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Radical Islamists Taking over Maldives!

Interesting Article: "Maldives President Agrees to Investigation" by VOA news / Maldives published Saturday, February 11th, 2012

An interesting article mentioned that the new president of the Maldives has agreed to a probe about his rise to power. Mohammed Waheed Hassan told U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake Saturday that he was willing to submit to an independent investigation about his political takeover. Blake was sent to the Indian Ocean nation to help mediate the country's deepening political crisis.  He met Saturday with Hassan and former president Mohamed Nasheed. Mr. Nasheed resigned Tuesday after numerous calls by protesters and police officers for him to step down. He said he was the victim of a military-backed coup.  His former deputy, Hassan, was sworn in as president hours later. Washington recognized Hassan's administration Thursday, but then stepped back from the declaration, saying circumstances surrounding the transfer of power needed to be "clarified." The first democratically elected president of the Maldives, Mohammad Nasheed, lived up to his democratic credentials when he stepped down in the face of protests and a ‘mutiny' by some police and army officers. In doing so, Nasheed ensured that innocent blood was not spilt and people within the country did not fight among themselves. So what is going on in the Maldives?

Since stepping down, Mr. Nasheed (see picture on right) has called for early elections and has threatened street protests. He has vowed to remain in the country even though a warrant for his arrest was issued Thursday, following clashes Wednesday between police and Mr. Nasheed's supporters in the capital, Male and several outlying islands.

Before discussing the Maldivian political upheaval, a little bit about the country itself. The Maldive Islands is an island nation in the Indian Ocean formed by a double chain of twenty-six atolls. It stands in the Laccadive Sea, about 700 kilometres (430 mi) south-west of Sri Lanka and 400 kilometres (250 mi) south-west of India. During the colonial era, the Dutch referred to the country as "Maldivische Eilanden" in their documentation, while "Maldive Islands" is the anglicized version of the local name used by the British, which later came to be written "Maldives". Maldives is the smallest Asian country in both population and land area.

The ancient Sri Lankan chronicle Mahawamsa refers to an island called Mahiladiva ("Island of Women") in Pali, which is probably a mistranslation of the same Sanskrit word meaning "garland". The Mahawamsa is derived from an even older Sinhala word dating back to the 2nd century BC. Maldives is a presidential republic, with the President as head of government and head of state. The President heads the executive branch and appoints the cabinet which is approved by the People's Majlis (Parliament). Following the introduction of a new constitution in 2008, direct elections for the President take place every five years, with a limit of two terms in office for any individual.
The Maldivian economy is to a large degree based on tourism. Today, the Maldives' largest industry is tourism, accounting for 28% of GDP and more than 60% of the Maldives' foreign exchange receipts. Fishing is the second leading sector. Islam is the official religion of the Maldives and open practice of any other religion is forbidden and liable to prosecution. The Maldives ranks high on the list of governments that restrict religious freedom.

Prior to 2008, Maldives did not have a constitution which guaranteed fundamental human rights. For 30 years, from 1978 until 2008, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom served as president. During the later part of his rule, independent political movements emerged in Maldives, which challenged the then-ruling Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (Maldivian People's Party) and demanded democratic reform. These movements brought about significant change in political structure. In 2008 a new constitution was approved and the first direct presidential elections occurred, which were won by Mohamed Nasheed and Dr. Mohammed Waheed Hassan (as Vice-President) in the second round. The government of President Mohamed Nasheed faced many challenges, including the economic downturn following the 2004 tsunami, overspending (by means of overprinting of local currency Ruffiya) during his regime, global warming, unemployment, corruption, and increasing drug use. On 10 November 2008, Nasheed announced intent to create a sovereign wealth fund with money earned from tourism that could be used to purchase land elsewhere for the Maldives people to relocate should rising sea levels due to climate change inundate the country. The government is reportedly considering locations in Sri Lanka and India due to cultural and climate similarities, and as far away as Australia.

On 16 January 2012, the Maldives military, on orders from President Nasheed, arrested Judge Abdulla Mohamed, the chief justice of the Maldives Criminal Court, on charges he was blocking prosecution of corruption and human rights cases against allies of former president Gayoom. This sparked protests against Nasheed's government by opposition supporters, calling for him to step down, soon leading to counter-protests by Nasheed supporters. On 7 February, Nasheed ordered the police and army to subdue the anti-government protesters, but many members of the police and army instead joined the opposition protesters, who then seized offices of the national TV station, and called for Nasheed to step down. The police and military took Nasheed into custody, and gave him the choice of stepping down, or to face repercussions. Nasheed resigned, and went to his home, expecting to be placed under house arrest, where he described his ouster as a coup. Nasheed's vice president, Mohamed Waheed, was sworn in as president immediately following the departure, and Gayoom's Democratic Party is rallying for elections in 2013.

Mohamed Nasheed is a Maldivian politician and the founder of the Maldivian Democratic Party. Nasheed was held in prison for an article in the political magazine Sangu, published in 1990, in which he alleged the Maldivian government had rigged the 1989 general election. Because of his imprisonment, he was made an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience in 1991. In June 2009, the Anna Lindh Memorial Fund awarded Nasheed, the 2009 Anna Lindh Award for the instrumental role he played in bringing democracy to the Maldives and in recognition of his efforts on the world stage to highlight the dangers of climate change by bringing people and their human rights at the heart of the debate. In 2010, he was named by Foreign Policy magazine to its list of top global thinkers. In a 2011 interview with The Guardian, British Prime Minister David Cameron described Nasheed as 'my new best friend' and said that he, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy and John Key would be the five world leaders Cameron would invite on his stag weekend.

The sad thing about the removal of Nasheed was that, after he came to power in 2008, advised by a team of British Conservative Party campaigners, Mr Nasheed privatized the country's main airport, introduced compulsory private health insurance, and imposed a tax system to make the country self-reliant.

The emergence of hard-line Islam in the Maldives, a relatively new development for the country, has sparked off concerns in India that it could be used as a potential base for Islamist militants. It also raises questions about the stability of the Maldives, which is located on a strategically important sea route used for transporting a large portion of the world's crude oil. The rise of conservative Islam in the Maldives could also affect the tourism industry, as the development of spas and bars in the country has angered some Islamist leaders. “There are some fringe religious extremist elements and we hope the radicalism doesn't hamper the Maldives' image as a tourist destination," an Indian government official said.

Islamists calling for jihad played a significant role in anti-government protests against President Mohamed Nasheed leading to his resignation from office. Nasheed’s government was dealt a severe blow with exit of the Adhaalath Party, a local Islamist group from the coalition government, in protest against the government's decision to allow an Israeli airline to land in the Maldives. What is further disturbing is that the party of Mohamed Jameel, who was sworn in as home minister this week, issued a pamphlet last month in the local language entitled, "President Nasheed's Devious Plot to Destroy the Islamic Faith of Maldivians," according to a translation reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
The pamphlet claimed that empty bottles of alcohol, which is proscribed for Maldivians, were found in offices of Nasheed's government. Ahmed Naseem, the country's recently ousted foreign minister had faced opposition at home when he became the first Maldivian official to visit Israel. Naseem claimed that around 40 Maldivians were known to have forged links with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In the weeks leading up to Tuesday's ouster of President Mohamed Nasheed, his political adversaries fomented opposition among conservative Muslims by claiming Mr. Nasheed's government was trying to undermine their faith. A Western diplomat said the nexus between Islamists and some politicians was a concern for the nation's stability. Mr. Gayoom, during his 30-year rule, kept a lid on extremism and even reportedly forced politicians to cut their beards. But with the advent of democracy, expressions of conservative Islamic beliefs have risen, according to the U.S. State Department. Floggings of women for pre- or extramarital sex are on the rise, activists say. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called for an end to the practice during a visit to the Maldives late last year, causing complaints from some Muslims. A group of Islamist organizations organized a rally in December in Male, the capital, which was attended by thousands of people protesting against Mr. Nasheed for failing to defend Quranic law and calling for a ban on spas and liquor parlors catering to foreign tourists.

After the December rally, the participation of Muslim extremists in antigovernment protests grew. During demonstrations earlier this week, a group of Islamists, their faces covered, trashed Buddhist statues in the National Museum. For now, tourism hasn't suffered visibly. Most visitors are ferried to their resorts on uninhabited atolls, where alcohol is allowed. But as numbers grow, more tourists also are stopping off in Male, causing frictions.

"There are some fringe religious extremist elements and we hope the radicalism doesn't hamper the Maldives' image as a tourist destination," an Indian government official said Friday. So far, the only attack on Maldivian soil took place in 2007, when 12 tourists were injured in a small bomb blast in a park in central Male. Police made some arrests but said the ringleaders escaped to Pakistan.
Let us hope that these Islamists can be rooted out by the powers that be and Nasheed can return Maldives to the beautiful tourist islands it is known for.

"Maldives Unveils Worlds First Virtual Embassy" (Press release). Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 22 May 2007.
Thomas W. D. Davis (11 August 2011). Human Rights in Asia. Edward Elgar Publishing. pp. 33–. ISBN 978-1-84844-680-9. Retrieved 24 December 2011.
James Lyon (2003-10). Maldives By James Lyon. Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd. p. 9. ISBN 9781740591768.
David Levinson (1947). Ethnic groups worldwide: a ready reference handbook. Oryx Publishers. ISBN 9781573560191. Retrieved 1 February 2011.
Henley, Jon (11 November 2008). "The last days of paradise". The Guardian (London).
""Foreign Policy Magazine"". Retrieved 9 February 2012.
"The Dregs of Dictatorship". The New York Times. 8 February 2012.
"New Maldives president sworn in". BBC News. 11 November 2008.
Maldives ex-president Mohamed Nasheed was 'forced out'" BBC News:World:Asia 8 February 2012
"Heroes of the Environment 2008: Leaders & Visionaries: Mohamed Nasheed", Ishaan Tharoor, Time
Peter Debruge (12 September 2011). "The Island President (Docu)". Variety.
"David Cameron, we have a few questions for you…". The Guardian (London). 25 November 2011.
Report 'Fathuruverikamuge Tharaggeege Dhuveli, 35 Aharu' translated to english 'Pace of Tourism, 35 years'Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation, volume 23.


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