First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim took a tour of Thaa atoll last week, as part of her husband’s reelection campaign for the upcoming presidential elections.
She was accompanied by a number of senior government officials and ruling party lawmakers, including actor-turned-politician Moosa “Reeko” Manik.
One of the biggest headlines from this trip was Manik’s ‘joke’ proposing Naeema “Naeematha” Mohamed as the Joint Opposition’s presidential candidate for the elections. Anything for a laugh, right?
Manik started out his political career with opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, and had remained ‘loyal’ to it till his expulsion from the party in 2014- for violating multiple whip-lines issued. Despite this, parliament only removed him from MDP’s parliamentary group in February 2017.
Not long after, he officially joined the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM). This was to no one’s surprise as he had been taking a pro-President Abdulla Yameen stance ever since. He officially joined PPM on 11th July, 2017.
Less than 48 hours later, the Supreme Court declared that that MPs will lose their seats if they ‘switch parties, quit or is expelled after winning on a political party ticket’, taking effect from 13th to July 2017. While this was to be until the parliament enacted an anti-defection law, parliament in March 2018 passed the anti-defection law to be put into effect retroactively from July 13, 2017.
It is not really clear on whether Manik would have been unseated had he joined PPM after the said date, there are so many loopholes in these new laws, mostly favoring those in power.
Anyway, we are not here to talk about that. Rather, about Manik’s joke. There’s nothing else to call it but a joke, but what was so funny about it? That Naeema is a senior or that she is a woman?
According to Naeema, she is around 60 years of age, however many believe her to be much older. It is not uncommon for a Maldivian to be uncertain of her birth date, happens more frequently than one would expect as birth dates were not well documented in the past. Hence, age-wise Naeema is eligible to run, as the age limit for presidency and the vice presidency is 30 to 65 years. Sure, she might not be educated or have anything else required for the post besides the fact that she is a Maldivian, but Manik has shown interest in running for presidency as well, hasn’t he?
Then there is the factor about her being a woman, which leads to the age-old argument whether ‘the inferior sex’ can actually be the president or head of a state in Islam? Maldives is a hundred percent Muslim country, and the current administration’s slogan right now is ‘my religion, my country’- using religion mostly as a tool to defend those in power. So, can a woman be a leader?
In the past two decades we have seen three practicing Muslim women come to power; Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan and Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh.
There are verses in the Quran that acknowledge men’s leadership over women, such as:
- Men are in charge of women, because God has made some excel (faddala) some of the others
- They (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in kindness, and men are a degree above them
While conservative Muslims take this as women ‘should never been in charge of men’, modernists believe that the verses ‘deal with conjugal relations and not with the status of each sex in society at large’.
While this argument goes much deeper, there is a reference to female leadership in the Quran- the story of Bilqis, the Queen of Sheba.
“The Quran uses no terms that imply that the position of ruler is inappropriate for a woman. On the contrary, the Quranic story of Bilqis celebrates both her political and religious practices”. However, her story has failed to convince people of the ability of women to govern wisely.
Then there are those critics, of women being effective leaders, that also express concerns over the effects of menstruation, pregnancy and menopause on a woman’s composure and behavior. And of course, there is that factor that raising the children is ‘strictly’ the mother's duty.
Unlike many countries, Maldives has always welcomed females in the work field, with many filling senior level posts at offices, and even the government. Women have also been seen at the centre of various movements in the country, at different levels. Naeema Mohamed is one of them, she is seen at almost every opposition demonstration and has been arrested a number of times. However, she is back on the field the next day, fighting for the people’s rights. For what she believes in. Doing what she can- everything she can- for her country.
Now, had Manik sincerely praised her work this might have been a different story. But what he said was more a mockery.
The First Lady was there in attendance when Manik made the comment. Women’s empowerment and well-being of senior citizens have been two of her ‘biggest causes’ during her husband’s tenure. But what can she do? She has had to live through worse comments by her husband.
At one point the president had made a comment that ‘you can see the developments made in the country in the past 30 years, unless autistic’.
At an event in May 2017, he said ‘I have to say that I know everyone, especially all men, go to Bangkok. And certainly, the women they get there are not hiley [for free]’.
At a different event later that month, he said “the solution to the social issues we have in the Maldives, is for Maldivians to get an opiate that allows them to forget these issues’, adding that ‘without a content youth, our country will not go forward.”
So, the first lady has had a lot of practice dealing with powerful, ignorant men. She is seen traveling to various islands for the campaign, as well as taking the fall for a lot the government’s ‘shady’ businesses. Maybe Manik, or anyone else from the ruling party, should propose her as PPM’s candidate for 2023!
There is the woman
My mother, sister, daughter
She stirs in me the most sacred emotions
How can the holy book regard her unworthy
This most noble, beautiful creature
Surely the learned have erred
To read this in the Quran.
-- Muhummad Ibn Tumart (a Muslim Berber religious scholar, teacher and political leader)