Comment: Is peace merely the absence of violent conflict?

Hundreds of peals of islands, azure lagoons, and white sandy beaches scattered over 90,000 square kilometres in the middle of Indian Ocean, making up the Muslim nation the Maldives. This tropical archipelago is isolated from the rest of the world, attracting thousands of high-class honeymooners, holiday makers and celebrities.

The Maldives has been branded internationally as a luxury tourist destination by selling the three products gifted by nature: sun, sand and sea. The Maldives is reputed internationally for its peace, tranquillity and harmony, unlike the killings, attacks and explosions seen in some of the conflicted areas like Jammu, Kashmir and Afghanistan.

Maldives is formed of 1,190 islands, with a 100 percent Muslim population of 300,000. Around 200 islands are inhabited, and nearly 100 islands are developed as luxury tourist resorts.

Political instability

The concealed dark side of the Maldives was exposed to the world in 2003, when a prisoner in Maafushi Jail – the largest prison in the Maldives – was beaten to death.

For the first time in the recent history, public unrest rocked the country, and the headlines of the Maldive politics printed in the international media. The incident triggered a prison riot, killing three more inmates and injuring many more. Further, multiple protests erupted in the capital city Male’, and blazing fires in several state-owned buildings and properties.

The protests and demonstrations gave an impression to the world that although the tourists were invited to rest on the beaches in the Maldives, there was no real peace for the citizens during Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s regime, had ruled since November 11, 1978. During his dictatorial regime, political opponents’ movements were suppressed and there was no free media. The citizens were controlled by the state, the same way we see in communist regimes like Libya and North Korea. The executive, legislative and judiciary were under direct control of the president.

Journey for a democracy

On 12 August 2004, thousands of frustrated Maldivians gathered in the Republic Square of the capital Male’ demanding freedom, the same manner in which we have recently witnessed gatherings in Egypt’s Tahrir Square to oust the dictator Hosni Mubarak.

To disperse the crowd, a state of emergency was declared by the Gayoom’s government and mass arrests were made. This led to heavy criticism internationally, forcing Gayoom to launch a reform agenda.

During the reform process, the new changes introduced by Gayoom included appointing young intellectuals to the cabinet, establishing independent institutions (like the Human Rights Commission, Elections Commission, Judicial Services Commission, Civil Service Commission, Anti-Corruption Commission and Police Integrity Commission), drafting a new penal code and giving the authority to form political parties through the parliament (Peoples Majlis). The first registered political party is the current ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

The new reforms improved human rights, governance and press freedom. The ratification of the new constitution on August 7, 2008, which was drafted by the constitutional assembly, guaranteed greater rights for citizens like freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and right to information.

Mainly, the new constitution had separated the state into three powers, executive, legislative and judiciary.

The voting results of the first multi-party elections in October 2008 proved that the people had really wanted a change. The ruler of 30 years was ousted by his political opponent, MDP candidate Mohamed Nasheed, the current president.


Today, some people make the justification that the countries which are not experiencing violent conflict, like Saudi Arabia, are peaceful nations. But this is a false assumption. This is the peace which is portrayed by the media; giving the readers, listeners and viewers a feeling that violent conflict only obstructs peace.

But realistically, the situation cannot be understood by just a shallow exploration. But it should be analysed much deeper and more broadly to know the real situation. This is what Maldives history has taught us.

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