Island President: Maldives' Deposed Ruler Mohamed Nasheed Is Untiring In His Mission (TRAILER)

Keeping His Head Above Water

Many a PR firm could do with the attention-gathering skills of Mohamed Nasheed, a man on a mission.

The world's press flocked, bemused but intrigued when, as the President of the Maldives, he hosted a cabinet meeting - under water in the Indian Ocean. His ministers were dressed in scuba gear and Nasheed laughed through his stunt, but his message was clear - this is what life will be like in the Maldives within a few years if something doesn’t change, and soon.

As the President of the Maldives - a post he held until February, when he was ousted from power - Nasheed made it his mission to draw the world's attention to the perilous ecological state of the collection of islands. When he wasn't turning up in London to talk to MPs, he was knocking at the door of the United Nations. He has a way with words, berating the previous President who wanted another term to implement reforms... "He's had 30 years in power, not sure how much more he needs."

His good-humoured manner and passion of purpose have made Nasheed the perfect subject of the documentary Island President - receiving its premiere today at the London Human Rights Watch Festival - which follows him between his trips abroad to garner international support, and at home meeting fellow islanders and witnessing at first hand the erosion to the Maldives' stunning coastline.

Nasheed in full flight during one of his many conferences to draw attention to the Maldives' plight

But the documentary falls short of a disturbing postscript. It was finished before February, when Nasheed was shuffled out of the president's palace, following protests he says were staged by the party he himself ousted:

"I was very surprised," he tells me from his home in the Maldives' capital, Male. "There was no discontent from the people, the opposition and military simply joined together, and I didn't think that was around the corner."

Nasheed remains disappointed by the reaction to the coup from the international community he has spent so much energy befriending:

"I thought the international community could have done much, much better.

"For 30 years we had a dictatorship, then for three years we were able to run the country, and then it slipped back and then former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is back. For the first month, he didn't come, so the international community weren't really aware what was coming after the coup.

"When I was in government, they were very much behind me, supporting human rights, environment, everything. But statecraft went into motion."

If Nasheed feels let down by leaders overseas, his countrymen have astonished him:

"They are out in big numbers. An amazing phenomenon is happening, with so many women out, protesting against the government.

"People have been enjoying rights for the past three years, so the idea of losing them is a big concern for women, both for themselves and for their children. And they don't want to lose the social protection we've been giving them. Single mothers and pensioners have been benefiting, funded at the expense of the military and police, so these are contentious issues."

Nasheed has known hardship before, held in long-term solitary confinement in the past for his political views, but is there a point at which even he will have to concede defeat?

"I can't now. The country is not allowing me to. They kicked me out, but the very next day I sat up, looked around and there were thousands of people around, and they gave me the strength to go on, and I will go on."

With his political career, justice and democracy all to fight for, it would be understandable if Nasheed were to drop the ball labelled environment at this point, but he’s not having a bar of that:

"Environment is an economic issue. It's been a romantic movement, but that won't necessarily bring us the results we're looking for.

"You can't have environment policies without democracy, and you can't have democracy without a planet."

Island President premieres today at the Human Rights Watch Festival in London. It is released on 30 March - more info here. Watch the trailer below:


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