Democracy Deferred: Civic Leadership after 9/11

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Drug use has been a problem in the Maldives since the s and it is still a problem even to this day. Gayoom did little to address this problem, and some sources even suggest that the regime was in fact closely connected to drug trafficking operations. The regime did, however, impose strict laws stating that an individual convicted for possession can potentially receive a sentence of up to 25 years in prison.

These laws, in combination with high volumes of cheap heroin have contributed to overcrowding in prisons; prisons in which two-thirds of all inmates are serving sentences for drug-related crimes. Maldivians were also aggrieved when the same conditions that contributed to widespread drug abuse, were attributed to a rise in Islamic fundamentalism. Decades of political repression under Gayoom had driven a once reputably moderate culture of Islam to search for more extreme methods of influencing society. Alienated Muslims began forming radical flank groups that were more militant, secretive, and ideologically rigid than the popular nonviolent movement.

Solidarity Squandered

Starting a few years prior to , extremists took up the practice of kidnapping young girls and forcing them into a lifestyle of Islamic fundamentalism. Threats of terror poised by these groups only enabled Gayoom to justify harder crackdowns against the popular opposition. Opposition began to emerge in the s but was quickly snuffed out. An independent bloc in the Majlis began a reform movement comprised of a number of younger, western-educated reformers that had little confidence in Gayoom.

One member of this group, Mohamed Latheef, was simply stripped of his seat for voting against Gayoom. For the past three decades, Gayoom refused to acknowledge any political parties, declaring that the existence of opposition parties would be inimical to the homogeneous nature of Maldivian society. The MDP was formed by a number of like-minded citizens, with little political experience.

Over the next few years, the party would play a key role unifying and organizing the various opposition groups into one coherent popular nonviolent movement. After the movement leveraged the right to hold free and fair elections, the MDP campaigned as the true embodiment of popular ideals and was thus able to defeat Gayoom in the elections. On September 19, , year-old prison inmate Evan Naseem was beaten to death by prison guards while serving time for drug offences.

He had refused to cooperate with the guards, who were attempting to remove him from his cell and seeking to punish him for the actions of other cellmates. His mother, Mariyam Manike, refused to stay silent about the killing and voiced her anguish, urging people to rally in the streets on the day of his funeral. She opted for an open-casket funeral so that others could see the extent of his injuries. Four were killed and several were injured.

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The regime responded with violent repression and arrests. She was a photojournalist who was there to document the protest as well as to express her opposition to the human rights abuses that had been committed. In a written account later published through Amnesty International, she was able to chronicle how this event was able to trigger such public outrage. She wrote:. The place was packed when I arrived—people seemed to want to bear witness, to see for themselves the kind of things that can happen under a brutal regime.

Torture is commonplace in Maldivian jails, and I have many friends and relatives who have lived in its shadow. The simplest way to sum it up is to say that he became family from that moment on. The following day Latheef and other demonstrators were arrested in what came to be the first active roundup of political dissidents by government agents.

She was later placed under house arrest before finishing her sentence. Before her arrest, she had been jailed several times prior to her work as a human rights activist and for nonviolent opposition to the regime. The public knew that she was incarcerated because she expressed views that were critical of the government and that her father had done the same.

What Gayoom failed to foresee was that his actions would demonize him while giving the opposition a face; not the face of a terrorist, but of a young, peaceful, female dissenter. He ran unopposed. He now faced widespread civil unrest and a potential international human rights crisis.

In June , before the crackdown, Amnesty International released its first ever special report on the Maldives titled Republic of the Maldives: Repression of Peaceful Political Opposition. In June this newfound and unwanted international attention pressured Gayoom to announce reforms. Its function would be to monitor national institutions to ensure the protection of human rights. In February , a constitutional assembly began work on a new constitution. However, chaos and confusion quickly erupted and the first meeting was adjourned without setting a date for a second.

Activists continued to be arrested, intellectuals were harassed and anyone could still be arbitrarily detained. The announced reforms technically gave citizens freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. In response, the regime sent police to disrupt these meetings and harass participants.

Democracy Deferred - Civic Leadership after 9/11 | D. Woods | Palgrave Macmillan

Eventually, minivan debates were declared illegal but citizens persisted in holding them, sometimes tricking police by staging fake birthday parties and other social gatherings. The debates were very popular; anyone could share information regardless of political, ethnic or religious background. This was a newfound freedom for Maldivians, many of whom had grown accustomed to living under decades of complete censorship.


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Minivan debates were also a vital tool for spreading information and fostering solidarity. In recognition of this, exiled activists sought to maximize their effects by broadcasting them illegally over shortwave radio.

Civic Leadership after 9/11

The demonstration continued to grow until it was dispersed by a violent crackdown on the following day. Mobile phone and internet services were turned off to block communications and prevent news from getting out. However, both the demonstration and the subsequent repression were documented by Minivan Radio and other non-state news sources.

This enabled an honest account of events to reach the outside world, and this account incited further international criticism against the regime. The diplomatic and political fallout from the crackdown turned out to be disastrous for Gayoom. He was now under pressure from the UK, US, India, Sri Lanka, and receiving strident criticism from members of the European Parliament, some of whom were calling for an end to all non-humanitarian aid as well as a travel ban. This would have had enormous consequences on the Maldivian economy, which was heavily reliant on tourism as a source of revenue.

The regime attempted to silence its critics by lifting the state of emergency and moving several detained activists from prison to house arrest. Soon after, the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami hit the Maldives and nation was in great need of humanitarian assistance. In , the regime agreed to meet the opposition for the first in the UK, this series of meetings was called the Westminster House talks.

The international community praised the meeting as a progressive step toward reform despite the fact that the Gayoom did nothing to honor these commitments. It became more and more clear to the opposition that a strategy centered on international advocacy could not in itself generate enough power to displace Gayoom. The opposition began to focus more on organizing additional protests, speeches, and sit-ins. These new efforts were less focused on appealing to outside forces and more geared toward building capacities domestically and strengthening self-rule.

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