October 10, 2007Foreign Affairs

Trouble in the Maldives

A terrorist attack, an illegal mosque, a flawed referendum and a new constitution

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Mamdhooh, a Maldivian blogger, put it this way: The hymen of our last sense of security was broken that day”. He was referring to a terrorist attack in Male on September 29th. That attack was mild by international standards—it injured ten foreign tourists. But on the Maldivian scale of things it was big. Mohamed Nasheed, another blogger, writes that the blast from the improvised explosive device has forever shattered the peace and tranquility that we have always boasted of in the Maldives”.

Rohan Gunaratna, who was roped in to advise the Maldives government on the matter, judges that the ability of the government to address the growing problem of fundamentalism and its potential to become violent will determine the security future of the Maldives”. Before this, the main threat to political stability in the archipelago nation was the opposition to long-time President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. So when did a political problem transform into a Islamic fundamentalism problem?

For some time, as it turns out. President Gayoom’s tactics to stay in power and the opposition’s frustrated efforts to bring him down do appear conducive for the growth of radical Islamist political parties. And then, there’s always the chaps who go to Pakistan for education’. Denial of political freedom often correlates with increase in support for radical Islamists. Maldivians voted in a referendum—flawed, charged the opposition—that came out in favour of a presidential form of government. But the Special Majlis that was to come out with a constitution has been marking time, although the deadline for inaugurating it is November 2007; with elections scheduled next year.

President Gayoom has kept a lid on affairs—include religious ones—by controlling everything. All mosques need to be approved by the government. So when the islanders of Himandhoo raised their own illegal mosque in 2005, government forces tore it down. The cat-and-mouse game, though, continued. And after the Male blasts, troops tracking down alleged perpetrators and masked islanders had a 48-hour stand-off. One soldier was held hostage. Another policeman got his fingers chopped off. Over sixty people were picked up for questioning. Again, this is mild by international standards. But by Maldivian, or at least, Himandhoo island standards it may not be unlike Pakistan’s Lal Masjid.

Gunaratna proposes that the government groom and educate future Islamic scholars” in madrassas. It’ll take more than that. Unless Maldivians are able to vote for their favourite political parties—even Islamist ones—there are bad times ahead for this nation.

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