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Maldives Presidency 2013: How real is President Nasheed's bogeyman - the Maldivian Islamic terrorist?

Male', Maldives.
Day 21 of President Nasheed’s illegal military incarceration of Judge Abdulla Mohamed, and Nasheed is still unable to decide on the scapegoat for his wide step outside the country’s Constitution and laws. Nasheed and his town criers are seesawing back and forth between their two favorite bogeymen: 1) So-called Islamic extremists; and 2) Ex-President Gayyoom, Nasheed's punching bag for his every dismal failure.

Of the two, the latter goes without saying and does not even merit discussion here. Gayoom is the scapegoat for every dismal failure by the Nasheed regime. According to Nasheed, Gayoom is an all powerful entity, who mysteriously controls the Parliament, the Judiciary, all Independent Commissions, non-profit organizations, civic watchdogs, opposition politicians. You name it, Gayoom controls it, like a Grand Master Ninja, through some inexplicable and mysterious network, of which Nasheed can show no evidence. Like the bogeyman in a child's imagination, Gayoom is hiding within every shadow in President Nasheed's world.

Nasheed's oft repeated allegation of Islamic extremism and Al-Qaeda linked terrorists in the Maldives is rather more serious, and one that has extremely serious implications for the country's economy. Today, Reuters correspondent Bryson Hull reported President Nasheed and his military intelligentsia as saying that they have under watch over 100 Maldivian citizens "who have links to al-Qaeda or other militant groups, or who trained in camps in Pakistan or Afghanistan". If this allegation by the Maldivian Government is true, then it is indeed a significant number from amongst a population of barely 300,000.

Such an allegation, when made by a Government against its own people, will be very difficult to substantiate and verify, except by the Parliament. Parliament has the constitutional powers to question the Defence Minister as to the veracity of these statements. It can also question the Defence Forces separately in its Parliamentary Committee on National Security.

However, Nasheed's Government, from the very beginning, has a history of Cabinet Ministers refusing to appear before Parliament and its Committees to respond to MP's constitutional rights to question them. In addition, the Executive has last month begun a new practice of arresting and holding in detention judges who they allege are corrupt. It then refused to appear before the Judiciary in response to its summons and court orders. The Executive next stated that it does not accept the authority and jurisdiction of any of the lower courts, alleging that they were unconstitutional more than a year after itself lodging, defending and trying cases before these very same courts. In its latest move today, the Executive stepped up its intimidatory attacks on the Judiciary by lodging a Bill in Parliament to reduce the number of judges on the Supreme Court and High Court benches.

With the Executive refusing to accept the sovereignty of the Constitution, the constitutional mandates of the Parliament and the Judiciary, this then leaves the media and the public to try and hold the Government accountable for its allegations that the country is riddled with “Islamic terrorists”. Bryson Hull of Reuters today reported President Nasheed as saying ""They're really quite infiltrated into many, many islands and they have literally taken over our way of life.", referring to his alleged “Islamic terrorists”.

However, the local media has been effectively muzzled by the Executive. It has been warned by the President himself, the Home Minister, Defence Minister, Communications Minister, the Commissioner of Police and the Chief of Defence Forces on separate occasions that they will be shut down and their licenses cancelled were they to air any reports "against the national interest or national security". Media transmissions have been interrupted, transmission lines cut, media channel owners hounded by police and government witch hunt panels, media personnel arrested, media individuals beaten up, threatened and maced by the police and by MDP radical elements given shelter by the police. The interpretation of phrases such as "national interest" and "national security" by the Home Minister and Defence Minister appear to be very loose and equally fit for any action against civic opposition to the regime.

What of the public? Those questioning the President and his Executive have been arrested, held in illegal detention and threatened. Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of media, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, freedom of communication, privacy of communications and home, are mere words written in a Constitution declared by Nasheed as null and void. The public have no rights.
In such a climate of state terrorism and intimidation the Government cannot even be questioned on its international statements. It remains for the public to try and reason out whether Nasheed's bogeyman, his alleged rise of Islamic extremism, is real or not.

As evidence for these allegations, Reuters newsman Hull states that "Pressure from Islamist parties prompted the government to briefly shut down all hotel spas in January". However, in actual fact, there are no such “Islamist parties”. Only one party in the Maldives has a strictly Islamic philosophy, namely Adhaalath Party, as its political philosophy, which in itself is not a crime. Statement of religious basis by political parties is a known and accepted practice in all multi-party democracies. Political parties with avowed Christian, Islamic, Hindhi or even athiest philosophies are nothing new. Nor can any such party be called "radical" or "extreme" merely because their political philosophies are based on religious foundations.

By no stretch of the imagination can other political parties such as the Dhivehi Raiiyyithunge Party (DRP), Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), Maldives Reform Movement (MRM) or the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) be termed "Islamist" as the term is used by Western intelligentsia. Yes, all political parties in the Maldives, including President Nasheed's MDP, state the promotion of Islamic values and tenets in their party constitutions, but it is difficult to see how that makes all opposition political parties radical or militant "Islamist" parties.

Next is Mr. Hull's misrepresentation that the December 23rd protest was by his so-called “Islamist parties”. In actual fact, the historic protest at which over 20,000 civilians protested against President Nasheed, was led by civic associations. Further, one of the demands of the Civic Coalition was, not for all spas to be closed down as Mr. Hull states, but was explicitly for the Government to close those spas in the capital Male' which were being used as fronts for prostitution rings and for trade in human flesh. Prostitution and trade in human flesh are condemned worldwide, and there are international movements and conventions against such practices. Yet, when Maldivians call for their Government to take action against such atrocities, they become "radical Islamists"?

Moving on to further allegations in the Reuters report. Mr. Hull reports President Nasheed as saying ""They're really quite infiltrated into many, many islands and they have literally taken over our way of life.". Presumably President Nasheed is referring to Adhaalth Party, one of his coalition partners in Government until last year. Indeed, Adhaalath Party can be credited with bringing in the votes which ensured that Nasheed came second in the first round of the 2008 Presidential Elections. Adhaalath ensured Nasheed got the opportunity to contest Gayoom in the run-off in the second round of 2008 elections.

Nasheed contested the elections in coalition with Dr. Mohamed Waheed's Qaumee Itthihad and the Adhaalath Party. Dr. Waheed may have brought in international support for Nasheed, but it cannot be disputed that it was Adhaalath Party which gave Nasheed and his radical MDP the social relevance to Maldivians in 2008. Nasheed used Adhaalath to spearhead his local assault on arch-rival Gayyoom, hosting nightly public meetings at which MDP and Adhaalath savaged Gayyoom's moderate religious policies as being pro-Western and anti-Islamist. Gayoom was labelled a non-Muslim, because he upheld the traditional moderate view of Islam. This may give those hearing today’s rhetoric a feeling of déjà vu, yet it is documented in YouTube and elsewhere.

Nasheed’s agreement with Adhaalath Party was similar to that of the Al-Saud’s with the Wahhabists or Salafists. Nasheed agreed to create a separate religious ministry for them and give them a free hand to dictate religion to the masses. In return, Adhaalath agreed not to interfere with Nasheed’s economic agenda. Even a cursory analysis of the Friday sermons broadcast on Nasheed’s propaganda machine MNBC, of the Religious Ministry’s publications or even the speeches by the Religious Minister Dr, Majeed would show the radical difference in the extremist religious policies of the Nasheed Government versus the moderate stand of the Gayoom Government.

Having created a religious ministry and given it independent powers to spread its tentacles, Nasheed could not extricate himself, even under pressure from his international sponsors and financiers. In the midst of this tension, the more moderate elements of Adhaalath Party split off from Nasheed’s Government, leaving him holding hands with Dr. Majeed and Shaikh Hussain Rasheed, both militant extremists by any classification. An analysis of the current Adhaalath Party will reveal that it is now led by a young educated leadership, which can be engaged in a meaningful policy dialogue for the welfare of the country.

The underlying roots of the popular embrace of Islamic values are none other than the widespread social discord and civic strife fostered by Nasheed and his MDP. The return to Islamic values throughout the country needs to be used as a unifying force, to rebuild the country from the ashes of the MDP fire. It needs to be guided to its traditional moderate path through voter education, not criminalization as Nasheed is doing now. National unity cannot be achieved by radicalizing the faith of the population nor by victimizing its adherents as President Nasheed is doing at present.

Adhaalath Party cannot be forced out of the political arena merely because it disagrees with Nasheed's policies. It too is a legitimate political party with a political philosophy which must be respected, just as are the political philosophies stemming from Western roots.

The only gain in President Nasheed’s painting of the Maldives as a terrorist community is a private gain accruing to Nasheed himself. It is the only way in which he can sustain support from some misguided elements in the West, by showing them their Public Enemy Number 1, the “radical Islamist”, in every Maldivian who opposes his tyrannical and unconstitutional regime. In a country where he lost majority support within a month of ascending to office, such external support is the only way to stay in power.

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