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

The first sign of trouble came when the phone rang at seven in the morning. Maldivians tend to be nocturnal; a call before noon means that the caller was either up all night or that something big is happening. On the morning of February 7, 2012, both were the case.

My informant called to tell me he had spent the night watching the Maldives Police Service turn on supporters of the government-aligned Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). The party had pushed for and won the first free and fair elections in the Maldives barely three years earlier, but as the police and citizens protested in Malé’s main square, it became apparent that the nation’s newborn democracy was on fire. Who provided the gasoline that fueled the flames was less clear.

In 2005, the Maldives embarked on a remarkable experiment in democracy. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom had ruled the country for 30 years through a

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