Saturday, May 2, 2015


You have no idea, do you ? Me neither, I confess, until I looked it up. Go to the southern tip of India and take a boat west of Sri Lanka (Ceylon as it was once called), and you will find hundreds, literally hundreds, of tiny islands, bundled in twenty-six coral atolls, of which the largest are MalĂ© and Hitaddu – these are the Maldives. Like the San Blas islands off Panama, though coral here rather than sand, none of them protrudes more than human height above the ocean, so that you can stand in the centre and, from the distance, it looks as if you are walking on water; a hundred years from now, if global warming happens as predicted, you will be, knee-deep.

Moslem for centuries, and authoritarian for just as long, the islands decided to try democracy in 2008, but the man elected President, Mohamed Nasheed, was then, according to his version, forced to resign at gunpoint by mutinous police and soldiers; seven years later he was arrested, and has now been sentenced to 13 years for terrorism. The most recent Vice-President, Ahmed Adeeb, is also being held there, impeached and charged with plotting a coup after an explosion on President Abdulla Yameen's yacht – it turned out to be a mechanical failure rather than a bomb, but why waste a convenient opportunity to get rid of your principal rival, especially if you can then impose a state of emergency and arrest all the other political rivals too? Not that there were many to arrest, given that it has been declared "mandatory for the government and parliament to halt any activities with negative repercussions on the nation’s tourism". That may include negative holiday reviews on AirBnB and Trip Advisor, but this is not specified. Islamic fundamentalists are rumoured to have infiltrated the islands, but this may just be a ruse of the politicians, seeking to obtain the high ground.

Amongst the major issues concerning inhabitants of the Maldives is: who was the most beautiful woman ever to pay a visit. Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel from Saudi Arabia is the current choice, but Saudi Arabia is Wahabi Moslem, so this may be contraversial among Sunni and Shi’a, especially as the Princess has been pictured in the media wearing the veil on the wrong part of her head. This story took precedence over the tale of a 15 year old girl, raped by her step-father, who was then sentenced to a hundred lashes for fornication. An international campaign overturned that ruling, but has no say in whether she now has to return to her family. Do rape and lashes not count as “activities with negative repercussions on the nation’s tourism”? Or is it only negative when it gets into the foreign press? "Honeymoon Island" indeed!

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