Mention the Maldives, and an image of an idyllic holiday paradise, clear blue water, pristine beaches and luxury resorts comes to mind, writes Jared Genser, a human rights lawyer and adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Centre, for the Huffington Post.
The Indian Ocean archipelago with a population of little more than 300,000 rarely features on the world’s political agenda. On February 7, however, the tiny nation was gripped by political turmoil as its nascent democracy was strangled in its infancy. Mohamed Nasheed, the Maldives’ first democratically-elected president, was forced to resign at gunpoint by a cabal of rebel police, Islamists, and his own deputy, with the former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom pulling the strings.
This was a coup, yet it has been accepted as a legitimate transfer of power. Reactions from around the world have been astonishing in their weakness. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake visiting Male’ merely said “some people say it was a coup, some people say it was a peaceful and constitutional transfer of power. That is not for the U.S. to decide, that is for the Maldivians.” Yet, even the new president’s own brother Naushad Waheed Hassan resigned from his position as Acting High Commissioner of the Maldives in the United Kingdom stating, “I cannot serve a regime that brought down the democratically-elected government in a coup d’etat” saying to his brother, “[D]o the right thing — resign and hold fresh elections. Let the people of Maldives decide.”
As president, Nasheed set about cleaning up the country’s corrupt institutions, instituting democracy and fighting climate change. Greeted as a hero by environmentalists for his efforts to secure an agreement on climate change at the Copenhagen summit, he warned that the Maldives would cease to exist due to rising water levels if the issue was not tackled. He became a role model for democratic transition in the Muslim world, and was a precursor to the Arab Spring.
It was his determined effort to take on vested interests in the Maldives, however, that led to his downfall. The judiciary is stacked with Gayoom’s appointees, who have done everything they could to obstruct reform and protect corrupt members of the old regime. A month ago, he ordered the arrest of Abdullah Mohamed, chief judge of the criminal court, on charges of corruption and political bias. The judge had a track record failing to follow the law, and now it was their turn to protect him. Demonstrations began, stirred up by Islamists who see Nasheed as too liberal.