No Muslim minister appointed as Sri Lanka swears in new Cabinet

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, center, and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, left, after the ministerial swearing-in ceremony in Colombo on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 22 November 2019

No Muslim minister appointed as Sri Lanka swears in new Cabinet

  • Local Muslim community unhappy over lack of representation
  • Caretaker Cabinet will only hold office until next year’s elections

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka appointed its smallest ever Cabinet on Friday. Caretaker Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed just 15 ministers — compared to more than 40 in the previous Cabinet — who were sworn in by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa — Mahinda’s younger brother. 

For the first time in the country’s history, the Cabinet — which will only hold office until next year’s general elections — does not include a Muslim minister.

The prime minister will hold several posts, including minister of finance, economic affairs, policy development, Buddha Sasana, culture, water supply, urban development, and housing, while another Rajapaksa brother, Chamal, was named minister of Mahaweli development, agriculture and trade.

Reacting to the new appointments, N.M. Ameen, leader of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, told Arab News that there was “visible displeasure” in the Muslim community about the absence of Muslim ministers in the new Cabinet. 

He noted that since the country’s independence, there had always been “someone to represent the Muslim community in the Cabinet.” However, he added that he hoped the problem would quickly be rectified with the appointment of a Muslim MP as a minister or deputy minister.

Some diversity does still remain in Sri Lanka’s authorities: On Wednesday, President Gotabaya appointed a Muslim governor — who has ministerial powers — to the North Western Province, where there is a large Muslim population. 

And in the new Cabinet, Arumugam Thondaman and Douglas Devananda are members of the minority Tamil community.

International lobbyist and strategist Muheed Jeeran urged the Muslim community to remain calm, stressing that the Cabinet will only be in charge until next year’s general elections and insisting to Arab News that the Cabinet had been chosen to ensure representation from a range of political parties, rather than a range of communities.

One veteran Muslim politician, who asked to remain anonymous, also told Arab News that there is no cause for alarm, particularly considering the appointment of A.J.M. Muzammil as the governor for the North Western Province.

“At least one Muslim parliamentarian will be appointed as deputy minister on Monday,” he predicted.

In other news, it has been reported that 33 of the 35 candidates who contested Sri Lanka’s recent presidential election lost their deposits, having failed to receive five percent of the votes cast. Independent candidates had to pay a deposit of $500 to register, while candidates from a political party paid $270.

Only the winner, Rajapaksa, with 52.25 percent of the vote, and the New Democratic Front’s Sajith Premadasa (41.99 percent) retained their deposits.

Even the third-placed candidate, Anura Kumara Dissanayaka from the National People’s Power party, only received 3.16 percent of the vote.


Biggest swimming pool in Russia’s Muslim south bans women, causing outcry

Updated 22 January 2020

Biggest swimming pool in Russia’s Muslim south bans women, causing outcry

MOSCOW: The biggest swimming pool in Russia’s Muslim-majority North Caucasus region has banned women, prompting anger from rights activists and others who have accused the sports complex of discrimination.
The Anzhi Arena spa-complex near Makhachkala, the capital of the internal Russian republic of Dagestan, announced its policy change on the Instagram social media platform on Monday.
“From Jan. 20 onwards attendance of the pool is open only to men,” it said.
The decision has sparked heated debate among residents of the mountainous region, where traditional social values and conservative interpretations of Islam often put it at odds with large parts of European Russia where more liberal values prevail.
The swimming pool said its decision to deny entry to women, who were previously only admitted on Fridays for women-only sessions, was financially motivated.
“Unfortunately, there were hardly any visitors during women’s days,” the RIA news agency cited the spa complex as saying on its Instagram page, which has now been set to private.
“Specifically because of this, after a thorough analysis and evaluation, the difficult decision was made that keeping days for women open in our pool was not viable.”
It is common in the North Caucasus region to find sports facilities offering men and women access on separate days of the week. But a complete ban on women using the pool goes against the Russian constitution, activists said.
Fatima Abdulkhalimova, 31, said she could no longer use the pool despite working there as an instructor.
“I do demonstrations, show people the correct technique, and now I’m not allowed to enter the water,” Abdulkhalimova, a former professional swimmer, said.
“I think it’s to do with religion, I believe it is because a lot of religious guys come here,” she said.
Access to the pool had initially been permitted for both men and women, she said, before being restricted to Fridays only for women.
If having women-only days was not financially viable, then why not simply return to the earlier, mixed-gender system, Abdulkhalimova questioned.
Three women from Dagestan have now filed a complaint to the regional Prosecutor’s Office accusing the sports complex of unconstitutional gender-based discrimination, a copy of the document, shared by Olga Gnezdilova, a lawyer with the Rights Initiative Project, showed.
One of the complainants is Svetlana Anokhina, editor of a local online media platform focused on women’s rights. She said the practice of separating public spaces by gender was on the rise.
“I have a daughter here and she has three daughters too. I’m angry because... I’m afraid for them. I don’t want them to live in a special ghetto for women,” Anokhina, who is based in Makhachkala, said.
One woman, who said she frequently used the pool, said she had been refused a membership pass last month.
Commenting on a post on Instagram she wrote that the pool’s administrators had told her she couldn’t buy a pass because there was not enough locker room space for men.