Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the then Maldivian ambassador to the UN was voted the President and ruled it for three decades successively. It was under him that the country achieved an international profile and became a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) and the Commonwealth. Gayoom was replaced by Mohammed Nasheed in 2008 after Nasheed fought against the government, demanding democracy and freedoms that weren’t allowed the Maldivian people at the time, even going to prison for his controversial criticisms and actions.
For a while Nasheed’s whirlwind democracy seemed to be solely focused on climate change and environmental policy and going so far as to hold a one-of-a-kind underwater, ‘scuba’ cabinet meeting. Perhaps fitting for a president of the low-lying Maldives islands, he has been recognized internationally for his eco-efforts and has even been referred to as an ‘eco-rock star’.
However, this focus on environmental preservation, albeit good news for tourists, also lead to further radicalization of certain Islamic groups within the Maldives, and also a dichotomy amongst his followers and the Gayoom Loyalists, who all started to question president Nasheed’s policies.
After the 2012 coup d’etat, the Maldivian president was deposed and the vice president Dr. Mohamed Waheed Hassan was declared the president. On November 2014 the current president His Excellency Yamin Abdul Gayoom was elected on after beating the President Nasheed.
In the 20th century, development started slowly due to the Second World War during which some real hardships like shortage of rice and other basic necessities, the outbreak of illness happened that killed a significant amount of the population. In 1942, the Maldives declared itself a republic for the first time, and built a new constitution and elected a new president, Mohammed Amin Didi. A subsequent interlude of Sultanate ruling appeared during which the Maldives received its independence from the British, on 26 July 1965, and also joined the United Nations.
Two years after, the sultanate was declared over, and the second republic was established, with Ibrahim Nasir as president.
There are several versions of the Portuguese occupation of the Maldivian isles. One of them states that this was part of their attempt to expand trade over the Indian Ocean and had only set up a trading post in the country, while another describes the construction of a fort and a factory in Malé, the island from which the Sultan ruled, and soon overpowered the sultanate following which Captain Andreas Andre ruled for the next 15 years. The Portuguese were inevitably defeated by Mohammed Thakurufaanu, a national hero, who succeeded in defeating the outsiders.
The Portuguese and the rajahs of Cannanore in South India had tried several times to take control of the islands, but the Maldivians requested protection from the Dutch. What kept the Dutch and the rest of Europe possibly, including the British from colonizing the islands themselves was probably due to the severe conditions in the islands at the time, like the lack of good ports, the persistent malaria and other infections, the remoteness and other factors.
Finally, only to save Maldives from the dominating trade of Bombay Borah merchants, the ruling sultan formalized the status of the British as protector by signing a treaty.
En Route to the Far East, Arabian traders frequently stopped at the Maldives as a pit stop to the Far East countries. Arabs have been in the Maldives since the 2nd century AD during which time the Maldives was known as Dibajat. The island nation was also referred to as the ‘Money Isles’, due to the fact that the beaches of the country had huge quantities of cowry shells, which were once used as currency.
The person entitled with the savior of the Maldivian people was Abu Al Barakat, a North African Arab, who converted the Maldivian people to the Islamic Religion. Following that, the country was ruled by six dynasties of sultanates before invaders from Portugal arrived.
Thor Heyerdahl a prominent archaeologist had discovered that the Maldives was a trading point for many empires like the Romans, Egyptians, Indus Valley and Mesopotamians as long as since about 2000 BC. Before the presence of Buddhists was established about 500 BC, it is believed that sun-worshippers called the Redhin were present in the Maldives. Excavations have found the likes of Buddhist stupas and idols, which reveal the Buddhist roots of the Maldivian people.
The vibrant history of the Maldivian people was shrouded in mystery and sand, until several archaeological sites were excavated. To the surprise – and perhaps horror – of the 100% Muslim country, the country turned out to have a culture that was essentially Buddhist.
Tourism and visiting the local island communities was strictly regulated until recently. Only now, the tourists visiting the Maldives are beginning to discover the inherent beauty that isn’t as manicured as one finds in resort settings.