Saturday, November 23, 2013

Maldives President's Elections: First Lady's Scraf Alarm Bells, Many Fear Rise to Radicalism

Women voters wait their turn on a booth on 17th Nov
After 21 months of political instability, Maldives, comprised of some 1200 small islands, in Arabian Sea, has elected a new president on last Saturday, 16th November and both, the newly elected President Abdullah Yameen Abdul Qayyum and his arch rival Mohamad Nasheed vowed to join hands for peace and stability in Asia’s smallest country.
On Sunday before his oath ceremony, Abdullah Yameen, 54 underlined the need of stability and said, "I hope we will receive the necessary cooperation from Mr. Nasheed through parliament."
"Instead of confronting political leaders, we will confront the big challenges facing our country," he stressed.
What are big challenges to 100% Sunni Muslim Nation? Unemployment, drug menace and to some extent “emerging radicalism” or “religious extremism imported from foreign Madarsas,” are cited by the media as big challenges to most peace loving Country.
Mohammed Nasheed, who was considered most favorite candidate for the post, took his surprise defeat graciously, attended the oath ceremony of his rival who was instrumental in his unceremonious ouster from the office, said "Today is a happy day for the Maldives -- we now have an elected government.”
Mr. Yameen replaced Abdul Waheed, who took over as care taker after Md Nashhed was forced out in a blood-less coup like episode in Feb 2012.

A Mosque in Maldives
 The world noted the reconciliatory tones of the two leaders. India was among the first to congratulate Abdullah and said she looked forward to work closely with the new leader.
"We welcome the acceptance of the verdict of the people of Maldives by all sides and commitment expressed to take the country forward on the path of stability, progress and development," India's external affairs ministry said in a statement. USA also welcomed the development.
New Delhi had an uneasy relationship with Male after the toppling of Mohamd Nasheed who once took refuge at the Indian High Commission to avoid arrest. Nasheed visited New Delhi in August. During his three-day visit he met Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh. After first round of polling was annulled by the Court, Sujatha Singh rushed to Male and impressed upon the leaders to avoid constitutional crises and complete the election in time.
Nasheed, a trusted ally of India, was considered favorite for New Delhi. The regional super-power has uneasy relations with his successor Waheed after the Maldives' government terminated a USD 500 million airport modernization contract awarded to Indian infrastructure major GMR during  Nasheed regime and granted to China. Delays in decision making in Indian Government departments is cited as main reason for the loss.
However India stresses that her interest was merely in peaceful elections and did not favor any candidate. Report in Hindu (22 Nov) says:
 “India’s interest was in the democratic process that was taken forward successfully and was acceptable to all parties. Whatever the result… it was due to all-round efforts that the democratic process was successfully carried out. This will contribute to stability in Maldives, a prerequisite for growth and development. So from our point of view, the elections were the priority,’’ said the sources.
India, the sources maintained, had not backed any candidate and in this respect drew attention to the roster of high level visitors from Maldives in the run up to the elections – “It wasn’t just Nasheed who came. The Prime Minister and senior officials also met previous President Waheed, his Defence Minister, Mr. Yameen and Mr. Gayoom. Mr. Gasim [the third candidate in the first round of elections] was also invited but he couldn’t come.’’
“Our effort has been across the spectrum. We also interacted with their judges and election commission officers. We can’t afford but to back the government in power. We are very conscious of that,’’ the sources added.
Hukiru-Miskire front: The oldest Mosque of Maldive
Maldives is the smallest country of Asia, with total area of less than 300 Sq Km and a population of around 3, 40,000 peoples. But its strategic position makes it important. It is one of few countries with 100% Sunni Muslim population. After the long Buddhist period, light of Islam reached here in 12th century with Arab traders and preachers. King Dhovemi, who was crowned in 1141 as Buddhist King, embraced Islam in his 12th year of rule and adopted Islamic name Sultan Muhammad ibn Abdullah. He ruled for another 13 years as a Muslim rular and entire population followed the king and voluntarily converted to Islam. 
According to Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta, the Islamic preacher responsible for the change of King’s heart was Abu al Barakat Al-Barbari, of Morocco. He is also referred to as “Tabrizugefaanu.” His venerated tomb now stands on the grounds of the Friday Mosque, or Hukuru miskiy, in Malé. Built in 1656, this is the country's oldest mosque.
The island has a long history of Sufism. Many tombs are dotted all over the country. They were used until as recently as the 1980s for seeking blessings and the help from buried Saints. But now the tombs are considered as cultural heritage only. Other aspects of ritualism, like “Maulūdu (Mawlid) ceremonies — have also faded. “Maulūdu festivals” were held in ornate tents specially erected for the purpose. In 1970-80s the country saw a transformation from ritualistic to puritan Islam. Now almost all women wear descent dresses and cover their head with Hijab. Black “Abayas” with “Niqab” are also in fashion in some parts. Mosques are full at “Salat” time. These changes in socio-religious attitude are ranging alarm bells in Islam-phobic intelligentsia and media around the world.
"There has been a genuine awakening of fundamental Islamic values throughout the Middle East and Islamic countries. This has caught momentum here since the 1970s. What was previously seen as extremism has now become main-stream," admitted Mohamed Nasheed, the former president who won the 2008 to rout a 30 years regime of Mamoom Abdul Qayyum who ruled the Nation with strong fist. This was first direct election of the President. Mr. Qayyom was nominated President by the Majlis and he replaced Mr. Nasir.
After three years of rule, Nasheed was forced out last February after nation-wide protests. His supporters say, it was a coup engineered by Abdulla Yameen, Abdul Waheed and latter supported by Islamic groups. Nasheed lifted many strict controls on mosques and from upon clerics imposed during Gayoom regime, but did not agree the demand of religious groups to demolish “un-Islamic” facilities, like bars, night clubs and casino etc on the beaches, created to attract foreign tourists. During X-mass and New Year holidays, the exotic beaches are flooded of western nude culture. More than one million tourists visit the beaches every year.
In the second round of presidential elections, Abdullah Yameen succeeded to make an understanding with Islamist Groups. His wife Fathimath Ibrahim wears Hijab and several foreign reporters felt alarmed by seeing a Hijab wearing lady entering the President’s House as first lady of the country.
In first democratic presidential election in 2008, Mohamed Nasheed ousted Mamoon Abdul Gayoom, after 30 years autocratic rule. In December 2011, after three years in power, Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) faced massive protests led by Abdullah Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives](PPM),  clandestinely supported by Nasheed’s VP Abdul Waheed, who took over as President after Mr. Nasheed’s ouster.
Religious groups supported the “Defend Islam” movement against Nasheed. They accused his administration of defiling Islam, promoting Western ideals and culture and restrictions on the spread of more austere Islamic practices. The uprising ended on February 7, 2012, after Nasheed bowed out.
 In first round of voting Nasheed secure more than 46 percent votes and Yameen less than 26 percent. But in final round tables were turned on Nasheed, who secured little more than 48% votes and Abdullah Yameen more than 51%. This could be possible be unblock vote of religious groups in his favor.
An article by Animesh Roul, published in “Combating Terrorism Centers” says,
“For hundreds of years, Sunni Muslims in the Maldives have largely practiced a more liberal form of the religion. Yet during Gayoom’s rule, the Egyptian-trained religious scholars enacted a number of measures that encouraged more hard line Islamist elements. In 1994, the Protection of Religious Unity Act was passed, which restricted the freedom to practice any other religion besides Islam. In 1996, Gayoom constituted the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (which was renamed the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in 2008) charged with overseeing religious affairs in the country. This body of clerics pressured the government to carry out moral and cultural policing of alleged “anti-Islamic activities” In 2008; it asked the police to ban night clubs and discotheques for New Year’s Eve celebrations, saying that they were contrary to Islam.”
“By the end of Gayoom’s rule in 2008, the dress code for women had grown increasingly conservative, and more and more men grew out their beards. Whereas women used to dress in bright colored clothes, they increasingly wear black robes and headscarves today. On more conservative islands such as Himandhoo, women wear black abayas and face veils.”
Abdullah Yameen Arrives with his wife Faithmath for Oath taking Ceremony
Ahmed Naseem, the Maldivian foreign minister until the coup in 2012, said that “the Maldives “had no one wearing headscarves 10 years ago, but it is common now. “
Roul  accused  “foreign madrasa education” also and blames “offer of free education in madrasas in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia” is widely acknowledged as a “core means of radicalizing Maldivians locally”. He noted, ” well-meaning parents send their children off on scholarships to “study Islam.”
The new President

Abdullah Yameen was born on May 21, 1959, in the capital City of Male. His father Abdul Qayyoom Ibrahim, was Attorney General. His elder brother Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom served as President between 1978 and 2008. Yameen got his primary and secondary schooling in Maldives at Majeedhiyya School.  Yameen pursued higher studies in Beirut, Lebanon where he received his Bachelors in Business Administration from the American University of Beirut. Yameen later completed postgraduate studies in the field of public policy at the Claremont Graduate University in California, USA. For last four terms he has been a member of Majlis ( Parliament) as leader of opposition he played important role in governance. 

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