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The U.S. sells out a brave, democratic Muslim leader — again (Updated on March 13)

Middle East
on 14 Comments

UPDATE: On March 13, the Maldivian regime found Mohamed Nasheed guilty of “terrorism” and sentenced him to 13 years in prison.


Once again, some combination of cowardice and incompetence at the U.S. State Department is jeopardizing the freedom — and possibly the life — of a dynamic, progressive Muslim leader in the global south. Mohamed Nasheed, who was once the elected president of the Maldives, the Indian Ocean island nation, has been violently dragged into a courtroom to face a show trial that might end with him going back to prison, this time for 15 years.

Once again, most of the outside world has expressed outrage, including an eloquent article by a conservative British candidate for Parliament. Once again, the Obama administration is conspicuous by its reticence, saying nothing beyond a couple of bland, boilerplate statements.

We have been here before. In late 2013, I reported how the old regime in the Maldives, after first toppling Nasheed in a coup, illegally postponed new elections three times to thwart his reelection effort. The regime’s anti-democratic tactics prompted a storm of international protest; Canada’s (conservative) foreign minister even marched in a pro-democracy demonstration in New York.

But the Obama administration said little, even though Mohamed Nasheed is exactly the sort of popular, nonviolent, principled Muslim leader that America should fall all over itself to support. Many Maldivians are fluent in English, so back then I asked the Twitter community at #Maldives to try and explain the embarrassing silence from Washington. Several responded that the U.S. had been negotiating a Status of Forces agreement that might have included a military base in the island nation, and may not have wanted to antagonize the old regime.

America apparently got nothing for selling out the brave Maldivian democratic movement. In early 2014, after the old regime was safely “reelected,” it rejected the military arrangement with the U.S. Is it possible that the State Department’s continued cowardice is a renewed effort to get a base?

Mohamed Nasheed is also extraordinary because he speaks out forcefully on climate change. He has continually issued passionate warnings that global warming is causing rising sea levels that threaten the very existence of his country. The Maldives consists of 200 populated islands, which are an average of only 4 feet in height. Nasheed was one of the stars of the 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference, and a terrific documentary film called The Island President chronicled his pro-environmental efforts, which included holding a cabinet meeting underwater, in scuba gear, to dramatize the danger to the Maldives’ 300,000 people.

Nasheed now faces up to 15 years in prison. The British conservative candidate, Benedict Rogers, proposes sanctions targeting the overseas assets of the regime’s leaders. The U.S. knows how to impose such sanctions; it just applied them to a group of Venezuelan officials. When will it finally act in the Maldives?

James North
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14 Responses

  1. Ageel
    March 10, 2015, 1:16 pm

    Thanks for the story. Was not aware of this. Once again, one of the many reasons I make it a point to visit Mondoweiss every day. Keep it up!

  2. annie
    March 10, 2015, 1:45 pm

    they don’t care about democracy or so called moderates, it’s all lipservice.
    thanks james

  3. Bumblebye
    March 10, 2015, 1:58 pm

    James, Benedict Rogers isn’t an MP, he’s a Conservative *candidate* in the upcoming elections.

    Otherwise, this is same old same old. Honduras anyone? The US always, always, always seems to prefer that other governments are authoritarian or dictatorships of the rightist persuasion. The current takeover in the Maldives probably had “help” from friends in Washington!

    • James North
      James North
      March 10, 2015, 2:01 pm

      Thanks very much for the correction.

    • just
      March 10, 2015, 2:04 pm

      There’s too many to count, Bumblebye.

      Sickening, sickening, sickening.

      Thanks James.

    • lysias
      March 10, 2015, 2:28 pm

      The coup in Honduras also had active support from Israel. I guess they wouldn’t be involved in a Muslim country like the Maldives.

  4. Keith
    March 10, 2015, 5:53 pm

    JAMES NORTH- “Once again, some combination of cowardice and incompetence at the U.S. State Department is jeopardizing the freedom — and possibly the life — of a dynamic, progressive Muslim leader in the global south.”

    Cowardice? Incompetence? The empire is at war with anyone and everyone in the Global South whose actions are not to the liking of the Western corporate/financial oligarchy. Dynamic, progressive Muslim leader? Clearly someone the empire desires eliminated. And surely you are aware of the reality, so why the liberal whining about good folks lacking courage and/or making mistakes? Why not just cut the crap and tell it like it is? Do you really think that the elites will be influenced by your entreaty that they take their own rationalizations and pretexts at face value and act accordingly?

  5. Rashid.M
    March 10, 2015, 11:17 pm

    Apologies in advance if this is inappropriate to post here. A US veteran, and somewhat unknown unsung hero of the Iraq War, and his family, are doing it tough at the moment. Anyone able to contribute even a small amount monetarily, and with words of encouragement, would I’m sure be very appreciated. Apologies again for being off topic, but couldn’t find a suitable thread.

    Help Ethan McCord

  6. OyVey00
    March 11, 2015, 12:15 am

    This is apparently a domestic Maldivan issue. The US has no business to interfere in the domestic politics of sovereign countries, be it Iran, Syria or the Maldives.

    So I’m at a loss why you blame the US government for doing the right thing for once – nothing.

    • Waterbuoy
      March 11, 2015, 10:52 am

      Good point.
      I think, however, that the answer is that the US HAS made it its business to interfere in support of, and sometimes to install despotic, antidemocratic regimes, murderous regimes, apartheid regimes if it is in the (short term – vide Iran 1953) interest of it’s own business.
      All that’s asked for here is an acknowledgment and sanctions.

      • philadelphialawyer
        March 11, 2015, 3:32 pm

        Er, “acknowledgement” is one thing, but “sanctions” are quite another. Sanctions ARE interference. Now, I am not at all expert on the issue of the Maldives, and, for all I know, the US has encouraged anti democratic elements there. On the other hand, I, like the other poster, would prefer that the USA not intervene at all, not in Iraq and Syria, and not in the Maldives either. Furthermore, the fact that the USA has and continues to interfere elsewhere is not a good reason for it do so in this case.

        And, frankly, I really don’t care if this particular leader can be described as a “progressive Muslim,” or any other kind of Muslim, or progressive, or if he supported action on climate change, or not. It is simply not our place, not with sanctions and not otherwise, to try to bully other countries to conduct their internal affairs so that they accord with what we want, even if what we want is “progressive.”

        If a country behaves so egregiously that a truly international sanctions movement develops and wins majority support in the UNGA, then, if it accords with our values, I would agree that the US should go along with it. But I do not support free floating, unilaterally imposed sanctions by the USA against anyone.

        I would also point out that these stories of outrage and demands for “sanctions” are almost always raised against post colonial, of color regimes in Third World countries (with the odd exception of a Serbia, which rocked the EU/USA boat). Ditto with ICC indictments, as the “criminalization” of politics always seems to involve weak, dependent African regimes. Somehow, the USA’s and UK’s are never the target of sanctions, despite the fact that both routinely violate international law through aggressive wars, as opposed to merely conducting their internal affairs in a way that some folks don’t like. No, I’m afraid that the “new,” “humanitarian,” allegedly “progressive” interventionism is just, to switch the saying, pouring the old wine of colonialism, racism and paternalism into a new wineskin.

        The truly “progressive” FP stance for folks in the First World is the “hands off” variety. Hands off the Maldives. Hands off Iraq. Hands off Afghanistan. Etc. A little humility, a little recognition that even us “progressives” don’t have all the answers, in my view, is much better than the knee jerk call for “sanctions” every time something happens somewhere in the “global South” that we don’t like.

    • MRW
      March 13, 2015, 9:25 pm

      There’s another side to this story. Mohamed Nasheed, Former Maldives President, Ousted Legally, Commission Finds

      COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — A domestic inquiry commission in the Maldives has concluded that former President Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation earlier this year was legal, and that he was not forced to step down at gunpoint as he has claimed.

      Nasheed has rejected the report, which was formally released Thursday, and his supporters have resumed street protests in the Indian Ocean nation threatening to deepen the political divisions in the new democracy.

      Nasheed became archipelago nation’s first democratically elected president in 2008 after 30 years of autocratic rule, but his allegedly illegal order to arrest a senior judge led to public protests and his February resignation. The commission was set up to investigate allegations that mutinying police and soldiers forced him to step down. […]

      “The resignation of President Nasheed was voluntary and of his own free will. It was not caused by any illegal coercion or intimidation,” the report said.

      “With regard to the idea that there was a `coup d’état,’ nothing in the Maldives changed in constitutional terms – indeed, the constitution was precisely followed as prescribed,” the report said, referring to then Vice President Mohammed Waheed Hassan assuming power after Nasheed resigned.

      It said even though Nasheed claimed a gun was held to his head forcing him to resign, he later said it was only a metaphor and there was no actual firearm.

      The commission did say that acts of police brutality were committed against Nasheed supporters following his resignation. Nasheed’s supporters were accused of attacking several police stations and court houses.

      • MRW
        March 13, 2015, 9:31 pm


        MORE: 2012 HuffPo article: Maldives Former President Mohamed Nasheed Refuses To Make Police Statement

        […] A court last week issued an arrest warrant for Nasheed in the same case on suspicion of illegal arrest and breach of the constitution, but there has been so far no move to arrest him.

        Nasheed’s order to the military last month to arrest the country’s top Criminal Court Judge Abdullah Mohamed – who his government accused of political bias and corruption – sparked weeks of protests led by the opposition in this Indian Ocean archipelago.

        The dispute climaxed last Tuesday when Nasheed lost support of the police and military and later resigned. He later claimed that he was forced to resign at gunpoint and replaced by Hassan.

        Nasheed is seeking for the resignation of Hassan and early elections as a way out of the impasse.

        Hassan however refused to go for early election but said he will form a National Unity Government and invited Nasheed’s party also to be part of it. Nasheed has rejected the invitation, but the proposal has received the backing of the United Nations and countries like the United States.

  7. Walid
    March 16, 2015, 3:17 pm

    More on the subject of the US selling out but elsewhere in the news today, and somewhat funny, is Syria.

    On the eve of the start of Syria’s 5th year of turmoil, to a great extent provoked by the US to the joy of Lebanon’s pro-US political Hariri and Jumblat-led faction that abhors Syria because both leaders say that Syria had their fathers killed.

    Today, John Kerry declared that the US was willing to negotiate with Assad and all hell broke loose in what was until now the pro-US group. The US is being condemned for having sold out in agreeing to negotiate with Syria. In short, this group is very offended and the name-calling against the US has already started. Some have started a play on Kerry’s given name calling him Jann Kerry, or “Kerry has become crazy” and other unpleasant remarks on how the US should never be trusted.

    This was the second time the pro-US faction was abandoned by the US in Lebanon. In 2008, the US had told the pro-US group to start a rumble with Hizbullah and the US marines would land to finish the job. They started the rumble, but the marines never showed up and Hizbullah routed the pro-US militias in 6 hours and handed them over to the army and Jumblat said at the time he would not forgive the US for having failed his group. He eventually kissed and made up with the US, but he’s been let down for a second time by the US and he’s overtly unhappy about it.

    I suspect this sudden change of heart towards Syria by the US is directly tied to the deal that’a about to be signed with Iran.

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