A Case for Aid?

What could be the real mo­tives of the Saudis of­fer­ing fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to the Mal­dives?

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Huza­ima Bukhari & Dr. Ikra­mul Haq

Grow­ing ties be­tween the Mal­dives and Saudi Ara­bia have given rise to con­cerns that the Mal­dives may be inch­ing to­wards be­com­ing a theo­cratic state.

The do­na­tion of one mil­lion dol­lars by the Crown Prince of the King­dom of Saudi Ara­bia, Sal­man bin Ab­dulaziz Al Saud, for the con­struc­tion of ten “world-class” mosques raised many eye­brows. Some saw it as a step to­wards rad­i­cal­iza­tion of the is­land na­tion. Oth­ers ar­gued that aid for in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment or projects in the so­cial sec­tor would have been a bet­ter choice. But the Saudis did not ig­nore this as­pect. They do­nated $1.5 mil­lion for fi­nanc­ing health projects. The Mal­di­vian Min­istry of Is­lamic Af­fairs later clar­i­fied that the money for mosques was a per­sonal do­na­tion by the Crown Prince.

It was re­ported that dur­ing the meet­ing be­tween Mal­di­vian Pres­i­dent Ab­dulla Yameen and the Saudi Crown Prince, both sides pledged to fight ex­trem­ism and ter­ror­ism “in all forms and man­i­fes­ta­tions”. Both coun­tries stressed the need for greater co­op­er­a­tion in the eco­nomic and trade sec­tors. Ac­cord­ing to Saudi Gazette, of­fi­cial dis­cus­sions in­cluded po­ten­tial in­vest­ments in en­ergy, tourism, trans­port and Is­lamic af­fairs as well as a soft loan of US$300 mil­lion for the Mal­dives.

The visit was yet an­other sign of grow­ing ties be­tween the Yameen ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Saudi King­dom. Dur­ing his visit to Saudi Ara­bia in Fe­bru­ary 2014, Vice Pres­i­dent Dr. Mo­hamed Jameel Ahmed re­port­edly stressed the im­por­tance his govern­ment placed on en­hanc­ing ties with the Arab world and on “strength­en­ing re­li­gious unity in the Mal­dives.” Shortly af­ter Jameel’s re­turn, the Mal­dives govern­ment an­nounced that it would

in­tro­duce Ara­bic teach­ing in schools as part of a drive to “in­crease Is­lamic learn­ing in the coun­try”. Be­sides the Saudi govern­ment, the Saudi Ara­bian Mus­lim Schol­ars As­so­ci­a­tion has also pledged a grant of 1.6 mil­lion Mal­di­vian Ru­fiyaa “to as­sist in the pro­vi­sion of Is­lamic ed­u­ca­tion in the Mal­dives.” These moves have been per­ceived as leading the Mal­dives to­wards be­com­ing a theo­cratic state.

Ac­cord­ing to Vishal Arora, a New Delhi-based jour­nal­ist, Mal­di­vian Pres­i­dent Ab­dulla Yameen, who com­pleted four months in of­fice on March 17, 2014, has pushed the In­dian Ocean ar­chi­pel­ago to re­li­gious con­ser­vatism. The Mal­dives, a string of 1,192 is­lands, has made sev­eral moves “to ce­ment the supremacy of Sunni Is­lam” since Yameen was sworn in as pres­i­dent in Novem­ber 2013. The top pri­or­i­ties set by the Min­istry of Is­lamic Af­fairs re­port­edly in­clude block­ing all reli­gions ex­cept Is­lam in the na­tion, en­sur­ing that all laws and reg­u­la­tions ad­here to Is­lamic prin­ci­ples and de­vel­op­ing and strength­en­ing the Is­lamic Fiqh Academy to is­sue fat­was.

The Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion has in­tro­duced Ara­bic as a sub­ject in schools and is also plan­ning to have schools teach the Qu­ran as a sub­ject up to grade VII. Yameen’s key for­eign pol­icy goals in­clude “pro­tect­ing the Is­lamic unity of the coun­try and pro­mot­ing Is­lamic char­ac­ter­is­tics in­ter­na­tion­ally.” In De­cem­ber 2013, the par­lia­ment passed a bill to amend the con­sti­tu­tion to re­strict the leg­is­la­ture from re­mov­ing the clause that gives Is­lam the sta­tus of state re­li­gion. The bill was in­tro­duced by the Mal­di­vian De­vel­op­ment Al­liance, an ally of Yameen’s Pro­gres­sive Party of the Mal­dives.

These moves, it is claimed, “have been made against the back­drop of a pro­jected threat to re­li­gion from both do­mes­tic forces (read: pro­gres­sive and pro-democ­racy par­ties) and for­eign pow­ers” (read: the Chris­tian West). Speak­ing on the Mal­dives’ Con­ver­sion to Is­lam Day on Fe­bru­ary 2, 2014, Yameen warned his coun­try­men, “We should be very vig­i­lant of for­eign in­flu­ences at­tempt­ing to weaken our re­li­gious faith.” Yameen pitched him­self as a sav­ior of Is­lam in his cam­paign for the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. “Think for your­selves, do you want Is­lam in the Mal­dives or do you want to al­low space for other reli­gions in the Mal­dives?” he re­port­edly asked the people dur­ing an elec­tion speech.

Yameen, whose elec­tion man­i­festo pledged to im­ple­ment the death penalty un­der the Shariah and to strengthen ties with Arab Mus­lim na­tions among other things, por­trayed his ri­val Mo­hamed Nasheed as an en­emy of the na­tion’s Is­lamic iden­tity. Nasheed, who de­feated for­mer au­to­cratic Pres­i­dent Mau­moon Ab­dul Gay­oom in the 2008 elec­tions, but was ousted in a coup in Fe­bru­ary 2012, had promised to bring true democ­racy for the na­tion’s progress. At his party’s vic­tory rally fol­low­ing the elec­tions, Yameen, who is Gay­oom’s half-brother, said, “We (the coali­tion) worked to­gether to save the Mal­di­vian na­tion, to pro­tect the sa­cred re­li­gion of Is­lam.”

The Mal­dives of­fi­cially be­came an Is­lamic state in 1997. The coun­try claims that all its cit­i­zens are Sunni Mus­lims. Ar­ti­cle 9 of the Mal­di­vian Con­sti­tu­tion de­clares that “a nonMus­lim may not be­come a cit­i­zen of the Mal­dives.” Such laws are a rem­nant of the legacy of Gay­oom, who ruled the coun­try for 30 years un­til 2008. While Gay­oom was known for op­pos­ing the rad­i­cal ver­sions of Is­lam dur­ing his rule, his pol­icy changed af­ter pro-democ­racy Nasheed de­feated him in the 2008 elec­tions. To snatch power from Nasheed, Gay­oom changed his tac­tics and sought the sup­port of con­ser­va­tive Is­lamic par­ties and or­ga­ni­za­tions. The 2013 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions were, there­fore, de­ci­sive. The vot­ers had a choice be­tween the con­tin­u­a­tion of re­stric­tions and con­ser­va­tive poli­cies and progress through a gen­uine democ­racy. Those who opted for the lat­ter were out­num­bered by a thin mar­gin. The first four months un­der the new govern­ment of­fer a glimpse into the na­tion’s fu­ture.

The present govern­ment of the Mal­dives has sought co­op­er­a­tion from Saudi Ara­bia’s lead­er­ship in ar­eas such as Haj af­fairs, the es­tab­lish­ment of ‘awqaf’ and a cen­ter for Qu­ranic stud­ies. The Saudis were told that the coun­try re­quires mosques to be built on ev­ery in­hab­ited is­land. The cap­i­tal, Male, cur­rently has over 30 mosques. The most rec­og­niz­able is the Is­lamic Cen­ter in Male, whose golden dome dom­i­nates the low-slung sky­line. Equally stun­ning is the or­nate Hukuru Miskiiy or ‘Fri­day Mosque’ which was built in 1675.

In the Mal­dives, apart from in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal tus­sles and po­lar­iza­tion, in­ter­fer­ence of some for­eign coun­tries has also be­come a reg­u­lar fea­ture. In­dia and the United States showed con­cern when China an­nounced that it would set up its em­bassy in Male in 2011. Western democ­ra­cies have also ex­pressed wor­ries about the ris­ing in­flu­ence of Salafist par­ties such as the Ad­haalath Party, coin­cid­ing with in­creas­ing rad­i­cal­iza­tion of the is­land na­tion. The Saudis’ sup­port for Salafist ideas is well-es­tab­lished and well­known.

The Mal­dives be­came a vic­tim of ter­ror­ism when a bomb at­tack in Male wounded 12 western tourists in Septem­ber 2007. In May 2009, a Mal­di­vian mem­ber of Al-Qaeda was found in­volved in a sui­cide at­tack on the head­quar­ters of Pak­istan's In­terSer­vices In­tel­li­gence in La­hore. Hard on the heels of that at­tack, Pak­istani troops ar­rested nine Al-Qaeda op­er­a­tives at a train­ing camp in South Waziris­tan in 2010. They turned out to be Mal­di­vian cit­i­zens. This may ex­plain to some ex­tent why Saudi Ara­bia, the U.S. the EU, In­dia, China and other South Asian coun­tries have been show­ing so much in­ter­est in the Mal­dives. The re­cent “gen­er­ous” help from the Saudi King­dom to the Mal­dives has clear mo­tives – the Saudis want Al-Qaeda to re­main out­side their land.

Many crit­ics ask why the Saudis do not con­sider the more de­serv­ing parts of the world – East Africa, for ex­am­ple – wor­thy of aid. Ye­men and the Horn of Africa are closer to Saudi Ara­bia, but no help has been ex­tended to them. There is no help for the Ro­hingyas in Myan­mar and the Mus­lims in Sri Lanka who face un­prece­dented atroc­i­ties. It is ob­vi­ous that the Saudis are spend­ing their money where they have in­ter­ests. And this is not un­usual as states are known to do this.

The writ­ers, part­ners in law firm Huza­ima & Ikram (Taxand Pak­istan), are ad­junct fac­ulty mem­bers at the La­hore Univer­sity of Man­age­ment Sci­ences.


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.