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About Maldives
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About Maldives: history

The history of the Maldives may be described in two stages: before and after the conversion to Islam. The pre-Islam period is not well documented; a mixture of myth and conjecture based on inconclusive archaeological discoveries provides much of the information available.

Early European archaeologists have recognised the existence of the Maldives as a community from as early as 2000 BC; its geographical position established the islands as a prominent trading post for maritime civilisations such as the Egyptians and Romans. Research of linguistic connections suggest the whole country was populated and brought within a single civilisational system before Islam, during the Buddhist period, or even earlier.

Credit for converting the Maldivians to Islam lies with a North African Arab, Abu Al Barakat. In 1153 Barakat is said to have driven a demon away by quoting the Quran; the Maldivian King responded by declaring that the entire country should convert. Six sultanic dynasties emerged since the conversion to Islam. It has been submitted that in reality the transition from Buddhism to Islam was based on pragmatic economic decisions to align the country with dominant Indian Ocean traders.

The early 16th century saw increased interaction with European states; Portuguese attacks were regular, culminating in the legendary defence of the country by Mohammed Thakurufaanu. This victory is commemorated annually as National Day on the first day of the third month of the lunar year.

In 1887, in response to growing concern of commercial domination over the islands by Indian merchants an agreement was signed with the British recognising Maldivian statehood and formalising its protected status.

The developments of the 20th century naturally increased the Maldives interconnection with other states. It also proved to be a period of turbulent political development. The establishment of a sultanate as the vehicle for wielding political power was confirmed in 1932 with the first formal constitution. Within a decade however, in direct response to the hardships created by WWII, the constitution was repealed and replaced by a new draft. The incumbent Prime Minister, Mohammed Amin Didi, introduced broad modernisation programs and nationalised the fish export industry so as to avoid a repeat of the food shortages of the war years.

Ceylon independence in 1948 led the Maldives to agree a defence pact with Britain, with strict provisions concerning non-intervention within domestic affairs. Amin Didi was proclaimed the first President of the newly created Maldivian Republic in 1953 however the abolishment of the sultanate was fiercely opposed. Within a year the Republic had been overthrown and the sultanate was restored. Britain’s responsibility for Maldivian defence was ceased in 1965 and swiftly followed by recognition of complete sovereignty and independence, the Maldives later became a member of the United Nations.

The Republic state was reasserted through the 1968 referendum and Nasir was elected President. However his power was short lived; a collapse within Sri Lankan fishery markets, the Maldives’ biggest export targets, threw the country into economic turmoil. The slowly flourishing tourism industry was unable to aid the problem and in 1978, fearing for his life, Nasir fled the Maldives to Singapore, reputedly with $4 million of Maldivian national funds. The power vacuum left by Nasirs’ departure was filled by the Maldivian Ambassador to the United Nations, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Book: Lonely Planet ‘Maldives.’ 5th ed, (2003)