When I visited the Maldives with my friends from Thermal And A Quarter in 2010, the island nation impressed me, besides its obvious natural beauty, as a land of a restless people. The death metal bands were loud, their cries of revolution insistent, and its youth possessed of an unexplained angst. Why, we wondered. After all, the Maldives had slipped out of a three-decade-long, near-dictatorial regime of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 2008, when President Mohamed Nasheed, a long-time pro-democracy activist often hailed as the “Mandela of the Maldives”, was sworn in after a bitterly contested, hard-won democratic electoral process. Under Nasheed, the Maldives appeared to look ahead, confront the threat of climate change assertively (much of Maldives is only a few meters above sea level) and rebuild its life-blood, the tourism industry, which had been battered by Asian Tsunami of December 2004. Posses of podgy armed guards in fatigues roamed the streets, automatic firearms at the ready. They patrolled the small crowded streets in trucks, watching over peaceful but noisy processions of flag-bearing schoolchildren. We never quite understood why — our questions received shrugs for answers. We just got this by way of an answer: “The President must continuously watch out for himself.” With a little polite ferreting we learned that Gayoom, though not usually in the country, still controlled the big pieces on the board, an outcome of his longstanding influence.
Last week presented the sum of all fears. After days of rioting in which police joined protesters, Nasheed was overthrown in what he described afterwards as a coup d’état. His deputy Mohammed Waheed Hassan was sworn in as President. The situation is developing. There are alleged corruption charges against Nasheed, and his political foes have ganged up.
A friend in the Maldives told me on Facebook that he was “hoping that this would end as soon as possible. This is something I never wanted to see in my (life), especially in Maldives.”
Looking back at that lovely week in the Maldives, I posted a photo-essay on Yahoo! India Travel, which I edit.
Here it is: