Dinuka Liyanawatte / Courtesy Reuters A Maldivian man looks at a presidential election campaign poster of presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed in Male September 6, 2013.

Democracy, Take Two

The Maldives' Mohamed Nasheed Rises Again, And Why It Matters

Most of the million tourists who visit the Maldives every year leave without seeing even a hint of the political violence that has shaken the country over the past few years. Sipping cocktails in secluded island resorts, one would be hard-pressed to imagine that the islanders were, until five years ago, ruled by Asia’s longest-running dictatorship, that hundreds have been seriously injured in street clashes and at least one senior politician stabbed to death in the street in recent years, and that hard-line political Islamists helped to topple the country’s first-ever democratically elected president only last year.

It can also be difficult to believe that what happens here matters to the rest of the world. But stability in the Maldives -- a Sunni Muslim nation of 300,000 people scattered across almost 1,200 islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean -- is important. The country lies on a major trade route between East Africa and China and could function either as a bulwark against piracy and smuggling or part of the problem. It also demonstrates the danger of Saudi-funded clerics spreading Islamic militancy to once-moderate Muslim countries, potentially threatening neighboring countries such as India. Finally, as the Maldives holds its first post-coup election, it offers important lessons for other nations in transition. Indeed, the challenges it has faced since introducing its new constitution in 2008 -- dealing with the legacy of past authoritarianism and managing the threats unleashed by democracy -- reflect those of other countries undergoing rapid change, from Burma to Egypt and beyond.


For three decades prior to the summer of 2008, one man ruled the Maldives: Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. During his reign -- the longest in Asia at the time -- he did much to boost the tourism industry while brutally suppressing any hint of opposition and allowing poverty, unemployment, and drug abuse to soar. By mid-2008, facing mounting domestic protests and international criticism, he agreed to introduce a new constitution, which led to the country’s first

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