Back in June, I was lucky enough to witness some of the goings on at the 17th meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, including an emergency session on the situation in Libya. While unanimously condemned by the delegates, there was an absence of true revulsion at the situation until the Maldives took the floor. The delegate of this tiny group of islands (population 350,000) released such a passionate and hard-hitting condemnation of Libya it really took me by surprise and made the room squirm. Taking to Twitter (with something along the lines of ‘Go Maldives!” ) led to an RT by @ILoveMaldives, whose little blurb reads “1% Land & 99% Water- In the Maldives We Teach YOu The Art Of DOing Nothing- Please NO News And No Shoes here! :)” [sic]
From this, the Maldives sounded feisty, fun and I wanted to know more. My interest was piqued in a bizarre interview with David Cameron in The Guardian recently when, and bear with me here, street artist Eine hypothetically asked which 5 world leaders Dave would invite on hypothetical stag do, obviously organised by Berlusconi. Part of Dave’s answer was, “My new best friend is the President of the Maldives. He’s great.” What’s going on? Is this a bit like Gordon Brown attempting to boost his popularity by claiming a love for the Arctic Monkeys? Are the Maldives the new Arctic Monkeys?
The BFF in question, President Mohamed Nasheed, has been quietly creeping onto the world stage since election in 2008, taking office from a President who by all accounts ruled with an iron fist from 1978. President Nasheed’s activist roots at first makes you wonder what on earth he and Dave have in common…
Returning to the Maldives in 1989 after a British public school education and graduating with a degree in maritime law from Liverpool, Mohamed Nasheed (nicknamed Anni) was imprisoned and tortured by government forces for speaking out against the regime and accused of spreading Christianity. Nasheed was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International in 1991 and eventually fled the Maldives in 2004 to be granted refugee status in Britain. Following another few years of return, arrest, imprisonment, becoming an MP, losing his seat, regaining his seat, Nasheed was eventually elected President in the first major democratic vote in the Maldives for decades.
Enemies continued to accuse him of spreading Christianity in a muslim country. A BBC article in 2008 claims Nasheed “enjoyed close links to foreign organisations such as Britain’s Conservative Party which undermined the country’s faith. He has strenuously denied the allegations.” The article is unclear whether the strenuous denial applies to spreading Christianity or to having links with the Conservative party. However, it seems the Conservatives had quite a lot to do with Nasheed’s presidential campaign including campaigning advice and even funding.
Cynicism aside, President Nasheed seems to be doing an alright job: the United Nation’s universal periodic review of the Maldives in 2010 uncovers the problems you would expect from a country under transition from dictatorship to democracy, including the population getting to grips with the concept and entitlement of human rights.
Environmental credentials are impressive; as the Maldives is seriously threatened by climate change due to rising sea levels, the aim is for the entire country to be carbon neutral within ten years. Nasheed was named Time Magazine Hero of the Environment in 2009 and one of the UN Champions of the Earth in 2010. Also in 2010, Newsweek placed Nasheed at Number 2 in their top ten of the world’s best leaders. And Number 1? David Cameron. I get the feeling this isn’t the last we’ve heard of this ‘special relationship’.