Recently, the Adhaalath party declared their opposition to an amendment to Family Law in the Maldives. This proposed legislation is a simple and effective piece of legislation. It will enable property attained during marriage to be equally distributed upon divorce. It brings gender equality to the center of national family life, and enshrines it in law.
This resistance comes as no surprise. The deep vain of misogynistm runs through their organization, It has consistently opposed female empowerment since it's inception.
Yet what is even more of a surprise is the West’s elevation of Adhaalath’s leader, Sheikh Imran Abdulla, as some sort of Maldivian freedom fighter. Clearly Sheikh peddles views inimical to fundamental notions of female emancipation, for half the Maldives, rights simply do not matter.
The recent metamorphosis of Sheikh is part of a crafted PR drive spearheaded by former president Nasheed. It is an unfortunate result of Nasheed’s disingenuous international campaign, one intent on tarnishing the Maldives’ reputation for political gain. Now, it seems, Imran has made a remarkable transformation from serial chauvinist to ‘political prisoner’.
Imran is currently serving a prison sentence on a conviction of incitement of violence at a rally last May. A lorry loaded up with petrol was driven into the police line. Police officers were assaulted. The violence started after Sheikh himself started preaching and called for violence in the name of Islam.
The crimes for which he is accused are a commonplace offence around the world. There is a distinct irony that he and Mr Nasheed court the West’s media and criticize the acts of the Maldivian police, while security forces in Europe and the United States also refuse to tolerate similar levels of violent disorder at public events.
Sadly, some in the international media have swallowed Nasheed’s line. It’s part of a pattern of wildly inaccurate reports about our islands, fuelled by Mr Nasheed’s PR machine, one which is prepared to drag the country's reputation through the mud for cynical political purposes. But the most egregious development of all is that Mr Nasheed has championed a man in Abdulla who disagrees with fundamental notions of human rights, gender equality and religious liberty. Everything his friends in the western media rally so often against.
Let us restate the facts. Sheikh became head of the Adhaalath party in mid 2011. Once leader, Abdulla’s command over the party has become increasingly dictatorial. Consequently, he and his party have moved further to the fringes of mainstream political opinion in the Maldives.
One of the first party statements under his tenure was to call for the execution of mothers who abort their children. The party opposes co-education, a central plank of the current government’s educational policy, which has already proven to bring monumental benefits to your women across our islands. He has consistently spoke out against mixed-gender gatherings. With this in mind, the US Government’s continued stance
But perhaps worst of all was his endorsement of a sentence by the Juvenile Court in August 2013. A rape victim of 15 was to be flogged for engaging in pre-marital affairs. The sentence led to international condemnation and deeply disturbed the Waheed government of the time - triggering a review of legislation. However, Adhaalath and it's leader stated that the punishment was necessary to ‘maintain order in society and save it from sinful acts’. Are these the views of an embattled human rights activist?
This government’s record on gender equality speaks for itself. The Maldives tops the tables in gender equality across South Asia. Women’s rights have been placed at the heart of social policy. Two critical stats: 55% of our high school graduates are now girls and 80% of managing teams in central banks are women. The direction of travel is fixed. Dividends – from family stability, entrepneurialism and public health – are already bearing fruit.
That Nasheed’s support of Sheikh, and his portrayal of his friend as a ‘political prisoner’,is political opportunism of the worst kind. Ever since 2008, Mr Nasheed needed Sheikh for his own political survival. He created the Islamic Minister for the first time, and then handed the Education portfolio too Adhaalath, opening up a channel for religious conservatives to influence public education.
And Untrusted on his Islamic credentials by the body politic, Nasheed embraced Adhalaath’s odious ideology to gain power. That the ‘Mandela of the Maldives’ got in to bed with a group that directly opposes fundamental rights for women shows how ridiculous that label has now become.
This sorry story has revealed the chasm between myth and reality in the Maldives. Mr. Nasheed’s grand international tour is beginning to fall flat, and his portrayal of a controversial religious conservative and his troubled party as political martyrs shows just how low he is prepared to stoop to regain relevance. It is down to sensible Maldivians to not allow the whitewashing of Sheikh’s history. Imam Ali once said: ‘If you want to identify someone’s character, examine the friends he sits with.’ I suggest Mr Nasheed and his PR advisors take heed.
- Editor's note: This article was written by Ahmed Imthiyaz. Ahmed Imthiyaz was in law enforcement for a long time. After his resignation, he has been pursuing a career as a freelance researcher and is focusing on expanding his business. He is a social media enthusiast as well.