Trouble in Paradise: Coup d'etat in the Maldives
The Maldives, a collection of low-lying islands in the Pacific are known primarily as an exclusive holiday destination; a relaxed nation of paradisical beaches. It was with some surprise that on 7 February 2012, following a year characterised by the ‘Arab Spring’, the Maldives became the latest Islamic country to erupt into political chaos as President Mohamed Nasheed resigned after a coup d’etat.
three decades the Maldives were ruled as an autocracy by President
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. His regime, though long-lasting, was frequently
criticised for corruption, nepotism and censorship of the press. There
was growing international concern over alleged abuses of human rights
and police brutality. In 2008, his rule ended after Mohamed Nasheed was
democratically elected to the presidency with 54% of the vote.
As an ardent critic of Gayoom’s regime, Nasheed had been arrested and detained in prison several times in the years prior to his election, earning him the nickname ‘Mandela of the Maldives’, and status as an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience. When elected in 2008, Nasheed was widely regarded as a progressive politician set to bring reform to a young democracy, and drew numerous accolades from the international community for his strong commitment to global warming; an issue of especial concern to an island nation existing only a few metres above sea-level.
Behind the outward progress, and what was arguably a Western perception of Nasheed’s rule, instability was ever-present. Nasheed was continually criticised by hard-line Islamists for a supposed deviation from Islam, for permitting liberalisation, and for being influenced by Christians and Jews. Many of the rumours were untrue, but dissent was fomented. For the many tourists whose only experience of the Maldives is an isolated stay in a luxury hotel complex, it is hard to believe that the country is underpinned by such a strong religious environment – alcohol is banned from everywhere but hotels, and Sunni Islam is mandated as a national religion. In recent years, Islamic fundamentalism has also been fostered by preachers from abroad. Underscoring the religious overtones of opposition to Nasheed, in the aftermath of the coup d’etat, a group of men destroyed a collection of ancient Hindu and Buddhist statues in the Maldives National Museum.
The opposition-led protests that led to the coup began in January and were sparked by Nasheed’s arrest of a judge who was stalling an investigation into the last government’s corruption. During his three years in power, Nasheed also struggled to push through his reforms in the face of opposition, and found it difficult to rid his government of Gayoom’s cabinet. Now that Nasheed has stepped down from power, it is telling that the newly formed cabinet of Mohammed Waheed Hassan has been refilled with ministers from Gayoom’s era. Amidst the uncertainty surrounding his resignation, it is yet to be seen how this will affect the future of the Maldives and whether stability will be restored.