Tagged: Maldives

Luxury for tourists, lockdown for locals

by Mushfiq Mohamed

The number of COVID-19 related deaths in the Maldives have surpassed the number of Maldivian fatalities from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

Yet the Maldivian government efforts to generate tourism revenue equivalent to pre-COVID19 levels are lending to the spread of the new variant of the lethal coronavirus in the island country. On Thursday it recorded a coronavirus related case of black fungus or Mucormycosis. This petrifying case, and the surge in COVID19 fatalities, coincide with increasing coronavirus cases in India and the rest of South Asia. The country is bracing itself for yet another national lockdown. 

Leaked images show that the Maldives has been offering stranded tourists “quarantine packages” to kill time in the islands before moving to their destination. Bollywood actors and athletes have also chosen the country as their site of reprieve from the pandemic, as if Maldives were immune to the unfolding global health crisis. 

Although the country’s famous tourist resorts are on private islands, most of its staff are local. In a sense, held captive in substandard accommodation without the ability to freely travel to their families on local islands, a fact further exacerbated by the COVID-19 restrictions. Social media posts showed photos of squalid staff quarters in world-renowned five-star hotels. Nevertheless, the mainstream media continually centres on the ‘plight’ of stranded Western tourists, never highlighting the unacceptable situation of the unobtrusive local workers who manpower the luxe-tourism industry. 

The Maldives’ tourism market represents the ether of high-end indulgence. The tourist resorts look like elysian spaceships that have beamed down on desert islands scattered in the Arabian Sea, divinely assembled for its visitors. Underwater wine cellars and restaurants that boast Michelin-star chefs. Overwater villas with rooftop waterslides that vortex you into the turquoise sea underneath. 

The ownership and enjoyment of the Maldives’ natural beauty are swiftly slipping away from the hands of ordinary Maldivians. 

It took us Maldivians a long time to realise that there existed an apartheid system between the flourishing elite in Male’, and the people from the outer atolls that were historically deprived from having a stake in the country’s economy. Only the industrious middle-class (from the islands and Male’) and some of the descendants of landed nobility (concentrated in the capital) bag influential chunks of the industry that brings in 60% of foreign income. It is also true that most of this money is never really injected into the local economy, it vanishes into bank accounts in offshore tax havens owned by the global hospitality industry oligarchs. 

In 2019, Maldives had 1.7 million tourists. The Tourism Ministry’s figures show that the pandemic gutted the 5-billion-dollar local economy in March 2020, and it has not recovered since. Despite this, in late 2019 and in the last few months this year, the government found creative ways to revive it at the expense of the Maldivian people. 

Pandemic profiteering 

Maldives was one of the first countries to open for tourism after lockdowns globally, at a time when the pandemic was raging in Europe, which includes the top-10 countries whose nationals frequent the island nation. Tourists were exempt from the lockdown measures, restricting inter-island travel only for locals. Male’ especially was closed down possibly due to its proximity to the country’s busy international airport in Hulhule’. 

Negative PCR tests are required since October 2020 but when the pandemic was at its worst in Europe and North America last year in July, guests were flowing in and weren’t required a negative test. The borders were open without any test or tracing procedures. 

A tone-deaf Forbes article mentioned that the Maldives was “desperate” enough to fork out its vaccines for visitors. It was also an article that centres multinational corporations, eliciting criticism over how these companies are twisting the arms of a poor country. A premature announcement by the Tourism Ministry that had no word of the public health officials or the Maldivian people.

Within the industry, lockdown restrictions discriminated against guesthouse tourism. In April, when India was recording unprecedented COVID-19 related fatalities, the government only shut its doors on Indian guests seeking to holiday on inhabited islands. Meaning affluent Bollywood stars could still have their Maldives’ escapades if they can afford to go to a private resort island (considered ‘uninhabited’ islands). Small businesses are routinely bearing the brunt of discriminatory lockdown measures.

The government announced lockdown measures early this month for locals. But the borders remained open. After the HPA demanded the borders be closed for South Asian tourists, the government finally stopped issuing tourist visas on 13 May, in the same breath reassuring that these measures will be reviewed later this month. 

None of this prevented Australian cricketers stranded in India from quarantining in the Maldives before heading back down under. In the same way that the government allowed Asian Football Federation (AFC) to send football teams to the Maldives for an AFC Cup playoff match between Bengaluru FC and Eagles FC. It was only when Maldivian social media users began criticising the move, amid circulating photos of players strolling around Male’, in breach of restrictions, that the youth minister cancelled the planned AFC matches. 

Bollywood in the Maldives

This year, as corpses piled up abandoned in Indian cities, the country’s elite decided it was time for a change of scenery. While the virus was completely devastating South Asian cities, Maldives was hosting Bollywood actors in a bid to resuscitate the tourism-dependent-economy. The move backfired in both countries, with many shaming the celebrities for their lack of conscience during a once-in-a-century pandemic. 

‘The Sunny Side of Life’ felt like an awkward choice for Bollywood, an industry plagued with colorism. It was purely status-signalling. Indian social media conversations on the Maldives are fascinating. Some suggest the Maldives belongs to the Indian Ocean, and is therefore part of India. There was little reflection over Maldivians’ cultural and linguistic affinity to India – the focus was on marking territory. On their Instagram accounts, the location indicates the Indian Ocean. In the captions, they marvelled over the glimmering seas that form their ‘backyard’, which some could not even bring to name or locate.  

Ventilator corruption

Last year the government was embroiled in a corruption scandal worth over MVR30 million (USD 1.9 million) involving ventilators that were unlawfully procured from a Dubai-based company. 

This initially slipped the radar of the anti-graft body, which later found that the former health minister and 11 employees benefited from the scam violating local public finance laws. 

A year later, the embattled government is nowhere close to reclaiming state funds lost to yet another massive corruption scandal. 

The less luxurious side 

According to the Reuters vaccine tracker, around 42.9% of the country’s population have received the first dose of the vaccine, including some 90% of frontline workers, consisting of tourism staff. Tourist workers, and others who depend on the industry have suffered the most during the pandemic. Tourism Employees Association reported approximately 25,000 tourism employees have been laid-off within the past two years. 

When the pandemic hit the Maldives last year, South Asian migrants working in the frontlines were the first to be adversely affected. Many were trapped in congested accommodation without pay and the means to return home. Those who protested forced unpaid labour were quickly arbitrarily deported without awarding damages. Many news outlets ran xenophobic headlines blaming impoverished Bangladeshi, Nepali and Indian workers for ‘spreading the virus’. 

In this way the pandemic has exposed the existing structural inequalities in Maldivian society. If you are a politician or a businessman, there are no COVID-19 rules that get in the way of what you want. None of these Big Men suffered the consequences of breaking the rules; fines for violating restrictions were ironically deployed against those who cannot afford to pay it. 

Whether it is campaigning and holding local council elections or opening the country up for luxury tourism as the numbers skyrocketed, the consequences have trapped the locals in with the new variants of a dangerous disease in a country whose capital city’s congestion levels rival Hong Kong and Manhattan. 

Conclusion

As the Tourism Minister promises endless vaccines, the reality is a lot more finite. It seemed like yesterday when India was the exemplar of COVID-kindness, generously donating vaccines. Today, the Indian government’s feckless response to the catastrophe has been rightly described as a ‘crime against humanity.’  

Indeed, the Maldives’ tourism industry does not want its wealthy tourists to be troubled by the inconvenient existence of a local population. The seemingly innocuous imagery invoked by the 3-billion-dollar industry cannot be divorced from the structural violence it regularly detonates against ordinary Maldivians. 

Perhaps we are to be blamed too, for popularising the image of the Maldives as blank-slate beaches awaiting consumption by the West, and more recently the United Arab Emirates, Brazil, India, and China. 

“No news, no shoes” reads a tagline of a resort where tourists spend millions per night. The world, and all the chaos within it, happen elsewhere. A proliferated untruth that costs ordinary Maldivians the chance to live a life in dignity. It is an industry that relegates locals to second class citizenship through a structure that is displacing and killing Maldivians, concurrently making the Maldives’ vulnerable eco-system uninhabitable.


Maldives tries to kill ex-President for not being Muslim enough

A message posted on FB by a group calling itself the Extreme Cartilages an hour before the attack on former President Mohamed Nasheed

by Azra Naseem

Former President Mohamed Nasheed who has dedicated his life to the struggle for democracy in the Maldives; who was imprisoned, tortured and kept in solitary confinement for using his voice to express the distress of the voiceless; who has promised to expose the people in power that stole hundreds of millions from us; who is valued voice in the global fight for climate action and climate justice; a father, son, brother, relative, friend, human being– Mohamed Nasheed of Kenereege, one of the most influential figures to have emerged in modern Maldivian history, reduced to nothing but ‘a piece of shit’.

Someone tried to blow him to pieces last Thursday evening in Male’, because Nasheed is not Muslim enough.

Other motives have been considered, such as Nasheed’s determination to expose the MMPRC scandal. There is almost always a convergence of politics and religion in the Maldives. Because state and religion are so interwoven, it’s hard to know where the perimeters of one ends and where the other begins. But, in the end, it’s the dehumanisation allowed by militant Salafi discourse against non-Muslims that makes these killings, and the impunity that surrounds them, possible.

Maldives today (for Maldivians) is a place where violent death awaits those who openly disagree with the religious establishment that dominates society. A powerful IED, sophisticatedly put together, was exploded right beside Nasheed as he walked to his car parked a short distance from his house. The culprit was waiting for him with a remote control device, ready to detonate the explosive hidden under a motorcycle parked between Nasheed’s home and his car. He sustained serious injuries. After an entire night in the operation theatre and multiple surgeries later, he is now recovering in hospital.

This attack should have surprised no one. It is the culmination of a long, nationwide campaign of vicious hatred against Nasheed based on Islam. It dates back to the collapse of the first coalition government in 2008, and the subsequent political power struggles. Adhaalath Party which, having wrangled an Islamic Ministry out of MDP as part of their demands for staying in government, reneged on the deal in 2011 citing Nasheed’s reluctance to follow their religious advice as the main reason. Nasheed is not Muslim enough to be the leader of the Maldives, was their message. All Nasheed’s political rivals fell on Adhaalath’s accusations of anti-Islamic behaviour from Nasheed like birds of prey on the carcass of a lion. The media, most privately owned by political rivals, declared open season on him and his alleged non-Islamic behaviour. Every action was poured over, scrutinised for its anti-Islamic implications not visible to the naked eye, and labelled as Laa-Dheenee.

This word–Laa Dheenee–a neologism created specifically by religious leaders to variously mean Irreligious, Anti-Religious, or Anti-Islam, is the most pejorative label that can be applied to a person in contemporary Maldives. Nasheed and Laa-Dheenee became woven together in millions of sentences said by politicians, journalists, and Salafi clerics every day throughout the day on different platforms on mainstream and social media.

A recent effort to explain what LaaDheenee means by a supporter of death for Laa-Dheenee people

This project for making Nasheed into a “Muslim-hating Jew”, a Jesuit, a Christian Missionary, An EU Spokesperson for Gay Rights in the Maldives, an anti-Muslim crusader on a mission to annihilate Islam from the Maldives–or any of the other covert irreligious motives assigned to him–was strategically and enthusiastically pursued for years jointly by political rivals and religious leaders led by the Adhaalath, Salaf Jamiyyaa and other such groups. People who knew better, like Dr Hasan Saeed–who co-authored books such as Freedom of religion, Apostasy and Islam —joined in the free-for-all against Nasheed, publishing material such as President Nasheed’s Cunning Plans to Destroy the Islamic Faith of Maldivians, a 30-page booklet alleging that the Nasheed administration harboured an overarching anti-Islamic agenda that underpinned all governmental actions and policies. These political/religious leaders took to every available podium to denounce Nasheed as La-Dheenee.

It’s not personal. I am devoting so much time to Nasheed because the Qur’an says the ignorant should be made aware […] Nasheed is an enemy of Islam. He is an agent  trained, briefed and sent here by people who want to destroy Islam and our nation.

Imran Abdulla of Adhaalath Party, now Minister of Home Affairs, at a rally in 2013.

It is clear from the words of Nasheed that he is not a Muslim

– Sheikh Fazloon, December 2020

The campaigns, which still continues, incited so much hatred against the former president that it persuaded a large portion of the population that he was a clear and imminent danger to the survival of their faith and should be removed from office. Not only did these people strip him of the presidency, they also dehumanised him as much as possible. Reduced him into nothing but a non-Muslim. In other words, according to Maldivian jihadists, a piece of shit. Whose life is worth nothing.

The bombing of Nasheed is the result.

That’s how it goes, the story of every person labelled Laa-Dheenee and singled out as anti-Islamic by Salafi/political leaders. We are all legitimate targets.

A culture of hate

Mushfiq recently wrote about the impunity with which violent criminals can act in the Maldives, especially Salafi Jihadists. The DDCom report says the Commission examined Afrasheem’s death as possible to have been committed by either political rivals or religious rivals. Ultimately the Commission was satisfied Afrasheem was killed by Jihadis. Afrasheem believed differently to the Salafi, and he had to go. DDCom found Al Qaeda Cells to have been behind the abduction and murder of Ahmed Rilwan and the murder of Yameen Rasheed. The three men were labelled LaaDheenee and singled out for harassment, abuse and finally murder. They were ‘pieces of shit’ that, according to this sadly widespread ideology in our society, needed to be killed.

After so many murders and attempted murders, and after talking to several people whose lives have been made impossible in the Maldives by Salafi activists–violent and non-violent–it is possible to see a certain process at work. First, Salafi influencers, like former pop-star Ali Rameez, single out people who are not Muslim enough. Then someone like @SiruArts, an ‘artist’ whose oeuvre is a ‘portrait’ collection of should-be Jihadi targets, starts disseminating infographics with pictures of Laa-Dheenee Maldivians who should be hated for the sake of Islam because because they have been deemed not Muslim-enough, anti-Islamic, or an Apostate. Their followers everywhere then begin adding to the graphics, or making their own, until hundreds of posters commanding the public, as Muslims, to hate the figures so singled out.

Here is an example of a typical hate campaign in the name of religion, at the beginning stages:

Had this particular campaign not been interrupted by the attempted murder of Nasheed, this campaign against Sabra Noordeen, senior policy official at the President’s Office, and Aminath Shauna, the newly appointed Minister of Environment, would have taken on a momentum of its own at this stage. By now they would have been publicly maligned, their characters assassinated, their looks scrutinised, their children and family brought into the mud-slinging, their private pictures leaked to the media, and every possible means of social humiliation, often gender-based, would have been brought to play against them.

These women, and other outspoken women like them, have always been targets. Simply for being women, for having influence, for speaking out, and for not being submissive. Enough to be Laa-Dheenee in some books. The new campaign against them was meant to escalate the abuse, to get them to be the focus of the hate that Salafi influencers can command nationwide almost at will, in the name of Allah. The Laa-Dheenee label, which has already been applied to them quite successfully, would have been amplified with hashtags and Facebook posts, Telegram posts and Viber group chats.

Had it run its full course, the campaign would then have gone ‘viral’ as believers take up the mantle of hate in various islands and atolls of the country. The two women would soon have ceased to be human, becoming only LaaDheenee beings. The formal and informal networks of religious clerics across the country would at this stage have whipped up such performative outrage against them that, in the end, they would be faced with a simple choice: leave the country, or be killed.

Below is an example of how the ‘artwork’ of these pious believers progress once a campaign of hatred is launched.

Jihadi ‘artwork’ against Hindha Ismail of MDN, hounded out of the country for being Laa-Dheenee, shows the type of content produced by Maldivians who agree Maldives is only for a certain type of citizen

This kind of ‘artwork’ and other such publications focusing on Nasheed has been produced in their thousands and distributed across all media platforms in the Maldives and on the Internet for a decade now, with no consequences for any of the ‘artists’. It is simply accepted as a given today that speaking against the repressive control of society in the name pf religion would–and should–get you killed.

What happened to Nasheed, to Afrasheem, to Hilath, to Rilwan and to Yameen will happen again. Because nothing happens to the killers.

The failure is not just that of the law enforcement officers who are blaming the public for not having foiled the plot. It is also the fault of those in society who agree that unless you are confirmed as a good Muslim (by the Salafi establishment), you are a worthless piece of shit that cannot be allowed to exist in contemporary Maldives.

See how they gloat.

The making of the Great Ocean of China

by Thilmeeza Hussain

The political impasse in the smallest country in the Indian Ocean is drawing global attention to India’s power in the region and its leadership role in the world.

If India does not act swiftly to ensure that the Maldivian people’s rights are protected and democracy is restored in the country, China, which has sided with the current Maldivian ruler Abdulla Yameen, is going to consolidate power in the region around India.

The Maldives has been on a downhill slope since the coup d’état in 2012, when former president Mohamed Nasheed was forced to resign under duress; the country’s situation has deteriorated steadily since Yameen took office in a highly contested election. Soon after taking office, he has prosecuted every opposition leader and they are either in jail or exile.

For many Maldivians like me, the coup d’état still feels surreal. We watched parliamentarians getting beaten on the streets and peaceful protesters being met with batons and pepper spray. The death of Maldivian democracy stood in stark contrast to our euphoria after the hard-earned end of a 30-year dictatorship. Yameen’s older half-brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who lost the first multi-party election in 2008, was the only president many of us had known our entire lives.

For four years, we tasted freedom and rule of law.

Today, voices demanding freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, or calling to uphold the rule of law are thrown behind bars. The door to jail cells is a revolving one, and there is a continuous flow of political prisoners.

Not even members of Yameen’s own political party are safe if they are seen as a threat to his power. Not too long ago, we saw a member of Parliament (MP) stabbed to death with a machete on the stairwell of his home. When an investigative journalist, Ahmed Rilwan, started reporting on the murder, he was abducted from his home and hasn’t been seen since. Shortly after, Rilwan’s friend and political blogger Yameen Rasheed, who sought the truth of his friend’s disappearance, was stabbed in the neck and chest multiple times in the stairwell of his apartment building. State-sponsored attacks on citizens and a culture of impunity have taken over our country. Despite being under constant threat, harassment and fear, Maldivians are still fighting for their rights every day.

It’s clear that the current pressure from the international community, including our closest ally and neighbour India, has not stopped Yameen’s blatant disregard for the rule of law so far. For example, the international community condemned the current administration’s refusal to release former president Nasheed, eight other political prisoners and reinstate 12 members of Parliament. Instead of abiding by our Supreme Court ruling, Yameen’s government declared a state of emergency, arresting and jailing two Supreme Court justices, three MPs, his half-brother, former president Gayoom, and anyone whom he saw as a danger to his rule.

We Maldivians share strong ethnic, linguistic, cultural and commercial ties with India but if our human rights abuses are not enough to compel India into taking more concrete steps to stop Yameen, their own security should be reason enough.

The rapid deterioration of the situation in the Maldives since 2012 has extended far beyond the shores of our islands because of our location, and it has brought India’s significance in the region into question. The worth of this vast ocean to India cannot be exaggerated.

The Maldives lies next to crucial shipping lanes, one of the major choke points for the world maritime transit of oil which provides continuous energy supplies from the West to the Far East through the Indian Ocean (equivalent to just under half of the world’s total oil supply). Also, according to India’s ministry of shipping, about 95% of the country’s trade by volume and 70% by value comes via the Indian Ocean. As China swiftly grows its military presence in the Indian Ocean  in the garb of anti-piracy operations, India must come up with a more coherent plan; at the end of last year, it was forced to carry out a threat assessment due to the presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean.

The Maldives, since its independence in 1965, has had an “India first” policy and leaders of both countries have held high-level exchanges on regional issues. But since Yameen took office, he has aligned with China, which has defended his authoritarian rule. The Maldives now owes about 80% of its foreign debt to China, which has been spreading its wings rapidly in South Asia and has been eyeing the atoll nation for its strategic location. China has already cosied up to Nepal by helping the latter reduce its significant trade deficit; it has invested heavily in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. China is strategically encircling India under the fancy name of the “Silk Road Project”. A part of the road will also pass through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and may eventually help Pakistan take over Kashmir.

Is India losing its grip in the region and becoming a non-actor in the mighty Indian Ocean? Are we witnessing the making of the Great Ocean of China? If India loses its dominant power in Asia, it will not be able to safeguard its security or protect its interests.

Although ours may be the smallest country in the region, our economic and political value cannot be overlooked. Let’s hope it’s not too late by the time India recognizes this.


Thilmeeza Hussain is a former deputy ambassador of the Maldives to the UN and a 2018 Aspen Institute New Voices fellow

This article was originally published by LiveMint, www.livemint.com on 20 February 2018

http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/vr9GnxjjCJLIYYElZkL1gK/The-making-of-the-Great-Ocean-of-China.html