The pile of yellow t-shirts in my cupboard has grown. There are two distinct sections. One – Vote Anni, Vote President Nasheed, Vote MDP. The other – Free Anni, Where is my Vote?, #FreePresidentNasheed. Intermingling among these are tshirts for human rights day, badhalakah emmen, stopping police brutality, establishing a multi party political system, celebrating 10 years of the Maldivian Democratic Party and various other protests. My collection would serve as a better lesson in the trials and tribulations of the Maldives’ transition to democracy than what is being taught, or more realistically, not taught in our schools.
Some of these shirts are faded, comforting, old friends to remind me of the good, hard times that we have overcome as individuals, and as a nation. The ones that haven’t faded, the new ones, haven’t reached that stature yet. They are on going battles. Every #FreePresidentNasheed tshirt serves as a constant reminder of the fact that he still remains in jail. That it is again, him in jail. That hundreds of people still face politically motivated charges, thousands more are too scared to even make a peep in defiance of the Government and that security is no longer an option if you’re not in the Gayoom’s good books.
Since February 22 of this year, people have been mobilising practically every day, definitely every week, to #FreePresidentNasheed. This has ranged from mass demonstrations to small groups of individuals wishing to submit letters, petitions, underwater protests, rallies, and tea parties. No doubt, the mercurial nature of Maldivian politics and the compromises that come with it has had an effect on the confidence some Maldivians have in the ability of direct action to pull this off. Add to this the increasing political repression, police brutality and the risks to livelihoods, and the crowd becomes sparser. Fair enough. This then leads to the less physically risky alternative – negotiation, politicking and compromise. Neither option is set in stone nor are they mutually exclusive. Both contain a variety of pros and cons. Has direct action been easier for the wider public to swallow than negotiation with former political rivals? Of course. There are plenty of people in the movement whose skin crawls at even the thought of Baaghee Nazim, Sheikh Imran and Co., but recognise that they are necessary evils in this current fight. Has this politicking resulted in greater cracks within the Gayoom regime than just direct action? Definitely, but we need both.
It is remarkably easy for armchair activists and the twitterati to criticise, and especially, strategise from afar. It is quite another feat to actually implement these ideas, when you’re faced with limited resources and constant pressure from the Government. There’s been enough young adult social media angst in the last two weeks to make clear the amount of work the opposition still has to do in order to convince Maldivians that nothing will be achieved if they remain in their comfort zones. There is no question that the current Free President Nasheed campaign needs a jolt. It absolutely does, but lets not completely batter it either. Despite the Governments’ barrage against the opposition, it has remained a consistent thorn in Yameen’s side for the last year. Hundreds of people have put their lives on hold, on the line, purely to commit to this movement. They have paid the price with their families, their livelihoods and their health. They do so because they cant bring themselves to do anything else. It is shameful to be so callous about this effort purely because that is your social media persona, or because you’re ‘not political’. Instead, get involved. It doesn’t have to be through an opposition affiliated political party, but it does have to admit that its work is political. Civil society groups in Maldives must overcome this identity crisis they stumble upon every time they’re confronted with an issue that puts them in confrontation with the Government’s political objectives.
Now, the opposition needs new ideas, opinions and it especially needs newer, younger faces. Does it need to make a better effort in creating opportunities for this to happen? Yes, but this doesn’t mean that it can afford to wait around for people who only want to make a move when there is no risk to themselves, or to whatever organisation they represent. There is no luxury of being apolitical when everything around us is imploding due to the political motivations of the people in power.
What is clear is that this dalliance with dictatorship by the current generation of Gayooms is no little fling. They’re in it for the long haul. They’ve sacrificed themselves physically – tenuous assassination attempt -, invested taxpayer money – hello expensive foreign PR firms – and are determined to ride out the international condemnation, no matter the damage to our economy or reputation. Maldivians have to decide once and for all if they’re content to live on the sidelines demarcated by the Gayooms. The option of waiting for the next election is not feasible. When the likes of Fuwad Thaufeeq are replaced by Histo, how can there be?
When you’re running on adrenaline while organising a protest, or furious with unlawful police officers after just being pepper sprayed, there is a clarity of thought, a conviction that nothing else exists apart from the need to stop this brutality. The most difficult of times is when the adrenaline leaves you. When there are too many quiet moments in the day, where taxi drivers, elderly grandmothers, friends and family ask you for signs of progress and you can offer nothing other than hope.
As this movement goes on, as the days of President Nasheed in detention increase, as the number of days without finding Rilwan go by, as more people are unlawfully detained and prosecuted, I find myself losing the will to be interested in anything but this. I don’t want to be glued to my phone for updates of the latest drama. I don’t want to only talk about politics at a social gathering. I don’t want to be constantly angry, frustrated or sad. I don’t want to feel guilty for wanting to do something else. It makes no sense, but I do. It is this constant, nagging, and anxious lump in my throat reminding me, questioning me, berating me to do more. Do more, to get him out, do more to stop this country from hurtling into the abyss. The Maldives cannot wait for all the stars to fall in line. It has to push them into line. So, please, help.