Ever since Barack Obama’s gaffe at the Summit of the Americas, the Maldives have mainly been a punchline in the US — but the situation in the Indian Ocean island-chain nation is far from lighthearted, according to the recently-ousted president. After being forced under threat of violence to resign, Mohamed Nasheed accused India and the Obama administration of betraying him in favor of the coup leaders, and warned that radical Islamists are now beginning to take control:
Saying he was saddened and shocked by the speed with which his friends in Washington had abandoned him, the former president of Maldives warned Thursday that radical Islam has gained ground across the sprawling Indian Ocean archipelago since he was deposed in February.
Mohamed Nasheed won the presidency in Maldives’s first multiparty elections in 2008, after a lifetime advocating democracy and human rights and several long stints in jail.
Less than three years later, he was forced to resign by an angry mob of police officers and soldiers, in what he says was a coup engineered by his autocratic predecessor.
“We have to have an election,” he said in an interview while visiting the Indian capital, New Delhi. “In the absence of that, Islamic radicals are gaining strength in the Maldives.”
Nasheed pointed out that the Islamists, mainly Wahhabists, have been trying for decades to get a political toehold in the Maldives, best known as either a tropical tourist spot or mistaken for British islands in the South Atlantic. In the 2008 elections, Islamists didn’t win any seats in the nation’s parliament and held no government posts. After Nasheed’s expulsion, they now have three Cabinet positions, and Nasheed claims that they have taken control of the military.
Did Washington stand behind the elected leader of the Maldives? Er … not exactly. Three weeks ago, Nasheed came to the US and made an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. The State Department was asked whether they even planned to meet with him, and they replied that they were focusing on the transfer of power to the coup leaders:
QUESTION: On Maldives, actually —
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: — the former President Nasheed, he’s in the U.S. He actually went on Letterman last night.
MR. TONER: I missed that. I didn’t stay up that late.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) But he was voicing disappointment with the position of the State Department regarding the events in February, saying that the U.S. should be more robust in pushing for new elections. Does the U.S. plan to meet him during his visit? And more broadly, what’s the U.S. position going forward on elections in Maldives?
MR. TONER: Well, look, in answer to your first question, I’m not sure. I’ll have to take the question on whether we have any meetings planned with him. I don’t have any update on our basic position towards Maldives. I mean, obviously, our Assistant Secretary Robert Blake’s been very engaged with the – with Maldivian officials, and we’ve been pressing for them to address the concerns about the transfer of power there.
Yes, you read that right; the State Department didn’t even know that Nasheed was in the US. That’s not surprising, since the US waited all of two days to recognize the coup-installed government there on February 9th:
QUESTION: So what is your assessment of the situation there in Maldives?
MS. NULAND: Well, let me say that we did talk about this quite a bit yesterday, that we have been concerned about the fact that it doesn’t appear to have been as peaceful in subsequent days as it was initially.
In that context, Assistant Secretary Blake spoke this morning to former President Nasheed conveying our assurances that the United States supports a peaceful resolution of this, that we are also expressing our views to the government that his security should be protected, but also encouraging him, as we encouraged President Waheed, that this needs to be settled now peaceably through dialogue and through the formation, as the new president has pledged, of a national unity government. And as we said, Assistant Secretary Blake will be there on Saturday. When he is in Male, he’ll have a chance to meet with President Waheed, with former President Nasheed, with civil society, and he will be encouraging this national unity conversation.
QUESTION: So does – the U.S. considers the new government a legitimate government of the Maldives?
MS. NULAND: We do.
Seven weeks later, the US couldn’t be bothered to meet with Nasheed even when he traveled here.
Nasheed is certainly making a case for his own return to power, and his claims have to be considered in that light. But it seems very odd indeed that the US would embrace a coup against an elected leader in the Maldives within two days while spending months insisting that they could work with a brutal hereditary dictator in Syria that was busy shooting and bombing his own people — and still is, for that matter — and who is himself aligned with the leading radical-Islamist regime in the world, Iran.