Earlier this year, on 7 February, the democratically elected president of the Maldives (a small island chain in the Indian Ocean) was forced to step down. Acting presumably under the influence of the country’s former dictator, members of the main opposition party succeeded in convincing elements of the armed forces to oust President Mohamed Nasheed. Rather than taking a heavy-handed approach, President Nasheed opted for the path of nonviolence, and unlike former leaders, chose to resign instead of going out guns blazing. To dramatize the political situation there, countering the perception that what happened in February was at all legitimate, the Maldivian metal band Traphic Jam has written a scathing protest song called “Bagaavai” — or “coup d’état” in Dhivehi.
All talk of the coup aside, President Nasheed is actually a rather interesting figure — almost without equal among heads of state. In 2008 he led a nonviolent movement for democracy in the Maldives, culminating in free elections in which the dictator Maumoon Gayoom, at that point in power a full 30 years, was finally removed from power.
He’s also been a very active voice in raising international awareness about climate change, given the fact that no point in the Maldives sits over six feet above sea level. As part of his efforts to save the country from a projected rise in tides that could see it underwater by the end of the century, Nasheed pledged to make the Maldives the first carbon-neutral country in modern history by 2020, in hopes that other nations would follow suit.
In 2009 he held an underwater cabinet meeting to dramatize the plight of his country, providing one of the most remarkably effective visuals in modern memory to educate about climate change. Nasheed and his struggle are the subjects of a brand new documentary called The Island President, for which Radiohead — in a political move in and of itself — agreed to compose the soundtrack.
If you’re interested in learning more, Waging Nonviolence recently conducted an interview with the island president where he speaks about this and all manner of things in a very candid look.
As to the current political situation in the Maldives, Nasheed is currently touring countries around the world, raising awareness about the need for early elections, which he hopes will give him a chance to prove that the weight of civil society is still behind him. If you’d like to follow what’s happening there, check out: www.democracymaldives.com.