Tag Archives: Maldives

The one to watch resigns.

In December, I wrote about my fascination with the Maldives and its President, declaring him ‘one to watch’ in 2012. The first democratically elected Maldives President in over 30 years, Nasheed was the darling of environmentalists and our own Prime Minister, who declared Nasheed “my new best friend” in a Guardian interview.

Yesterday, President Nasheed resigned after protests over his rule and an army presence at his house forced him to step down. Reports of a ‘spectacular fall from grace’, a ‘political crisis’ and a ‘coup’, have been reported and the vice president, Mohammed Waheed Hassan, quickly sworn in as leader.

It seems that while being praised worldwide, domestically Nasheed was not popular.  Rising prices fuelled discontent among the people, but the final straw seems to be the controversial decision to arrest the chief judge of the Criminal Court, who released from prison an opposition activist who had been arrested without a warrant and therefore detained illegally.  So far so normal in the new found power to the people sweeping the world.

However, there are some details that don’t add up to a grassroots demand for change. Nasheed faced constant opposition from supporters of the previous long time ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and from religious conservatives who have long accused Nasheed of being anti-Islamic and trying to introduce Christianity into the country. Even if arresting the judge was a mistake, the opposition party is said to have fuelled the protests, encouraging the police and army to defect.

Nasheed has deep activists roots and has faced persecution in his own country, forcing him to flee several times (finding refuge in Britain) before being elected President in 2008. One of the criticisms levelled against him is that he is trying to moderate this Muslim country. As if in verification of this, 100 bottles of alcohol were found among Presidential belongings removed on his resignation. Possession of alcohol (outside of a tourist compound) is a crime in the Maldives and carries a punishment of 3 years in jail a fine, or banishment. As the opposition becomes more and more vicious, a ‘find’ like this (100 bottles of alcohol??) does raise questions.

Nasheed resigned with a statement saying he refused to use force to restore order on the street. Police and some of the army had joined in the protests at this time and it was feared the protests would turn violent. Nasheed has since made a statement saying he was forced to resign at gunpoint but would not say who was pointing the gun.

Elections are scheduled for 2013 and at the moment it is expected Hassan will take charge until then. However, in light of the last 24 hours, the Maldives is still the one to watch. Unfortunately for very different reasons.

REALTIME: Protests against Nasheed’s removal from power are already taking place in the capital Male; according to Twitter users teargas has been fired and Nasheed himself is amongst the protesters.

 

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The Maldives on the map and finding a fan in Cameron.

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’.

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