Maldives, hailed as democracy poster child, turns to Islamist fundamentalism
The tropical Maldives, recently held up as a victory for democracy, has taken a nosedive, says its ousted president. He is now looking for international help.
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During his time as president, Nasheed faced a growing backlash from Islamist groups and their supporters who felt his efforts to have diplomatic relations with Israel and his liberal policies were un-Islamic.Skip to next paragraph
“Nasheed’s failure to take action against the rising radical Islamic ideologies in the Maldives was one of his greatest weaknesses, and it ultimately led to his downfall,” says Naseem. “But, instead of taking steps to restrict extremism, the current government is actively encouraging and feeding it.”
Instability in the Maldives
If the Maldives continues in this direction, other countries, such as China, could come and exploit the situation, says retired Maj. Gen. Dipankar Banerjee, the director of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in India. “Given the Maldives strategic location in the Indian Ocean, instability in the region could have a far-reaching impact on geopolitics.”
More than 80 percent of international trade to and from Asia passes through the Maldives. And while India and the Maldives enjoy strong relations, the nation is also of strategic interest to China.
“China’s foremost interest in the Maldives is to protect its increasingly important supplies of energy that need to transit the Indian Ocean,” wrote Anand Kumar, an associate fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, in a paper on Chinese engagement with the Maldives. “China has been trying to engage with the Maldivian military for decades. It knows very well that a base in the Maldives would put the country in control of the oil routes in the region and give it greater dominance over the sea lanes.”
China is already making inroads in the Maldives through infrastructure projects and supporting the tourism industry. It is also becoming one of the most popular business destinations for Maldivian traders.
“When [former President Maumoon Abdul] Gayoom was in power, China enjoyed much warmer relations with the Maldives than with Nasheed’s administration,” says Mr. Kumar. “If there is a change in the balance of power in the Maldives toward China, this would be a disadvantage to the US because their strategic space in the Indian Ocean would shrink.” The US has a military base in Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean, but it wants to restrict Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean because of its strategic value.
With elections a little more than a year away, the future of the Maldives and the region is still uncertain.
Given the confused nature in which the Maldivian transfer of power took place, India would benefit from an early election held as soon as possible, says Banerjee. “But ultimately that’s up to the Maldivian people.”
Naseem says the international community could play an important role putting pressure on the current Maldivian government to push for elections.
“What we are going through in the Maldives at the moment is an authoritarian reversal at full throttle,” says Naseem. “Democracy is in free fall. The sad thing is, caught up in partisan politics, a large percentage of the Maldivian public remains unaware of the enormity of the loss – it is not merely our first democratically-elected leader that we have lost but democracy itself, and along with it, the right to govern ourselves.”
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