Dr. Mohammed Waheed Hassan is recognized as one of the most influential voices on foreign relations, education, human rights, democracy and freedom in the Maldives. He has dedicated his life to the betterment of humanity both at home and abroad. Mohammed Waheed Hassan was born on the 3rd of January, 1953, first born son of (Handhuvaru) Hassan Ibrahim Maniku and Aishath Moosa . Being the eldest of ten children and the member of a low income family, Waheed knew the burdens of responsibility early in life. From the age of fourteen, he worked in a variety of places, including tutoring young children and as a part time teacher in Alia School and Hidhaya School. He also strived to be an example for his younger siblings. Dr. Waheed’s wife Ilham Hussain runs the Maldives Autism Association in addition to her other responsibilities. They have three children Widhadh, Fidha and Jeffrey Salim.
Waheed attended the American University of Beirut for four years, studying for two of those years in the midst of the Lebanese civil war; completing a Bachelor’s Degree in English Language as well as a diploma in teaching.By 1976, Waheed returned home to the Maldives, and took up a post teaching the Language at Majeedhiya School in Male’ (the capital of the Maldives). Mr. Waheed taught many students who would become highly influential members of Maldivian society both in the Government, as well as in the private sector. Among his students is the popular television comedian Yoosuf Rafeeu (commonly known as Yoosay), along with members of the government such as the former Executive Secretary to the Parliment Abdullah Shahid. Mr. Waheed also taught many senior civil servants such as the current Elections Commissioner and the Minister for Presidential Affairs Mohammed Hussein. During this time, Waheed also helped develop the first English language curriculum in Maldivian schools.
1978 marked a milestone in Maldivian history with the introduction of the one and only public television station. Waheed worked part time as the first Anchor on Maldivian television, becoming the first person ever shown live on Maldivian Television when he introduced Ibrahim Shihab who inaugurated TVM (Television Maldives).
By September of this year, Waheed was granted a full scholarship to attend Stanford University in the United States. After completing his masters in Education Planning in 1979, he returned home to the Maldives in order to begin working for the Ministry of Education. During this period, he directed the education development project which focused on the establishment of education centers in every atoll. He also worked towards developing teacher training programs as well as Dhivehi textbooks.
The following year, President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom appointed him as one of the President’s members to the Special Majlis in order to help with reforming the constitution.By 1982, Waheed had applied to Stanford, Harvard and IDS Sussex (Institute of Development Studies Sussex) to continue his graduate studies. He was accepted to all three universities and won scholarships to study at Harvard and Stanford ultimately choosing Stanford University as it would be easier for his family to accompany him.
At Stanford, he received a Masters in political science in 1985 and a doctorate of philosophy in International Development Education in 1987, making him the first Maldivian to receive a doctorate, and setting an example to many of his own students who would later follow in his footsteps.
After his graduation, he remained in the United States for two more years due to the necessity of his newly born son to receive medical treatment. And although he had the opportunity to remain in the United States, he elected to return home, giving up his job as a project manager of a technology firm, in San Francisco.
On his return to Maldives (at the end of 1988), he became director of educational services in the Ministry of Education. He was placed in charge of the Ministry for several months as an Educational Minister was to be appointed.
During this time he also served as a member of the National council for Dhivehi Language and Literature, a member of the Atolls Development Advisory board, and a member for the Maldives Youth council.
The 1989 General Election
The election of 1989 marked an extremely exciting period as it led to widespread interest in politics. Running for Parliament (the Majlis) as a candidate for the capital Male’, and using his thumbs-up sign as his campaign logo, Dr Waheed would for the first time really engage the public creating a large backing for both him and his policies. Reaching unprecedented levels in Male’, the thumbs-up sign was painted on walls and billboards across the capital. Supporters printed and distributed leaflets to all the households in Male’. Over four thousand letters were sent personally signed by him. Campaign t-shirts and badges were distributed and his popularity among the youth of our nation grew exponentially.
However, his popularity would ultimately lead to devastating consequences. Even from the beginning, there was a powerful machine devised with the sole purpose of halting Dr. Waheed’s popularity. Mr. Ilyas Ibrahim along with his brother Mr. Abbas Ibrahim are believed to have started to work against the campaign creating a group of middle aged men that would be known as the ‘Bimbi Force.’ Consisting of ex-convicts who had served their time, many of these people were quick to take the shelter and protection offered by the two Ministers. Cases against this force were blatantly ignored by the government; one such incident occurred when Dr. Waheed’s symbol(thumbs-up) was vandalized in the presence of police personnel where the police did nothing to stop it. In another such incident occured when a boy who was delivering a death threat was caught and handed over to the police, yet no action was taken.
Tenure in Parliament
While in Parliament he also served again in the Special Majlis, but this time as the member for Male’, not the President. Participating on the drafting committee of the Special Majlis, Dr. Waheed introduced a bill of rights attempting to protect the civil and political rights of people accused of various crimes, including the ‘crime of being critical of the government.’ The bill was supported unanimously by the parliament and sent to the committee stage where the speaker of the parliament (Abdullah Hameed- the President’s Brother) denied it and further discussion on the matter. And as a result, the Maldives Government to this day continues to violate human rights, especially the right to freedom of speech without government reprisal.
As a member of parliament, Waheed tried to protect his constituents who were imprisoned, including Mr. Mohammed Nasheed (Anni), who was arrested for political dissidence. Waheed protested for the rights of his constituents organizing a ‘black ribbon campaign’ and wearing a black ribbon to Parliament. The ‘black ribbon’ campaign was specifically targeted to protest the arrest of Anni by members of the public wearing a black ribbon in support of the Anni’s release. For the first time in this administration’s history there was an organized confrontation with the people defying the will of a government that robbed its people of their most basic and fundamental human rights. Dr. Waheed appealed to the president on behalf of Anni calling for his release.
However, Waheed’s popularity and influence would once again start to cause him trouble. Waheed along with other progressive members of Parliament were soon harassed by the government. Waheed was continually taken to the police station late at night, and kept there into the early hours of the morning, being questioned about alleged incidents of arson. Those same acts of arson are now known to have been organized by Abbas Ibrahim and the Bimbi Force. During the same period the MP for Addu Atoll, Mr. Ibrahim Shareef was assaulted and MP for South Huvadhoo Atoll Mr. Mohammed Latheef was imprisoned.
Even long after his campaign was over, Waheed received death threats and harassment from the “Bimbi Force”. The harassment grew so intense that it affected both sides of his family, including the family of his wife. During these troubled times, residents of both Silver Scene (Machangoli) and Javahiru Wadee (Maafanu) were arrested due their family connection with Waheed, most of these men being ill-treated and tortured by the authorities.
Dr. Waheed was transferred out of the Ministry of Education and appointed Special Advisor to the President but without work. For three months he had no choice but to stay at home. As his constituency was unable to offer him support due to restrictions on political activity, Dr. Waheed had no choice but to seek permission from the President to leave the country. Permission was necessary as Dr. Waheed was on a blacklist that prohibited international travel. In his reply, the president expressed disappointment with Dr. Waheed for him not having been loyal and faithful to the government and granted permission to leave.
At the time of his departure, eight of his brothers and brother-in-laws were under arrest, along with countless number of supporters. Many people had paid dearly for supporting Dr. Waheed and hoping that our society could be made democratic, a place free from fear of government reprisals for contesting the government line.
A United Nations Career
After leaving the Maldives in the middle of 1991, Dr. Waheed involved himself as a freelance consultant with various UN agencies. During that time he worked with UNDP (the United Nations Development Fund) and UNESCO (the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in order to develop educational programs for Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Bangladesh and the South Pacific Islands.
Dr. Waheed was later offered a job with UNICEF, as the Head of Education in Ethiopia. Though he declined that offer, he would accept that same post in Tanzania on year later in 1992. While in Tanzania, he supported the Government to establish schools in remote areas of the country and helped lay the foundation for developing a quality primary education system.
From this first job with UNICEF, Dr Waheed would continue this work in Bangladesh and then move on to become a Senior Advisor at UNICEF Headquarters in New York.
After New York, Dr. Waheed would be transferred to Nepal where he became the Deputy Regional Director for South Asia and later Acting Regional Director. The UNICEF Regional Office had responsibilities for assisting and supervision of operations and programmes in the region.
After the fall of the Taliban, Dr. Waheed was asked by the United Nations to go to Afghanistan to play a lead role in the reconstruction of the country. First as special representative of the UN on Education. Waheed became crucial to the running of the Ministry. He would then become the head of the UNICEF office in Kabul. While he was Representative for UNICEF Afghanistan, there were many achievements that were attributed to UNICEF. These include enrolling five million children in school, vaccinating six million children and providing health services, water and sanitation. Dr. Waheed headed an organization of 250 Afghan and international staff from twenty different countries.
After nearly three years in Afghanistan, Dr. Waheed was transferred back to New York, where he was appointed the Associate Director to the UNDGO, the group in charge of reforming various UN organizations to increase their coherence and efficiency. He resigned the post and left his successfull UN career to return to Maldives in September of 2005.