Saved by the bull?

Saved by the bull?
March 18 10:43 2017

Saudi King Salman has postponed his trip to the Maldives indefinitely.

Three resorts cancelled their bookings to accommodate the King and his entourage; the Republic Square in Malé was whitewashed and made ready for the King’s landing in a helicopter; the jetty was spruced up; his special yacht sailed into Maldivian waters in advance, along with a navy ship to look after his security; and Maldivian parents risked their children’s lives by sending them to practice a welcome dance for the King during a deadly flu outbreak; and President Yameen combed his feathers and puffed out his chest an extra foot.

In the end, none of it mattered, the King decided he is not coming. Not yet; maybe never.

What changed the royal mind? The International Spokesperson for the President explained it was the H1N1 flu that kept the King away. As explanations go, it’s pretty lame, given the wide availability of flu vaccines and the fact that King Salman is travelling with not just medical staff but an entire hospital. No, what seems more plausible is that it’s the Maldivian motor mouths that have put this King off his planned paradise getaway.

First to open his mouth was the President himself who told the starry-eyed people of Faafu Atoll Magoodhoo that “the Saudi government, or members of the Saudi elite” had fallen absolutely madly deeply in love with their atoll. They were going to show their love by opening their wallets and giving Faafu the kind of makeover that would make it unrecognisable as an atoll in an island archipelago.

But, he cautioned, shush, shush, shush.

The Saudis do not want agitation, they do not want chaos. The deal had been in the making for months and months and would have been signed aeons ago if not for the uncouth behaviour of Maldivians who, unlike their Saudi brothers and sisters, would not shut up and follow whatever rules their leaders decide for them. Calm down for development, he said.

The President’s bragging did not create the docile citizens he hoped for. It set tongues wagging instead. Pretty soon everyone was talking about the Saudis and Faafu – what does Yameen mean by investment? Is he selling Faafu? How much is it being sold for? Is it legal? What will I get?

The ruling party was caught between its desire to boast and its promise to the Saudis to keep the whole thing secret. So they got paid hacks in on the job and got them to write ‘colour pieces’ which in reality were long odes to the sanctity of the Saudi Royal Family, and their undying love for the Maldives.

Strategic decisions, that no doubt looked cerebral from the perspective of the ‘top brass’ that were making them, were arrived at to ‘emphasis the Islamic angle’ – it’s okay to sell to the Saudis because they are 100 percent  Muslim, ‘just like us’. The same hacks wrote more column inches glorifying unchecked capitalism—oh, imagine the beauty of a Burj Khalifa arising from the Maldivian sea; we will be Dubai! we will be Singapore! Ah, blessed development, Islamic capitalism. Glory be.

And then there were the teams of foreign journalists flown in, all expenses paid, to write articles that would, hopefully, make the deal more palatable to the international community. Perhaps it was also meant to attract more foreign ‘investment’. Anyway, the motive doesn’t really matter, because what all the coverage ended up doing was seriously piss the desert royals off.

Pretty soon the Saudi Embassy in Malé—run from an annex in the President’s Office—broke the silence by putting out a statement denying that the Saudi government had any interest or plans to buy Faafu or make an investment in the Maldives.

The statement created even more confusion—it denied any involvement of the Saudi government, but not of the Saudi royal family, which is what Yameen had been ‘hinting’ at so very subtly. More tongues wagged in the Maldives, while over to the east in Indonesia,  Bali suddenly appeared so much more attractive to King Salman that he decided to extend his stay there. His scheduled arrival in the Maldives was suddenly delayed by a good week or so.

Despite the palpable royal displeasure, preparations continued in Malé for the King’s arrival: opposition HQs were raided several times, rolls of fabric [that could have ended as a protest banner] were confiscated and activists were dragged to the police station and their phones taken away. Through it all, the general brainwashing continued with substantial success [see following comment by member of public on Saudi deal].

I don’t have any concerns about the Faafu Atoll project because whatever happens those who are coming here are from a 100 percent Muslim country. In my view he (Saudi King) is the leader of the world’s Muslims. So, given that we are a 100 percent Muslim nation, there is great trust in my heart that, because they are Muslims, they will not do anything to hurt us citizens in anyway.

So what was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back, so to speak? What persuaded King Salman that it is far better to stay away from the Maldives than it is to spend a week swimming in its beautiful seas, snorkelling with the fish, and forgetting the pressures of being a royal?

PPM MP Ahmed Nihan, I would wager.

An audio emerged last night of the MP, and asslicker supreme, speaking to an unidentified group of men in what he referred to as a ‘brain feeding’ session. His talking points are enlightening, to say the least. The recording goes on for half an hour. I will summarise here Nihan’s descriptions of, and references to the Saudi Royal Family.

This is basically something starting in 2012.

That Man [the King] was in One and Only and took a trip to get an aerial view of the Maldives. On this trip he saw an island that no Maldivian was likely to go to. […]

There are 54 kilometres between that island and any other inhabited one. Beyond that is the wide Indian Ocean. No Maldivian would be ‘encircling that’ even as part of a journey. That island is Faafu Atoll Himithi.

[…]

It was a geographic location That Man [the King] found. Actually his brain works well, he was thinking of ways that would cause the least inconvenience to Maldivians. So he wanted to develop that island.

But then he did not want the island to be taken back in 99 years, as it is said in that constitution, after he makes that fine investment. He knows that he cannot last that long. A normal human being’s mortality rate, if for example, is 70, he himself cannot stay on that island till the end of those 99 years. So, he requested for the ownership that will allow him to leave it to his next of kin, heirs.

When he made the request, we didn’t have the ability to create ‘99 plus one day’. We couldn’t even give him those [extra] 24 hours. That’s why we had to come to this point, why we had to change the Constitution. We wanted to give it to him to own. […]

But the public won’t understand. They will know only on the day they know who he is.

[‘After everything has happened?’, asks a member of the audience]

Yes, on the day they know for sure that it is the Saudi Crown Prince…on that day they will realise [clicks finger]: Aah! That’s the trap they set!

Mohamed had paid for acquisition of the island then. The island was under some sort of a group…some Dhivehi group…Anni had given it to them on some pipe laying pretext or other. He had given it to not just one party, but three!

Adeeb was Tourism Minister, Dr Waheed was President. Dr Waheed wanted to do this really badly. In a rush these great men gave him the island.

After they gave him the island he said the 99 years was not enough, so he was going to stop the deal. That meant the government had to give him back the payment he had made. So talks were held with people internally involved. He didn’t let go of his interest though.

Again, in 2013 he came back to One and Only. While he was there, in just a few days after President Yameen assumed office, the lad came with the current King, his father. He hadn’t become King yet, he was the Crown Prince.

As luck would have it then Crown Prince became King. King Abdullah passed away, he became King immediately, and as soon as that happened, all the power was now in the hands of his family, as it would be. Until This Man dies, that is. Then it will be Mohamed’s turn. He is the most likely man.

Anyway, without that assurance, they hadn’t begun the investment. We looked to see if we could penetrate this into the [Special Economic Zones], if we could make it happen through the SEZ. But even the SEZ could not cross the Constitution – unless and until we changed it. It could only come out of an open window from that. That is why we created that window.

It was very designed, very proper, very planned so that we will not suffer any harm—even from a religious perspective—that is the kind of investor this is. That much can be said.

It is the belief that this investor is for sure not China, for sure not India, for sure not the UK, for sure not America, for sure not Russia. They are jumping around because they think we are facilitating Chinese ownership of land.

[…]

“This guy [King Salman] is gonna dump sixteen billion US dollars”. […]

There are other places in the world with more fish, more beautiful fish, than there are in the Maldives, fishes that are much more vigorous, more colourful – why would they come to the Maldives first to see these things? Why not go there? Why are they dumping here? His interest is also aroused “because we are Islam.” He believes that because we are Muslims he will be tolerated here.

So those Saudi princes can come here in their jets, waste away a weekend, and by the time they leave, all the waiters and everyone would have got a year’s wages—they will not have to work again that year. This is being said because of how these people behave. “We know what they are spending on”.

There are so many countries with their hands out in anticipation of a Saudi Prince coming to their country – what does the Maldives have to show? What is this reef [Faafu] here for anyway? No one would go there to even pick up a shell. That reef has been sitting there like that, [serving no purpose] for three thousand, four thousand years.

[…]

There are a lot of parties [potential investors]. But we are not able to allow them. “A Russian billionaire might want it immediately”. They would have the money. They would have much worse, dirtier money [than the Saudis], but of course we won’t give it to those people. “Though even this is created”. The fear is what will happen if our government ends? What will those who come after do?

[…]

These people, this family that we are in negotiations with, they do not want their name to be associated with this [sale of Faafu] suddenly. If not, we would have written it down [in the Constitution] that this is for a specific person. […]

If that had been said, these issues [of what would happen when PPM government ends] would not arise. But even he [King Salman] would not have wanted to do such a ridiculous thing. This is the Constitution of a country we are talking about!

So what do you think? Was it the H1N1–or Maldivians who could not keep their mouths shut–that has made the King stay away? Has the government bullshit rescued Faafu from merciless ‘development’?

Photo of Himithi and Minimasmagili by 

This article was originally published on Dhivehisitee.com as the fourth part of a series on the proposed Saudi development of Faafu atoll. It has been republished with permission.

Dr Azra Naseem is a former journalist who now works as a Research fellow in Dublin City University.

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