Paradise in Peril

LONDON – With Amal Clooney, the human-rights lawyer who recently married the actor George Clooney, acting as your advocate, you would think that your case would grab headlines. And yet Mohamed Nasheed – the Maldives’ first democratically elected president, who was just sentenced to 13 years imprisonment for unnamed “terrorist offenses” by the military-backed government that overthrew him in 2012 – seems to have fallen off the world’s radar.

This is bad news for the Maldives, where the fate of a fledgling democratic regime is inextricably tied to that of Nasheed. And, with radical Islam gaining traction on the archipelago, it does not bode well for the rest of the world, either.

Nasheed’s predecessor, Maumoon Gayoom, who won the presidency in a 1978 parliamentary vote, adopted an authoritarian style, and subjected the country to three decades of misrule. While Gayoom oversaw the archipelago’s transformation into a popular holiday destination, it was he and his associates – not ordinary citizens – who benefited from the tourist industry’s success.

Nasheed’s victory in a free and fair popular vote in 2008 offered the promise of a brighter future for the conservative Muslim country. The new president – intelligent, eloquent, and enthusiastic about what his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) could deliver for the Maldives – introduced a more secular tone to political rhetoric, while working to impress upon the world the threat to his low-lying island country posed by global warming.