Few of the million or so tourists who visit the Maldives each year would catch even a whiff of the troubled politics or growing militant threat roiling the islands of one of the world’s most renowned get-away-from-it-all destinations, writes Bryson Hull for Reuters.
“Taking a page from the book of Gayoom, Nasheed ordered [Chief Judge Abdulla] Mohamed’s arrest and defied a Supreme Court release order, sparking more than three weeks of sometimes-violent protests by opposition parties that scented a chance for their own Arab Spring in the Indian Ocean.
The reason, Nasheed says, is because the judge, like the other 200-odd criminal court judges, was illegally sworn in for a life term and has blocked every attempt to bring multi-million-dollar corruption, rights abuse and criminal cases against Gayoom’s allies and relatives.
“Gayoom is running the judiciary,” Nasheed said. “When he lost the presidency, he was clever enough to carve out a territory and hide there, or get protected there. And none of the cases are moving.”
So to make good on his electoral promise to enact a new constitution and establish an independent judiciary, Nasheed says he has acted outside of it.
“You have to push everyone to the brink and tell them ‘You do this or we all fall’,” Nasheed told Reuters in an interview at the presidential bungalow in Male, the capital island.
“I think it would be so wrong of me not to tackle this simply because I might fall or simply because people may raise eyebrows.”
And it has done just that, drawing private diplomatic rebukes from Western nations which backed his ascendancy to lead the archipelago of 1,200 islands out of 30 years of Gayoom’s rule, which was widely criticised as dictatorial.
“It’s just indefensible. It’s almost like Nelson Mandela coming out and locking up all the white people,” a businessman based in Male who works with a government-linked company told Reuters, asking not to be identified.
But while the political fray goes on with all eyes on the 2013 presidential election, Maldivian intelligence officers and Western officials say hardline Salafist and Wahabist groups are gaining political ground in the more distant atolls and making a beachhead in Male.
The capital island is home to almost 200,000 of the Maldives’ 330,000 people, all Sunni Muslims. It is also home to the majority of the estimated 30,000 people on the islands who are addicted to heroin, according to UN estimates.
“It’s potentially a tropical Afghanistan. The same forces that gave rise to the Taliban are there – the drugs, the corruption and the behavior of the political class,” a Colombo-based Western ambassador who is responsible for the Maldives told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“The Salafists are taking over atoll after atoll. They work on the ground and it is insidious. Nero is definitely fiddling while Rome burns.”‘