Former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed has
expressed concerns about the state of democracy in
his home country, noting the dividing effect of a
rising tide of Islamist extremism. In the midst of
a tour of the United States that "includes an
award from the International Center on Nonviolent
Conflict", Nasheed, speaking at the US Institute
of Peace (USIP), said: "People don't want radical
Islam to take over."
Indeed, sharia law, a
source of dispute between Islamic fundamentalists
and modernists over its modern-day implementation
in Maldives, serves as a supplement to Maldivian
According to the country's
constitution, citizens are not allowed to engage
in actions at odds with sharia law, and judges
"educated in Islamic
sharia or law".
According to the Pew
Research Center, there were 309,000 Muslims in
Maldives in 2010, a number that it projected to
grow to 396,000 by 2030. According to the 2008
Maldivian constitution, "the 13th in the country's
history", a non-Muslim is not allowed to become a
Maldivian citizen, unless already a citizen.
At a news conference in New Delhi in
April, Nasheed had been even more forthcoming
about what he perceives as a threat. "There are
radical elements within the military and within
the cabinet," he said.
groups want to have a better hold on society,
because they have found an inroad into power
through the current government."
February, Nasheed was ousted from power in a coup
d'etat, replaced by his vice-president, Mohammed
Waheed Hassan. Conflicting reports have said
Nasheed stepped down peacefully or was forced out
at gunpoint, by forces loyal to former president
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom or Hassan.
had been president for four years, having taken
over for the third president, Gayoom, after years
of civil unrest. Gayoom was voted out of office in
2008, after 30 years as an autocratic ruler of
One of his biggest critics was
Nasheed, a journalist by trade, who in a 1990
article in the political magazine Sangu alleged
that the previous year's elections had been
After the publication of the
article, Nasheed was allegedly tortured twice and
placed in solitary confinement for 18 months. He
was detained more than a dozen times between 1989
and 2005. In the process, he earned himself the
moniker of the "Mandela of the Maldives".
At the heart of the struggle between the
two major political parties, Nasheed's Maldivian
Democratic Party (MDP) and Gayoom's Progressive
Party of the Maldives, is a tussle over the role
of Islam in the newly minted democratic state.
Religious tensions have often been at the root of
politics in Maldives, which has seen significant
push and pull between secularism and
In the aftermath, some
officials and Nasheed himself pointed out that his
more secularist views, including an attempt to
have a school curriculum and legal system based
not solely on sharia, might have led to small but
powerful factions calling for his political
The founder of the MDP, Mohamed
Latheef, pinned a rise in extremism on Gayoom,
saying he had perpetrated the upsurge. "He is the
person who brought Islamic fundamentalism into the
country. Before he came into power, there weren't
all these madrassas exposing extremist forms of
Islam at all," he said.
"Now he has been
using Islam as a tool of governance."
Meanwhile, Gayoom and his supporters
accused the Nasheed government throughout his
presidency of being guilty of cooperating with
Christian missionaries and Jewish parties, in an
effort to "wipe out Islam" from Maldives,
according to the Minivan News.
One of the
first signs of the growth of Islamic fanaticism in
Maldives was when a Maldivian man named Ibrahim
Fauzee was arrested in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2002.
He was arrested for alleged links to al-Qaeda and
was taken to Guantanamo Bay, though he was
released several years later.
Maldivian society at large has reportedly become
In 2006, when
the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom
of religion and belief, Asma Jahangir, visiting a
Maldives still under the rule of Gayoom, she
stated that religious freedom was being
"vigorously denied, and the few that dare to raise
their voices are denounced and threatened".
In December 2011, Ismail Rasheed, a
Maldivian journalist, organized and took part in a
demonstration in the Maldivian capital Male,
calling for religious tolerance. He was
subsequently arrested for his "involvement in an
unlawful assembly", according to the Ministry of
Watchdog groups around
the world responded loudly to Rasheed's detention.
Amnesty International named the journalist a
prisoner of conscience. Reporters Without Borders
noted: "Religion is becoming a taboo subject in
the Maldives and media workers are under threat of
imprisonment every time it is debated."
This month, Rasheed was nearly killed
after he was throat was slit, barely missing a
major artery. Reporters Without Borders, stating
that Rasheed has made many enemies with his
confrontational blogging, claimed that that it
"has all the hallmarks of a targeted murder
Nasheed's ascension to power, a
peaceful precursor to the Arab Spring, was viewed
as a major step toward freedom of speech and
religion, given his background as a journalist.
However, it has taken a hit in recent months.
As political turmoil ensued in February
after the ouster of Nasheed, a half-dozen men
entered the Maldives National Museum and destroyed
Buddhist artifacts, including a large depiction of
the Buddha's head, one of the few remnants of what
was a predominant Buddhist culture on the island
Ali Waheed, the director of
the National Museum, bemoaned the demolition of
the culturally and historically significant
artifacts. "The collection was totally, totally
smashed," Waheed said. "The whole pre-Islamic
history is gone."
Officials claimed that
the men attacked the figures because they viewed
the sculptures as idols, thus illegal under sharia
and national law.
While the situation in
Maldives mirrors the situation in the Arab Spring,
with the overthrow of a dictator, the vandalism of
major museums and the attacks on journalists,
Nasheed sees it as an opportunity.
that what has happened in the Maldives," Nasheed
said at the USIP, "would help us in trying to
understand what might happen in Tunisia, in Egypt,
in Libya, in Syria and so on."