long after they are gone. Yameen was not my friend in the traditional sense. But he was someone I deeply respected for his values, and I would like to believe he did so with mine. Life got in the way when two opportunities came up where I could have met him in person. Perhaps if I had, his death would be even more difficult for me to process than it is now.

The outpouring of grief, sorrow and solitude upon his death on social media is one that attests to the fact that his activism was one that did not go unnoticed. Similar to the time when Rilwan disappeared, Yameen too has joined a list that I fear is going to grow as time goes on by. I wonder how many of us would have to die brutal deaths, or be forcibly disappeared before Maldivians as a collective people rise and demand justice from the regime that controls all our resources. I wonder when enough would be enough. While most view gang affiliated violence with a lack of interest, today we lost a valuable, intelligent life force to be reckoned with. Perhaps that is the message that those behind his death wants to send to the rest of us. Speak your mind, you face the same verdict. Kowtow to the regime, you are safe.

Maldivians need to wake up and look past the “developmental” rhetoric spewed by the authorities. That a bridge and a platform to view its construction does not make for development. That a state which fails to uphold the sanctity and sacredness of human life is one that has failed at its core. That a reality show that keeps the majority of the masses engrossed in the fabricated drama that unfolds every week is not going to teach our children the values they need to uphold for a society to flourish. That there would be no Maldives left for the generations to come because we as a collective people have failed in ensuring that it is so.

I can’t even fathom the sense of deep loss and pain that Yameen’s family, close friends, and colleagues must be feeling. What I feel is almost negligible in contrast to how much pain they must be undergoing right now. My prayers remain with them, that Allah SWT grant them ease in these difficult times. I have never stopped praying for Rilwan’s family. Yameen’s death and asking for justice for him will now forever remain in them as well. Because as a society that has been left with little else to do, prayers are all that remain.

Rest In Peace dear Yameen. For your loss is one that has shaken us all to our very core. Perhaps it is fitting that your very last tweet was the emoji of a balloon flying away. You’ve left us with tears in our heart, but unwavering faith that one day your death will be avenged, even if it be in the Hereafter. Justice will find those that are responsible for this inviolable desecrating act on a precious human life.

Rest In Peace my dear. Rest In Peace. 

I believe in love, it’s all we got
Love has no boundaries, costs nothing to touch
War makes money, cancer sleeps
Curled up in my father and that means something to me
Churches and dictators, politics and papers
Everything crumbles sooner or later
But love, I believe in love – Elton John, Believe

🎈

Mental Health & Developmental Policies

depression

Source: Pinterest

“I searched for a common goal amongst humankind, to which all would agree to strive for excellence. I have not found anything other than the vanquishing of anxiety [hamm]” – Ibn Hazm (d.  AH), famous Andalusian scholar of Islam.

The recent spate of deaths by suicide within the Maldivian community, both at home and abroad has sparked off the debate concerning illnesses of the mental health variety which includes depression, anxiety etc. and associated symptoms. While debate of this kind is healthy because it gives room for people to open up about their struggles concerning mental health issues, certain comments by authorities and public alike tends to do more harm than good. These statements often stem out of ignorance of what mental health issues are about, the root causes that drives them, and how at the end of the day it is the inadequacies of the government of the day that is on prominent display when all is said and done.

Linking and associating mental health disorders solely on one’s religiousness or irreligiousness as some put it, is one of the aspects of what I am talking about. While Maldives is constitutionally a 100% Islamic nation, where politicians spew rhetoric on a regular basis trying to portray a picture of harmony, peace and stability in the country, the truth is far from it. Underneath all the fairy tales that the government conjures up lies a country that is deeply divided on many central issues related to the government, governance itself, the political system, religion, and not to mention the fissures and divides that exists as deep wounds over what some call as the Male’-Raajjethere divide.

Developmental policies since the beginning of President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom’s time which spanned a period of 30 years before he stepped down in 2008 after losing the first multi-party presidential elections that was held, is a pivotal reason behind the social inequities and imbalances that exists in the country even today. Factor in a coup that toppled a people elected government in 2012 and the upheaval that followed, the Presidential elections of 2013 which was “won” through the Supreme Court of Maldives, the incumbent regime in existence is merely following up and “expanding” on the groundbreaking policies laid by the now President Yameen Abdul Gayyoom’s half-brother himself.

Under President Maumoon’s leadership, the people that he wanted to keep close were fed from the state coffers and as a result got richer and more affluent, while the poor remained more or less at a level where they struggled to make ends meet; in a status of state controlled poverty, being thankful for the “generous” handouts that were given from the Presidential Palace or the President’s Office at the time.

President Maumoon practiced the art of the “benevolent and kind” leader that was generous to those that did not come into conflict with him about his policies and many atrocities. Those that did, bore the brunt of it, either being “reeducated” at the prisons that were notorious then for torture, death and prisoners that were often talked about to have gone missing.

It was President Maumoon’s developmental policies that saw the capital Male’ “developed” as a concrete city of national pride and prosperity while far lying atolls and islands got scraps and pieces of the developmental aid that poured into the country from left and right during his reign. A half constructed jetty here and there, a single storey building as a school on another and a less than adequately equipped health center somewhere else. In the meantime, “Atholhuge” or short-stay residences for visiting government officials were setup in islands considered as the “capitals” within the atolls, with every luxury that could be afforded at the time.

Meanwhile, people were forced to migrate to the greater Male’ that constitutes now of Male’, Vilingili and Hulhumale’, all designed to centralize power, which in the end meant easier control over the masses that the presidency ruled over. Families fell into hardship trying to make ends meet, living in small cramped spaces in the capital paying exorbitant amounts of money for rent, because there exists no rent control mechanisms enforced by the government on land owners even up till today. These families left behind spacious and airy homes in their islands where they could have led a more physically and mentally well rounded life, just because they wanted to give their children a chance at getting a better education and later on perhaps a better future than the ones they were stuck with.

In the islands, the eldest sons often were forced to leave school halfway through secondary education or even before in order to make ends meet in the family, forced to work at a far lying resort somewhere, getting to see their parents, wives and children when the resort management deemed it fit. With no Employment Act in existence, with rights of the employees not guaranteed by law, many employees were left floundering within a system that saw little need in taking a more holistic approach towards the needs of employees.

It is no surprise then that many families that lived within the crowded Male’ city ended up being prime examples of broken homes. No one needs to go into details on how lack of intimacy in a marriage between the husband and wife brings on physical and emotional imbalances to the relationship, how these wounds can fester and explode into messy and ofttimes ugly divorces, leaving behind children scarred and hollowed out by the resultant effect.

When one talks about mental health issues, it is often closely linked to one’s childhood, the effects of perhaps long forgotten traumatic experiences that lingers somewhere in the mind to manifest in uglier ways. One could be totally in control of their lives one minute and sweating over a perceived danger to their very existence the next. The mind after all has a “mind” of its own and it is seldom easy under the circumstances to control its various thought processes and the negative emotions that can arise out of the chemical imbalances that sets in.

There is also the hereditary factor to consider, some studies pointing to a link between depression and a polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene SLC6A4 which is known as 5-HTTLPR. A 2003 study found that the presence of this particular 5-HTTPLR increased risk of depression, but only for those who also experienced life stressors or trauma, which perhaps points towards traumatic childhood experiences.

Suicide and genetics on the other hand, according to a recently published Q&A article on MayoClinic attests to the fact that it is a complicated association. While research has shown that there is a genetic component to suicide, it is alluded that there are other contributing factors that increases an individual’s risk. What complicates matters further when it comes to the link is a process called epigenetics, the process via which certain genes are turned on or off as a person grows and develops, which can be once again influenced by what happens in a person’s environment. Meaning that once again, childhood factors could play a significant role here.

When people so carelessly point towards mental illnesses and suicide as being caused by lack of faith or one’s lack of closeness to Allah SWT, they fail to take into consideration the stress under which most of the families live when it comes to the heavenly paradise on Earth that is known as the Maldives. A paradise for those that visits its luxury resorts and gets the five-star treatment worth the exorbitant amounts charged, little of this wealth which if at all trickles down to the people.

The income inequalities, social injustices that exists deep rooted within society, the lack of a comprehensive and fair justice system that protects the rights of everyone, especially the most vulnerable; children, mothers and fathers collectively, the lack of adequate support systems that takes over when these institutions fail to uphold their duties effectively, the failure of consecutive governments to nurture a broad based civil society that addresses inadequacies in policies and their implementation that affects social and economic factors are all at play here.

Lack of a comprehensive mental healthcare framework is one of the crucial issues that is faced not only in Maldives, but in well developed countries where the problems are just as profound. In fact, studies carried out have shown that suicide rates are higher in wealthier nations than in poorer countries, and that accessibility to care is a great hindrance to overall mental health of patients that requires treatment for different associated symptoms.

The patient to doctor ratio is crucial when it comes to mental health care systems, the exhaustion that creeps up on professionals without a proper backup system in place which could prove to be detrimental. These are all issues that adds onto an already complex and wicked problem that needs targeted solutions from a government that somehow cannot seem to be able to fathom the multifaceted nature of the issue. From affordability of care to access, to the removal of stigma that surrounds the issue, there needs to be massive transformational movements within and across different spectrums of society to address the issue of mental healthcare and what it constitutes.

Being a practicing Muslim, I cannot deny the role that spiritual wellbeing plays when it comes to mental health issues. For me, religion is very much a part of who I am. It even defines me to a certain point. While prayers and recitation of Qura’n has helped me immensely when it comes to coping with the worst of my symptoms, for others, religion might not hold such a profound value in their lives. For those that do not believe in religion and existence of a higher power, there exists other mechanisms such as meditation which to a certain extent mimics the effects of prayer.

When government ministers point towards lack of religious faith as the main reason behind poor mental health status of large swathes of the population across the country, they fail to understand that this lack of faith as they call it also stems from poor governmental policies on education. Fact that religion serves as a tool that is manipulated at the behest of the government of the day does little to instill faith in a generation that has come to question everything that is in existence and beyond.

Gone are the generations that says yes to everything a ruler imposes upon them. In place now are groups of individuals that question; questions that needs to be answered adequately by learned professionals in terms of religious discourse, especially by people who have the patience to deal with them.

Islam as a subject should be taught by teachers who can bring forth lively discussions and engage students in debates surrounding central issues to society in an Islamic context. Rather than shying away from debates as such, teachers should help and guide students to understand what Islamic literature has to say on important pillars that governs society and life of individuals. Subject matter should touch deeply on aspects of tawh’eed (oneness of Allah SWT), and what it actually means when one says that Islam is a way of life.

Without incorporating these multi-dimensional aspects that addresses the wellbeing of a society as actionable policies on the ground, when officials open their mouth to belittle an issue that is of paramount importance not just locally but globally, it actually brings to light the lack of awareness and knowledge of these officials when it comes to broad based issues that needs targeted solutions that cuts across government and non-governmental platforms in existence.

“Wellness is not a ‘medical fix’ but a way of living – a lifestyle sensitive and responsive to all the dimensions of body, mind, and spirit, an approach to life we each design to achieve our highest potential for well-being now and forever.” – Greg Anderson

Maldives and the Not So Curious Case of its #CWExit

asim

Foreign Minister of the Maldives – Dr. Mohamed Asim. Source: BBC.com

It is a widely accepted notion amongst intellectuals of political science and international relations that foreign policies of countries for the most part remain stable over long periods of time. It is not so without reason. International relations are forged, developed and nurtured over long & hefty periods of time. Countries put great effort into these relations because it somehow or other mutually benefits them to be in a state of cooperation than conflict. Because if otherwise, a misquoted statement from a public official of country A about country B could pave the way for potential disaster, if not for the first line of defense provided by the diplomatic ties established between these countries.

Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), i.e. entities formed by states coming together such as the United Nations (UN), The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to name a few, are established for various reasons. Whether for economic or defense needs or to strengthen bilateral or multilateral relations, these entities form a platform for countries to engage in and benefit from each other, in terms of trade deals and other such mutually beneficial ventures.

Entities like the UN, even though might not hold absolute authority over countries given the state of anarchy that exists when it comes to a universal government of sorts to oversee affairs of all nations, even with the limitations present, it however does provide nations with a sort of check and balance mechanism within the existing framework of the establishment. This helps member countries to work with especially those nations that are considered to be taking a turn for the hostile or are seen shortchanging their citizens on issues of human rights, democracy and freedom etc., so that its citizens in the least have somewhere to turn to when all avenues of justice and hope they seek are not to be found on their home turf.

Similarly for the Maldives, ever since it gained its independence from the British in 1965, it has formed bilateral and multilateral ties with a lot of nations on the diplomatic front. For a country such as ours that is small and seemingly insignificant when considering the larger scale of things, these ties are essential to our very existence. A country, a large part of whose income is derived from high end tourism is in no place to snub the international community over reasons that are as or more abhorrent to say the least.

The news yesterday that the incumbent government of Maldives had finally had it with the Commonwealth and decided to leave the body was one that sent shock waves through citizens of the nation. Considering the fact that Maldives has been a member of the Commonwealth since 1982 and going 34 years – not a small number of years in my opinion, this time, Maldives has with pride, joined the ranks of esteemed countries like that of Zimbabwe which in 2003 announced that it was leaving the Commonwealth after being suspended in March 2002 over serious issues in its elections.

The Commonwealth

cw

Flag of the Commonwealth. Source: Flags.net

Formerly known as the British Commonwealth, the Commonwealth of today came into formal existence in 1949 and forms a loose association of former British colonies and current dependencies, along with some nations with no significant historical ties to Britain. It was not until 1947 when India and Pakistan achieved their independence from the British that the Commonwealth as we know it today emerged. Even though the word British was dropped from the name then, the British monarch remains the official head of the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth charter sets an ambitious agenda for member countries. To bring together values such as democracy, human rights and the rule of law – asserting its commitment towards the development of such societies in its member states, all of which spells trouble for countries like the Maldives, that continually seems to be testing the boundaries of what would be acceptable or perhaps of late, not giving a damn about what is the accepted norm for a government that spouts democratic principles to be part of its establishment and setup.

What the Commonwealth Brings to the Table

Unlike the UN, in theory, members of the Commonwealth have equal say, and this does not depend on their size or economic status. One of the benefits to member states being the fact that it gives smaller states just like the Maldives, a platform in the arena of international politics and diplomatic circles – in other words it lends a voice to punitive nations like ours and the room to engage with bigger nations that could prove to be helpful in outlining economic and other such policies that have a broader positive impact on the country and its people.

While most would argue that a Heads of Government Meeting every two years is hardly something to boast about, the Commonwealth does come with benefits for member states in areas such as that of immigration. Especially during a time where Muslims are under constant scrutiny and threat of being denied entrance into certain parts of the world owing to the rise in threat of global terrorism, being a member of Commonwealth does afford citizens of a member country like that of Maldives, a cushion from the blowback if otherwise.

As a Commonwealth citizen, if you are looking to immigrate to Commonwealth nations, you maybe entitled to visa-free entry if the country you are traveling from is deemed to be in “good standing” – a line I believe that the Maldives has already crossed. Bringing to mind the harrowing couple of weeks right after Maldives snubbed its neighbor India on the GMR deal where citizens had to line up near the Indian High Commission from dusk till morning in the hopes of getting their visa approved in order to seek medical treatment in India suffices as an example of how difficult things can get – if countries were inclined to do so.

In terms of immigration, it the Commonwealth also does help member states when trying to gain entrance into non-member countries as well. Maldives is not a country with many embassies established on our shores. This means that, as a Commonwealth member, the British embassy or consulate can step into play the role as required for you to get the proper documents.

Being a Commonwealth member also offers member states with access to participate in the Commonwealth Games, an international sporting event that countries like the Maldives would be hard-pressed to gain entrance to if not. This is tied to the dreams and aspirations of many a young athlete who works with sheer determination and focus towards making a name for themselves in an international setting such as what the Games offer.

The Commonwealth also comes bearing for the studious amongst our young to seek fully funded study opportunities to developed nations which if otherwise, children from even middle class families of a country like ours can only ever dream of. Once again, the aspirations of the young who would lead our country tomorrow are tied to a valuable resource that is hard to come by these days, especially given the lack of scholarships forthcoming from the government itself, not to mention how scarce these chance are, even from other such international organizations and countries that are keen on providing students with such golden opportunities.

Needless to say, though the benefits afforded might not seem to amount to much in the face of 150 million US$ dollars that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia can grant to the Maldives, being a member of the Commonwealth does offer certain privileges to citizens of member states, the loss of which might not be so easy to deal with in the long run.

The Criticism towards Commonwealth

Commonwealth is largely criticized for the passive role it plays when it comes to actively promoting the values embedded in its Charter. It was only in 1995 that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) was established with 8 ministers, its sole purpose being to deal with governments that are unyielding in their violation of the principles of the Commonwealth. CMAG also comes equipped with the power to take punitive collective measures such as imposing sanctions or suspending members who are seen to violate its Charter and principles.

Even with the establishment of CMAG, Commonwealth is seen to be an entity that takes the easy way out more often than not. Commonwealth’s lack of actions consistent with its principles in the case of Sri Lanka’s human rights abuses under the reign of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is notable. Another example is of how Nigeria was partially suspended in 1995 for hanging a human rights activist Ken Saro-Wira, while the body largely ignored the abuse of the Ogoni people that had been the root of Saro-Wira’s campaign.

The Commonwealth is also damned for its “insidious postcolonial politics” that prevents Britain and other affluent members such as Canada and Australia from providing a better leadership that could perhaps bridge the gap between the Commonwealth and other more focused and efficient entities such as the European Union.

CMAG & Maldives – A Tale with a Bittersweet Ending

A CMAG meeting in action. Source: vnews.mv

A CMAG meeting in action. Source: vnews.mv

It was the CMAG’s involvement in the affairs of the Maldives following the coup which took place on February 7th of 2012, that ousted the first democratically elected President Mohamed Nasheed that saw emergence of rhetoric from members of the rogue government that Maldives should leave the Commonwealth. Some members of parliament were seen mocking the head of the Commonwealth herself in their attempt to sound important enough so that the powers they worship would be well impressed with how they were earning their entitled position.

CMAG placed Maldives on its agenda following the coup from March 2012 to March 2013, until a Commonwealth backed inquiry into the power transfer found it to be a constitutional one. Going into the nitty-gritties involving how this particular event unfolded is beyond the scope of this article. With the establishment of the “truth”, the rhetoric to leave the Commonwealth also more or less died down along with it, not surprising given that the pressure on the Maldivian government eased off for the time being.

It was in 2015, just last year, during the turbulent political trials that saw the arrest and imprisonment of top opposition political figures in the country and some influential members from the government’s cabinet itself that saw CMAG once again intervene into the affairs of the Maldives.

Ex-Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon then is reported to have said that the Maldives “will seriously consider its membership at the Commonwealth” if it were to be placed on the agenda of CMAG for a second time in 4 years. Furthermore, Dunya criticized CMAG for continually pushing the Maldives for reform when no “serious” violations existed in the country and also lamented the fact that the Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma was too trigger happy to take action without giving Maldives the time to follow due process. Dunya also bemoaned the fact that being placed on CMAG’s agenda posed reputational risks to the country, putting its economy and democratic governance at risk.

So what made the government finally bite the bullet and make a decision that made Maldives appear in headlines of almost all major global newspapers? The reason being that the Maldives once again found its way into the CMAG’s agenda on the meeting that was held on 23rd of September of this year, where CMAG expressed “deep disappointment” in the worsening political situation of the country. This meant that the Maldives had to buckle down and show CMAG that they mean business when it comes to the reforms they have been promising to the group in a bid to buy time to do whatever it is that the government wanted to. This decision by the CMAG of course did not come without reason.

CMAG listed out 5 concrete reasons as to why Maldives might face imminent suspension, some of which includes the flawed and politically motivated trials to imprison those that were deemed to be political rivals of the incumbent President, how the parliament of the country has been hijacked by Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and is used as a tool to oppress the people – the recent ratification of the draconian Defamation Bill suffices as just one example, and furthermore, the government’s seeming reluctance and will to stem the spread of radical ideology which was also raised as a point of grave concern.

Intervention attempts by various teams such as the UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers which in 2013 recommended the Maldives to strengthen its judicial independence, which of course has gone unheeded, and attempts by the CMAG itself to try and work out a way to get all political parties together to discuss a way forward, the latest of which involved requirement for all party talks which was headed for trouble right from the onset.

Thus, a regime that seems to be distancing itself further and further away from nations and entities that actually demands of the government to uphold principles of democracy and good governance upon which the country’s Constitution itself is based on, it should be of no surprise that the ultimate decision made by the executive is to leave the Commonwealth, thus plunging the citizens of the country into times of more uncertainty, questions about most of which could not be answered by representatives of the regime themselves. “The decision to leave the Commonwealth was difficult, but inevitable” does not suffice as an explanation for a judgement reached by the executive, that could plunge the lives of Maldivians into unforeseeable difficulties in the near future.

If one were to ask why the need to isolate ourselves from those nations and entities that would attempt to interfere? They would have to look no further than the damning evidence reported on Stealing Paradise, Al Jazeera’s recent documentary into the massive corruption allegations involving the core political elite of the country, which ultimately points the finger towards the man himself.

I rest my case.

Defamation Bill & Its Un-Islamic Defense

Censorship

Source: The English Law Students’ Association

It is being talked about with much fervor today, the Islamic viewpoint behind criticizing the leadership and governance of a country and its head of state. Last year, right after the Independence Day celebrations were held, I wrote about how the government was imminently going to pass legislature that is “required” to put us behind bars for exercising our right to free speech, especially when it concerns the government and its elites. Today would most likely be the day upon which this prediction is going to become a reality, depending on whether government aligned party members pay heed to the sentiments of the people or bow down to their own greed, which has seen them profit most handsomely in recent times.

With the Defamation Bill submitted to the Parliament for the second time around, it went into the committee stage where religious scholars from the Fiqh Academy in the country were invited to have their say. Unsurprisingly, the sheikhs who turned up were in fact in agreement that the Defamation Bill is crucial and an important bill that needs to be passed, and furthermore went onto cite that defamation in fact, is considered to be a criminal offense in Islam. These sheikhs further went onto elaborate how criticizing the leader of a country is not to be done, how Islam forbids this, how Islam asks of society to obey their leaders, even if they turn out to be tyrannical monsters.

Islam on Oppression

Up till now, I have tried to refrain from saying much on the issue, because for one thing, I might not be the best of people to talk about things from an Islamic perspective, given that my knowledge when it comes to the Sharia’ and laws via which Islamic jurisprudence is governed is pretty much limited in comparison to the high heeled scholars of the country, the ones who go through their entire lives with their third eye blind, unable to see or hear of the cries of the sheer injustice that has become the norm in this country of ours.

My knowledge of Islam, the religion I follow and love, which is very much a part of who I am, does not jive at all with what the esteemed sheikhs revealed at the committee floor. In fact, I went on to do some reading to find out what I could about the scriptures being quoted often by the sheikhs who are in support of such a law being passed.

I found out that Sunni scholars agree upon the point that a leader should be obeyed, regardless of how corrupt and tyrannical he or she becomes and tramples the law of the land as they see fit. The only avenue left, according to these groups of scholars, is to advise the despot in place, hoping that his non-existent conscience grows a limb or two before the whole country is engulfed in misery and suffering.

On this note, Shiite scholars disagree and goes as far as to say that a ruler needs to be even forcibly removed from office, if it were to come to the point where he or she starts to trample on the rights of the people, when corruption becomes the accepted norm along with injustice that becomes rampant. According to these groups of scholars, corrupt and tyrannical rulers are not to be obeyed, and they hold the viewpoint that it becomes a “must” upon the people to remove such a leader from that position of power upon which they reside.

Of course, given the Sunni-Shiite split that pretty much makes anything the other group has to say blasphemous over the other, this clearly does not give much insight when it comes to how exactly Islam views the concept of leaders, the sheer magnitude of the responsibility that is thrust upon them, and how society should react and be able to act when it comes to less than stellar behavior from the leaders that govern.

Islam as a religion comes bearing peace amidst above everything else. This does not mean the peace of the kind that exists merely on the surface, but peace of the kind that reigns when there justice to be had in a society, regardless of race, skin colour, blood line or your status of wealth.

Establishing justice in its truest form, the way Allah SWT decreed it might be an impossibility in the context of the world, with its inherently corrupt people, the shifting areas of grey within the established man-made laws and the differences of opinion that arises in defining what the laws mandate, which sometimes are as vastly different from the other as night is to day.

In Surah An-Nisa, Allah SWT says, “O you who believe, be persistently standing firm in justice as witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. Follow not your desires, lest you not be just. If you distort your testimony or refuse to give it, then Allah is aware of what you do. [Ayah 135].

Abu Dharr reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:Allah the Exalted said: O my servants, I have forbidden oppression for myself and have made it forbidden among you, so do not oppress one another.

Furthermore, Anas (R.A) has narrated that Allah’s Apostle (PBUH) said, “Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is an oppressed one. People asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! It is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?” The Prophet said, “By preventing him from oppressing others.” Volume 3, Book 43, Number 624: Sahih Bukhari.

What does all of the above indicate? The simple fact that establishment of justice becomes paramount in a society, more so when we claim ours to be an Islamic one, standing firm in its principles. Thus, it becomes the duty upon the ruler appointed by the people to manage their affairs to establish the system of justice that remains removed from other influential forces at work. It becomes a must upon the ruler to appoint judges who are able and remain uninfluenced by corrupt practices, and to create check and balance mechanisms that works properly to weed out vile practices that breaches the establishment of trust that is forged between a people and their government.

Hence, it becomes imperative upon the people to voice out against injustice, corruption, and mismanagement of the kind that hurts the people and society. What the Defamation Bill is geared to do is to stop any voice of reason out there that sheds light on any such practices of the government in the management of our affairs. It is targeted towards instilling fear in the hearts of those that do not want tyranny, injustice and corruption to be the way of life for Maldivians, but are helpless to do much more than voice out their discontent. With humongous fines cited as punishment, not to mention jail terms if people are unable to cough up the fines payable to the state in millions, the Defamation Bill closes the door on the rights of the citizen when it comes to “preventing the oppressor from oppressing others”.

Islamic History & Its Lessons

Looking into the history of how Islam as a religion was propagated through different times, up until the last of the Prophets, Prophet Muhammad PBUH was sent, there exists lessons for all of us in what took place then.

If one were to ponder upon, for instance, why Prophet Musa (AS) was sent upon the people of Egypt, the Pharaoh being notorious in the tyranny that he was imposing upon his people, I believe we would identify what is wrong with the statements of the Sheikhs from the Fiqh Academy. Of course, Prophet Musa (AS) undoubtedly was sent to show the people the right way, but he was also sent to liberate the people who had been suffering for years under the tyrannical rule of a leader that was becoming more and oppressive and paranoid by the day. Paranoid enough that he wanted all male offspring born to the people be killed, for fear that the vision of a leader who would end his reign may come true.

A lot of people talk about how Prophet Lut (AS) was sent upon the people of Sadoom and how it all relates back to acts of homosexuality that was rampant amongst their people, to the extent which men preferred their own gender over women. But what most fail to pinpoint is the fact that there existed more severe problems in their society than homosexuality. Injustice was the law of the day, where judges were corrupt, awarding justice to the highest bidder. The poor bore the brunt of the unequal practices of the state and no message that Prophet Lut (AS) delivered upon the people were heeded upon. The sheer injustice of the people of Sadoom, who had become a law unto themselves was a pivotal reason why they perished under the punishment of Allah SWT. But few of the esteemed Sheikhs remember to tell this part of the story when they regale the life of Prophet Lut (AS).

Moving on, let us think of why Prophet Muhammad PBUH was sent to us, as a blessing upon mankind. Of course once again, he was sent as a guidance for the Ummah, until the Day of Judgement is upon us. He was sent as the last Prophet, not only for the Arab race, but for all mankind, across the globe. But while establishing the principles of Islam such as oneness of Allah SWT and that one should turn to Him and only Him, what else did the Prophet PBUH propagate and teach and establish during his life?

He taught the Ummah the importance of establishing justice, the benefit of seeking knowledge, the peace that would never be found in a society unless the rights of the collective people are seen to and established. He taught us to listen to the voices of the people, to hear both sides of an argument and the importance in establishing the truthfulness behind testimonies taken into as evidence when delivering punishments and verdicts on civil and criminal cases that arose during his time.

He showed the value behind respecting the other, regardless of the differences, even be it when it comes to their faith. He liberated the people that were suffering under the tyranny of the rich and elite in Mecca from a life of servitude or worse, and he showed us that democracy is not a “modern” or rather “un-Islamic” concept as most would like to point out, but democracy in its truest form comes from the practice all of the above.

Subjugation of the People – What makes it so Easy

Why are societies so afraid of giving power back to the people where it rightfully belongs, so inherent in subjugating the people? Why do tyrannical leaders such as Bashar Al-Assad of Syria, late Saddam Hussain of Iraq, Hitler from Germany and even Pol Pot who led the infamous Khmer Rouge, find their footing in society and are able to repress people in a manner that is incomprehensible to the freethinker?

Perhaps, the answer lies in a mix of factors which includes religion in its midst. Religion that is used as a political tool to suppress, a tool that is used to silence the voice of dissent, the discontent that people feel, to impress upon them the fear of the sovereign being upon which their faith resides, all the while forgetting that the Creator looks upon leaders of society just as much as its people.

Leaders tend to forget that we all share the commonality that is death. Whether one believes in the Hereafter or not, we are all going to die someday. Humans, though we would like to assume that we are the most advanced of species to walk the Earth, have not yet figured out a way to prevent death, or perhaps the secret to an eternal life. Thus lies the stupidity in thinking that as leaders they are invincible. That just because they sit on that throne today, they will be there forever.

We the people cast our votes to elect our leaders, be it our representatives at the Parliament or the head of state of the country. While the system has in place organizations specifically geared towards establishing the check and balance mechanism that should rightly work to remove the unhealthy practices of corruption and injustice, when that mechanism fails, there should be other avenues for the people to address the issue, be it even the last resort of removing an elected official from office. There should be legal avenues that protects the rights of the people to this extent, so that they are not left vulnerable in the hands of madmen who are willing to cross every single line out there to serve their needs.

The lesson that leaders, especially those that claim to be Muslims need to learn is that even if people were to listen and obey them forever because they are left with little choice but to do so, there would indeed come a day when that power would be stripped from them, where they too would face the bitter taste of death. Where I believe that they would face a worse torment than what the people could have delivered if they had the inclination to, where they would be answerable to their Creator for all that they had done in this world.

“The best jihad is the word of justice in front of an oppressive sultan.”