By Steve Chao in Asia
To the tourist, who has booked a vacation paradise, it is easy for him or her to never see the political turmoil that has gripped the tropical nation of the Maldives.
Upon arriving at the capital’s airport, sun seekers are often whisked away on private boats or charter jets to distant resorts on some of the country's 1200 remote islands.
Even as the unrest has spread beyond the capital of Male, it has mostly taken place on the larger islands, like Addu city, home to some 30,000 permanent residents.
There, police stations, courthouses and other government buildings were burned, as the island’s first democratically elected president, Mohammad Nasheed, announced that he was forced to resign, essentially at gunpoint, by the military in a "coup".
It is a claim the military firmly denies. At a recent press conference, the military’s spokesperson, First Lieutenant Ibrahim Azim, pulled me aside to stress that they only warned Nasheed, in a private meeting, that if he did not step down there could be bloodshed on the streets.
Two very different stories, and who to believe?
Already, Nasheed's vice-president, Mohammad Waheed Hassan, has been sworn in as the new leader of the country. He has called for a coalition government made up of the factious political parties.
Hassan also dismisses claims that there was any coup, saying Nasheed overstepped his authority and that ultimately was his downfall.
There is no question that the former President’s decision to order the military to arrest the Chief Justice of the Criminal Court, in January, for refusing to proceed in a court case against a government critic, sparked international condemnation.
But were the street protests calling for his resignation over the matter reflective of the majority?
Was it justified for sections of the police in the Maldives to take the side of these protestors, followed by sections of the military?
Nasheed and his party, the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP), believe it was all a well-orchestrated plan by remnants of the old “dictatorship” to “seek revenge” and unseat them.
That is certainly what he alleges in an opinion piece published in the New York Times newspaper, warning those involved in the Arab Spring, that the Maldives serves as an example that hard fought freedoms in a fledgling democracy could be undermined by the same powers that were toppled.
Whether that is in fact what has happened may not matter.
Calls for international help, by the MDP, have largely been rebuffed. While Britain has sent a diplomatic delegation to speak to all parties, neighbour India has said it believes this is an “internal” matter for the Maldives. Calls for UN troops to step have so far been turned down.
Other political parties say that Nasheed is crying over sour grapes. They accuse him of “acts of terrorism” and trying to mount an “insurgency”, by stirring the people to violence in order to regain control.
“Acts of terrorism” and “insurgency” are highly loaded words.
Nasheed, who has often been called the "Mandela of the Maldives", warned upon stepping down that he believed certain powers would try and find reasons to silence him before an upcoming election in 2013.
An arrest warrant, issued for him, he says, is the first step towards this [no one at the moment is saying just what the charges are against him]. There were high hopes in 2008 when the Maldives held their first free and democratic elections. Nasheed was the international darling at the time. A former political prisoner, he was credited for ushering in many of the reforms.
At Nasheed’s family home, where we met him as he awaited being taken away on the latest charges, he told us he was preparing for yet another long stint behind bars.
The military says it has swiftly restored order and that the situation will calm in the next few days.
“The most important thing is to protect the economy, and ensure that tourism, our most vital resource is not threatened. That is good for all our citizens,” said the military spokesperson Azim.
But political observers, along with Nasheed himself, say that as it stands, civil war is not outside the bounds of possibility. At that point, no vacationer, or island, however remote, will remain unaffected.
- Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons License