Maumoon’s Monsters


by Azra Naseem

The ruling party, PPM, has split into two. One (so-called) Faction, is led by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the party’s founder, leader, and muse. The second is led by Yameen Abdul Gayoom, the younger brother anointed and hoisted onto the throne by the elder, now a turncoat publicly, gleefully, stabbing his octogenarian sibling in the back, declaring him obsolete and an obstacle to government.

Debris from the battle between the brothers have been flying around for months. Maumoon was not happy with many of Yameen’s appointments. He was also unhappy with Yameen for amending the Constitution to allow Maldivian territory to be siphoned off and sold to anyone who is interested. As told by the Maumoon family, they always put ‘nation first’, and this, allegedly, is where their differences with Yameen begin.

Yesterday Maumoon told the media he has been trying to meet Yameen now for about a year. To be denied an audience with Yameen—who would not have been made President without Maumoon’s endorsement and tireless campaigning—is a shocking insult to a leader unused to being turned away. Still, always a man of dignity, he seemed to have wanted to wash their dirty laundry in private.

Unfortunately for Maumoon, Yameen is a stranger to dignity; he neither respects it, nor knows how to comport himself with any. To engineer Maumoon’s exit from PPM, Yameen resorted to the Gayooms’ favourite family toy—the Maldives judiciary. One of the many men on Yameen’s payroll that sit on various judicial benches issued a ‘court ruling’ handing over PPM to Yameen, as the Musthashar of the party.

Mushthashar, according to PPM regulations, is a fancy term referring to the ceremonial role given to any PPM member who becomes President. It is purely the role of an observer, nothing more. But, for some reason, someone called Haleem Bai—who used to be a ‘journalist’ but is suddenly a Civil Court judge—ruled that PPM now belongs to Yameen because Maumoon is too interfering, and has effectively ground the party to a halt.

This led to Maumoon bringing the Gayoom laundry basket to the court of public opinion. First he chaired a PPM council meeting where he appointed a new Secretary General. Then he held a press conference to make it clear his brother had finally overstepped the limits. Maumoon seems to have felt a sense of unwanted déjà vu having walked the same route before with DRP, which also splintered into an alphabet soup of factions. He was a man betrayed—et tu Adhurey? Nihan? He had hand-picked from the streets of Male’ many of the men who now stand behind Yameen. He had cocooned them in his patronage, lavished them with privileges, tried (with very little success) to clean up their street language, and thought he had (re)created them in his own image. Alas. His patient grooming amounted to nothing when pitted against the dollars Yameen has at his disposal post-MMPRC. The bling bling of golden Rolexes shine brighter than Maumoon’s preaching of a Gadharu-plated life.

“I took selfies with them…they would not have been elected otherwise”, Maumoon lamented, eyes wide hurt. These men (and Madam Hello Kitty), who now sit as PPM MPs in the Majlis and daily betray the people they are meant to represent in exchange for Yameen’s favour, had slowly pulled a fast one on the veteran politician.

“I will not respect the court’s ruling.” Maumoon said that. Really.

Maumoon’s own creation—one of the most corrupt judiciaries in the world—has finally turned around and bit the hand of its Master. Maumoon’s party engineered, and MDP allowed, the dismissal of Article 285 of the 2008 Constitution. Had it been followed, it would have cleaned the judiciary of the many unqualified and sometimes criminal figures Maumoon put on the benches during his 30 year reign.

The Gayooms were happy with court decision after decision that ate away at the Maldivian democracy. They were at the heart of the manufactured ‘people’s revolt’ following the military detention of Abdulla Mohamed, the so-called judge with criminal connections and a history of judicial misconduct. They were on Republic Square when—in the name of the Constitution—a democratically elected government was brought to a premature end by undemocratic means. The Gayooms supported—nay, more likely engineered—the court decisions which allowed Mohamed Waheed to stay in power well over the constitutionally stipulated term limit; the many Supreme Court interventions that finally handed the 2013 election to Yameen; the same court’s restrictions on the Elections Commission and the Human Rights Commission; and the (still continuing) rake of sentences that have locked away Yameen’s opponents one by one for long periods of time.

Despite the blatant disregard for law that these court rulings showed, despite the highlighting of this by national and international activists, experts and lawmakers, despite the injustice these rulings celebrated, and despite the demise of Maldivian democracy these decisions enabled, none of the Gayooms ever said of any of them: ‘I will not respect the court’s ruling.’

Today, when the ruling is against Maumoon, when he is the opponent facing the prospect of jail, he finally sees the judiciary for the monster that it is. Or, more accurately, almost sees it for what it is. There is yet to come the acknowledgement that it is a monster he created.

Maumoon’s Frankenstein, which now belongs to Yameen.

Just hours after Maumoon’s PPM Council Meeting, Yameen held his own PPM Council Meeting. It is as if the two men existed in parallel universes, where one is fully aware of—but refuses to recognise—the affairs of the other. At his own Council Meeting, Yameen did the same as his brother—elected a new Secretary General, and appointed other loyalists to key positions.

Now the two councils of the two PPMs are sending letters to the Elections Commission, each explaining their new appointments, and their positions as The Real PPM. A Local Council Election is looming, and future PPM candidates need to know which of the Real PPMs are actually real. Everyone knows the Elections Commission lost its independence the day the courts booted out Fuwad Thowfeek and his team of democracy champions. What remains to be seen, from the Commission’s response, is whether it belongs to Maumoon or to Yameen.

That’s the bottom line, really, of this battle of the brothers: does Maldives belong to Maumoon, or does it belong to Yameen?

Confronted with the spectacle of the reality show much of the country seem to have fallen into the stupor typical of reality TV audiences. People are hooked on every new episode, many too distracted to remember what is really at stake outside the family drama: Yameen, the so-called economist, has run the country into the ground with national debt now standing at a shocking 80 percent of GDP. State expenses continue to spiral out of control, tourism industry has gone down, and investors just aren’t interested. Yameen has absolute control of the judiciary and so-called independent institutions. The Majlis has stopped functioning. The opposition has been rendered wholly ineffective and virtually voiceless, and the multiparty system is under sustained attack. Isolationism is the new foreign policy, and human rights is an Enemy of Islam and an attack on Our Sovereignty.

Does Maumoon’s Awakening include a recognition of all, or any, of this? Will his criticism of Yameen include speaking out on any of these issues? Or will the face-off be restricted to challenging how he himself is treated by the younger man?

    Let them eat Basmati


    by Azra Naseem

    The price of rice, sugar and flour went up by 100 percent in the Maldives this month. Rice, sugar and flour—‘han’doo, hakuru, fuh’ always said together, always in that order, and collectively known as kaadu—are essential ingredients of the Maldivian diet. Without han’doo there would be no lunch and no dinner; and without fuh there would be no roshi, no hedhikaa, and without hakuru, tea is not really sai.

    Any difficulties in getting Han’doo-hakuru-fuh triggers existential crises, and, raises the spectre of famine. The oldest generation alive today begins reliving memories of when the knock-on effect of the Second World War led to a shortage of kaadu in the Maldives and people had to eat magoo faiy, leaves of the Magoo plant (beach lettuce, or Scaevola taccada), that grow abundant in salty island soil. It is no surprise then that talk turned to magoo faiy recipes as soon as the government made its shock announcement it was cutting off state subsidies that made kaadu affordable for most people.

    Broadly speaking, no leader has dared touch the price of kaadu since Amin Didi who was president when people had to eat magoo faiy.

    He was lynched.

    Probably with this in mind, a system was put in place that allows government control over kaadu prices—the State Trading Organisation (STO) imports and sells the products cheaper than they would be if left to the invisible hand of the market. To make this possible, STO gets land in Male’—and on all other islands it has a presence on—at dirt cheap rates, and enjoys a range of advantages and privileges not available to private companies. The system worked, and no leader dared upset the rice cart.

    Until President Yameen, the Gatu Raees— or the President with Balls.

    President Balls never really interacts with the people directly, especially when there is difficult news to be shared. He dispatches a group of hand-picked loyalists to carry out the task whose brief appears to be ‘Defend my decision no matter what. I don’t care how.’ Justifying the kaadu price hike fell to Chair of the National Economic Council and Minister at the President’s Office, Ahmed Zuhoor. Unlike the President, I am no economist—that is, I don’t have an unapplied dusty old MBA dating back thirty years or a reputation for money laundering or running a blackmarket economy—but even I knew some of these justifications make no sense.

    First Zuhoor said the subsidies had to be cut because migrant workers are using them, not just real people. There are over 150,000 migrant workers in the Maldives, and another 10,000 or so undocumented ones, he said. The government intends to expand the tourism industry to cater to seven million tourists a year—more than double the numbers today— which means more migrant workers. “They will be buying the subsidised kaadu too.” These (un)people, coming over here, taking our jobs, and eating our subsidised kaadu. We cannot afford that. We will certainly not tolerate that.

    Also, resorts are buying the same subsidised kaadu, charging US$2000 a night for a water bungalow with an attendant Maldivian butler who serves sashimi with government-subsidised long-grain rice. Another reason to cut subsidies for everyone.

    Besides, Maldivians—at least everyone in Minister Zuhoor’s circle—live such a plush life under Yameen’s successful economic policies we won’t eat long-grain rice even if our lives depended on it. Nah, it’s Basmati or nothing, baby. (Long-grain rice is subsidised, Basmati is not.)

    What’s more, said Zuhoor, people dine out a lot. “Poor people eat at home, in the kitchen. They don’t go out to eat.” Ergo, if you go to a coffeeshop or any number of tea houses, hotaa, or street stalls, to get your hedhikaa, your coffee and your roshi, you are an affluent, spoilt, middle-class hipster who really should know better than to be a drain on the economy by putting subsidised sugar in your Flat White.

    Outside the charmed circle of Zuhoor’s friends and family, a substantial percentage of the people who eat from the hotaas —at least in Male’—are people who don’t have a kitchen to cook in. Most of Male’s residents today do not own property on the island, they rent small spaces at extortionate prices. Dozens of people crammed into small flats, sleeping in shifts because there aren’t enough beds—or floor space—for everyone to sleep at night; where there is barely room to breathe, let alone cook. Hundreds of people who are in Male’ for trade trips from the islands, who sleep on their boats and have no choice but to eat from the hotaas. Thousands of male residents who, even if they had access to a kitchen, do not know what to do in one without their mothers, daughters, sisters or wives. And thousands of migrant workers who are treated as subhumans, who live in abject squalor and are only allowed in Maldivian kitchens to cook and clean for their Masters, and who are the only people in the country on whose income the government has levied a tax. These are the people who make up the majority of what Zuhoor describes as ‘the rich people who eat out’ that really don’t need subsidies.

    The other justification was that Maldives itself is now too rich to qualify for aid from the international community. “We are no longer counted among the Least Developed Countries”, said Zuhoor. He did not mention this fact dates back to 2011. Problem is, he said, international financial organisations are not giving loans to the Maldives if we don’t cut our expenses. The IMF and World Bank strategies with their Structural Adjustments Programmes (SAPs) that sap the life out of debt-ridden economies in developing countries are not a secret anymore—these are facts readily accessible to the interested. When in debt, especially when in as much debt as the Maldives is in today (over 65 per cent of the GDP last year and counting), there is little else to do but agree to the demands of the higher powers, tighten belts, and pay up. Just look at Greece.

    Question is, why were the kaadu subsidies the first thing to go?

    Zuhoor said the government can save over MVR100 million by cutting the subsidies. In the grand scheme of things, what is MVR100 million in a country which is spending close to a billion US dollars, at least, on ‘development projects’ all over the country? Dozens of roads are being ‘developed’ with tar on small islands with almost no traffic—highways on islands barely a kilometre long; council flats on sparsely populated islands where land shortage is not even a distant thought in a worrier’s head; and airports on islands within walking distance of each other. Is any of this necessary for the survival of the people? No. Survival of the government, maybe – if you accept the warped strategy that such environmentally and financially costly excesses is ‘development’.

    And this is before we begin to take in the mind-boggling waste in and around the so-called Greater Male’ Area.

    I’ve talked so much about the Male’-Hulhule’ bridge, I won’t go there again. Enough to say it costs over US$200 million; it takes five minutes by speedboat to travel to Hulhule’. But, there’s still a lot to be said on the mini-projects that have sprung up around The Bridge.

    For instance, how much does it cost—keeping in mind electricity prices, too, have been pushed higher—to light up in red unblinking red—‘CHINA-MALDIVES FRIENDSHIP FOREVER’—on a barge in the middle of the sea night after night? As if this is not enough, the government is now paying MVR8 million to build a platform to view construction work on the bridge. Over six percent of the money saved by cutting subsidies spent on providing people a place to sit and watch Chinese labourers doing construction work on a bridge, while sipping their coffee sweetened with non-subsidised sugar, munching on non-subsidised mas-roshi in the afternoon, and Basmati under the moon. Oh, to be a rich Yameenite in today’s Maldives. If this is not super cool ‘development’ worth sacrificing affordable kaadu for everyone, what is?

    I share the suspicion of many that the subsidies had to go first so they can make a grand comeback. In their next incarnation they will return as a powerful symbol of President Yameen’s Largesse. To announce the taking away of something, and to return it re-packaged as The President’s Generosity, is now a familiar strategy. So it is likely to be with the kaadu subsidies.

    This re-branding is already in the making. In fact, it had already begun when the subsidy cut was first announced: “exceptions will be made for The Needy”, Zuhoor said. Although it was not known at the time how one qualified as a member of The Needy Caste, details are emerging, based on questions asked, and answer required, when people apply for kaadu subsidy. Here’s a sample (sub-text).


    Genuflect, people. Say altogether: Thank you, #HEPY. Long Live Dear Leader.

    Photo: Lucas Jalyl


      Mushfique Mohamed writes on how the Maldives’ government uses postcolonial rhetoric to justify subjugation and economic exploitation

      After just three years of economic transition, Maldivian democratic transition has come to an abrupt end. All recently introduced democratic rights and practices are being eroded daily. In order to deflect blame, autocratic leaders often use anti-colonial rhetoric. Thus, the international system is a continuation of European imperialism, says Maldives’ President Abdulla Yameen. The international community’s admonitions for the country regarding international democratic practices stem from their “envy” of Maldivian sovereignty and faith.

      “Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge to our national unity in our contemporary history was the failed attempt, encouraged by a foreign power, to create a breakaway republic comprising of the three southernmost atolls in the country”, the president stated at the ceremony held to mark the 51st Independence Day.

      President Yameen equates attempts by Maldivians who oppose authoritarianism and work with the international community to revert to democratic rule with “working against Maldivian sovereignty”. The narrative of Muslim co-conspirators in the attempts to cause loss of sovereignty converge with Takfiri ideas that legitimize intra-Muslim violence: “It was not surprising that a few Maldivians were, yet again, involved in this plot”, he continued.

      In President Yameen’s rhetoric, the international community is putting pressure on the Maldives because it is “a Muslim country”. He claims “they” want to “cultivate cultural norms and so-called values that are alien to and frowned upon by our Islamic faith.”

      It is ironic that postcolonial rhetoric is being used to re-invent new methods to enslave the majority of the population. The government consistently deploys the façade of democracy to achieve these means, using lawmakers and judges under its payroll. Ensuring that the overwhelming majority of the Maldives remains invisibilized, and that its riches are only accessible to a small percentage, is beneficial to the ruling elite. Leaving the masses under abject poverty enables easy manipulation of local politics. For instance, elections in the Maldives can be reduced to countrywide business transactions where the elite with accumulated wealth of decades can buy-off the less privileged majority.

      Oppressing the masses using economic exploitation and exclusion has been a practice used by successive Maldivian governments. From 1984 until 2009 any form of tourism was illegal on inhabited islands (of which there are approximately 200), while uninhabited islands (of over 1,200) were given away for tourist resort development.

      These moneymaking islands continue to be awarded to enrich those loyal to Maldivian regimes in power, or as a means to silence budding dissidents. The ability to amass wealth through these pristine islands are now not limited to the Maldivian oligarchy alone.

      In the late 1970s, the restructuring of the Maldivian economy through the rise of luxury tourism further exacerbated socio-economic disparities between the vast majority and the autocratic elite in the capital. Majority of Maldivians were excluded from directly capitalising on this lucrative economic pie.

      Power relations that determine the distribution of wealth, however, are excluded from the rhetoric of the rulers. A recurring theme is to, instead, blame it on the influence of the Other. President Yameen, for example, has repeatedly asserted that the Maldives has not been able to achieve economic progress because of the “bitter outcome of so-called attempts at improving” freedoms, liberties and human rights—“Western concepts” alien to “us” Maldivians.

      Paradise for tourists; hell for the subaltern

      Although the Maldives’ luxury tourism industry is ostensibly segregated from the country’s politics, their connections run deep. In 2008, the Maldives began the project of democratisation with a new Constitution following street protests calling for democratic reform in September 2003 and August 2005. A modern tax regime was introduced, and tourism on inhabited islands was decriminalised to alleviate the widening socio-economic gap.

      The Tourism Goods and Services Act and Business Profit Tax Act enacted in 2011 were direct threats to the king-making oligarchy that enjoyed a carpe diem attitude over the nation’s wealth. In February 2012 the first democratically elected Maldivian president, Mohamed Nasheed, was forced out by a military coup supported by a cabal of dictator-loyalists with alleged funding from resort-owners.

      The Yameen administration has been able to accrue wealth and distort the equal distribution of it at an unprecedented scale in the Maldives. In October 2014 the independent auditor general flagged the state-owned tourism promotion company for corruption of US$6 million. In response, the auditor general was abruptly removed by the ruling-party dominated parliament.

      special audit five months later indicated a further US$79 million was embezzled after the former Auditor General’s warning. Of this grand theft, US$65 million were acquired as acquisition costs for uninhabited islands and lagoons leased for tourism. These funds were fraudulently siphoned off to private accounts. The former top auditor later estimated the total amount in damages to the state to be over MVR3.5 billion (US$226 million). Although former Tourism Minister and Vice President—directly under the President’s supervision as his protégé—was made the fall guy for the entire scandal and has been jailed for over 30 years on multiple counts, all the dirty deals that resulted from the dirty deals remain valid. To further enable illicit enrichment of a few, the government recently revised tourism laws to formalize the very practices that enabled the corruption, in essence legalising the methods which allowed the largest corruption in the country.

      Past insecurities

      The pervasive form of a country’s national identity and its nationalism is determined through many geopolitical factors. Experiences nations have with the outside world; more importantly with its perceived “Other” generates a deep impact on a community’s consciousness. Identity signifiers such as culture and religion play into this mix of identity politics.

      The Maldives’ status as a British protectorate from December 1887 to July 1965, its subjection to Portuguese occupation in the 16th Century (1558-1573), and instances of invasions from south India affected the transformations of Maldivian national identity. Historical records show that in addition to Dutch, Portuguese and British forces in the Indian Ocean, the small Muslim island nation suffered attacks from the southern coast of India. In 1609, Malabars who helped liberate the Maldives from the Portuguese in 1573 attempted to conquer the islands during Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar’s rule.

      Another invasion came 81 years later, and again in 1752. A new reality to these Indian invasions was the involvement of Maldivian collaborators who had fallen out with the ruling clan.

      United Suvadive Republic

      QgzQ6NHqPresident Yameen described the secessionist movement in the south of the Maldives as the “biggest threat to national unity”, although British imperial ambitions in the Maldives were limited to its strategic location due to a lack of natural resources. Infighting among Maldivian royal families and domination of trade by Borah traders with the help of Imperial Britain paved the way for the Maldives to become a protected state.

      Two decades after Britain established a naval base in Addu Atoll, the islanders seceded and the short-lived United Suvadive Republic (1959-1963) was formed along with two other atolls from the south. Islanders resisting the centralized government were violently uprooted and the secessionist movement was brutally suppressed by the Ibrahim Nasir administration (as Prime Minister from 1957 to 1968 and as president from 1968 to 1978).

      In February 1960, Britain brokered a deal with the Maldivian government securing the naval base in the south for another 30 years. At this point solidarity with the liberation of the south was no longer within its interests. When Britain began to encourage an end to self-rule, secessionists had to then resist the unconscious tool of history that helped ignite the liberation movement.

      After forcibly depopulating natives of the Chagos Islands to establish a joint military facility with the United States, a naval base a few hundred kilometres away in the Maldives was not exigent for Britain by the early 1970s.

      Postcolonial rhetoric

      Virulent nationalism is used to gain partial consent of subjects, to detach their grievances from the real site of oppression, injustice and economic exploitation. Ordinary Maldivians are dehumanised through indigenous structures of exclusion and discrimination that has manifested in government policies.

      Maldivian writer Muna Mohamed’s book, Falhu Aliran Muiy highlights how development policies have historically been solely focused around the capital. She argues that inhabitants of the outer islands are being forced into internal displacement due to reclamation of new islands for development while leaving existing inhabited ones underdeveloped.

      Most of the islands in the outer atolls still consist of ghost towns with highly restricted availability of public services. The book suggests that the causes of underdevelopment and forced internal migration are not just born out of climate change and natural disasters, but through concentrated efforts by successive governments.

      Since President Yameen assumed power in late 2013, virtually all of his public appearances send out a clear message: harsh punishments and vengeance are endemic to Maldivian culture; it is the lifeblood of Maldivian Islam. President Yameen, the brother of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (1979-2008), envisions a population that is docile with an unflinching submissiveness when Islam is raised. In his view, the end to the de facto moratorium on the death penalty is designed to bring the country’s “youth back to the right path”.


      Given the Maldives’ current human rights record, the only nations that provide development aid without criticism are China and Saudi Arabia – both with its own distinctive imperialist agendas. The Yameen administration’s selective anti-imperialism is exposed due to the incontrovertible link between its development goals and the two undemocratic world powers.

      Authoritarianism and religious conservatism are projected as necessary civilising forces, independent from “the West”, weaving liberalism and freedom into narratives of “Western decadence”. The fact that the unpopular government has resorted to employing a public relations firm and law firm from the US and UK—to shield its rampant human rights abuse and corruption—is conveniently left out.

      Along with increasing relations and economic ties with Saudi Arabia, the Yameen administration’s rhetoric continues to overlap. At the end of 2015 the Maldivian government joined the Islamic military alliance led by Saudi Arabia to battle terror organisations. Saudi Arabia’s rival Iran, with its Shia majority, is not part of the coalition. In May this year the Yameen administration severed diplomatic ties with Iran, mimicking Saudi Arabia’s anti-Iran rhetoric.

      Even if the government has spoken out against violent jihad, the brand of nationalism it constructs has undeniable and uncomfortable similarities to Salafi-influenced anti-Western doctrine. The government commonly evokes the notion of a Western conspiracy to undermine Muslim communities using democracy, human rights and secularism, as well as accusations of the opposition, journalists and civil society actors being “native informants”. The Maldives are popular for its natural beauty, but the country is increasingly becoming known for its violent extremists fighting in Syria and Iraq.

      Using this brand of anti-imperialism that does not include Saudi Arabia and China as imperial forces, President Yameen has managed to dismantle the nascent democratic framework. His mission to reinstate autocracy in the Maldives is now complete. The parliament continually derogates rights and emphasizes restrictions.

      Freedom of expression, which is indivisible from other rights; freedom of thought, right to access information, press freedom, freedom of assembly and freedom of association; has been criminalised through legislative means. Again, religion and terms undefined under the Act, such as “societal norms” were used to curtail free speech. The right to freely hold assemblies without prior permission has recently been abrogated, requiring prior permission from the police. All recent trends signal a return to the Maldives’ long experience with one-party rule under a totalitarian state.


      About the authorMushfique Mohamed is a human rights lawyer. He has an LLB (Hons) Law and MSc(Econs) in Postcolonial Politics from Aberystwyth University.

      Photos in order:

      1. “Fishballs for curry”, Maldivian women in Laamu Gan, Dying Regime

      2. Maldives United Opposition protest blocked in Male’, Dying Regime

      3. Royal Air Force in Gan, Discover Addu