In 2008, the Maldives had emerged as a beacon of democratic hope across the globe. A fledgling democracy had started taking baby steps in Asia’s longest-running dictatorship – a 100 percent Sunni Muslim nation. The road to democracy in Maldives, a string of 1,192 mostly uninhabited coral atolls, was painful. Some 500 miles off the tip of India, the Maldives have gone through a sea-change since 2008 – from an alleged coup de’tat to ‘dystopia’.
Today, the world’s leading honeymoon destination, once the world’s most secular Sunni Muslim nation, is being driven towards hardline Islam, especially ‘Sharia’ by none other than its controversial and increasingly autocratic president Abdullah Yameen Gayoom – half-brother of former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
The irony though, has just begun, unflinching in it’s almost ‘funny (sic) side’ of brazenness.
It was on this day in 1965, July 26th, that the Maldives gained independence from the United Kingdom after 77 years as a British protectorate. Ironic yet true that the archipelago in the Indian Ocean marks its 51st anniversary of independence where most of its opposition political figures had to seek refuge in the land of their once colonial masters or they have been shoved behind bars. Most notable among them, the first democratic president of the island nation and the poster boy of international climate change – Mohamed Nasheed; along with Yameen’s former vice-president Mohamed Jameel who was impeached by his own boss!
If you thought that that was the ultimate ‘welcome to the dark side of life’ sign ever, Yameen trumped himself with an Independence Day speech on Monday night. The President insisted that death penalty has to be implemented because Qur’an says so, & therefore, that it cannot be stopped. He is hell-bent that the first execution of a convict in sixty years since 1953 will take place under his watch as a reiteration of Maldives’ Islamic credentials.
“The number of parties envious of our 100 percent Islamic nation are many. Every day is a day when the Government is pressured into allowing Maldives to become a multi-religious society. Every day is of warnings and caution over implementation of Islamic Shariah, teaching of Islam. There is a faction of traitors, bent on damaging the nation’s peace, stability, progress,” he proclaimed.
Addressing the nation, the President laid out a Nixon-esque chaotic vision of a country enveloped in smoke and flame where you hear ‘sirens in the night’.
And the real issues got drowned.
Nearly 40 radicalised Maldivians have been documented to have left the country of 400,000 to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). But more alarming, ISIS-affiliations are being shown in openly on the streets and the government has stayed mum, fanning a base of violence and muddling the serene turquoise waters in this picturesque setting of cobbled roads and luxury resorts.
And then there is his elder brother Maumoon Gayoom, a former Egyptian-trained Islamic cleric, who ruled the nation of 370,000 like his personal sultanate for three decades and laid the foundation for many vices that the nation still grapples to resolve. Gayoom and his government have faced allegations of human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, torture and custodial deaths. But most overwhelmingly, for corrupting a judiciary, which has been usurped more swiftly by his half-brother now in power. As a defeat in the first-ever democratic elections stared in his face, the elder Gayoom ensured the judges he appointed stayed as is.
But who did he appoint? 60 percent of the current judges have less than a seventh grade education, 30 percent have actual criminal records and a couple of sex-tapes!
But as the elder Gayoom has taken on his half-brother openly and viciously, the walls around President Yameen have started crumbling. One brick by another. He has jailed his allies, maimed his opponents, and crushed his critics too many times in the last 2 years. The result : a disjointed opposition came together in a united coalition where his own are deserting him and those even half-connected via blood is baying for his.
And in his last-ditch effort to hang on to power (which he referred to as “prevent such uncivilized behavior” in his Independence Day speech), Yameen is doing what many a tyrant have done in Islamic history – cling to their own interpretation of hardline Islam.
Therefore, he sees implementing death penalty is a clear commandment in Islam. He said as the leader of the nation, the responsibility on him to implement the verdict was bigger on him. “Islamic Shariah and the legal structure under the Constitution, excludes the President from this narrative. In Islam, capital punishment is mandated for all murderers; this is clearly said in the Quran. Therefore, implementing death penalty is a must in order to maintain rule of law,” he said.
And if the Maldives today had a version of the reality series The Apprentice, President Yameen would have already been singing what Donald Trump said in a baritone once : “This is a dictatorship and I’m the dictator. There’s no voting and there’s no jury.”
Welcome to the Maldives. The sun is setting. The martini has been spilled. Happy Independence Day. We always knew they will come back, but at what cost!