The fall on an environmental leader: Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed

Who is Mohamed Nasheed and why does he matter?

Until last week Nasheed was President of The Maldives – a string of 1200 tiny islands in the Indian Ocean where the average elevation is just 5 feet above sea level.

After Nasheed came to office in 2008, he made world headlines when he declared the Maldives was in the market for a new homeland for its doomed population – given predictions of sea level rise due to global warming.

The leader of this little nation then challenged the world’s largest developed and developing countries to stop pointing the finger of blame and to start acting on climate change. He pledged the Maldives would lead the way and be the first country on the planet to become carbon neutral.

But it’s been a turbulent time back at home for Nasheed. Things came to a head last week when forces loyal to former president Gayoom (who ruled the Maldives for 30 years) began rioting. Nasheed had set a collision course after ordering the arrest of a troublesome  judge. One that had been installed by Gayoom.

In an opinion piece a day after he was deposed, Mohamed Nasheed describes the country’s judiciary as “rotten”, and defends his actions and his decision to step down in order to avoid bloodshed. Read Nasheed’s opinion piece in the New York Times ‘The Dregs of Dictatorship’.

So what’s the deal with Nasheed? Why was he important?

Mohammed Nasheed was shaping up as a spokesman for the “vulnerable nations” – managing at last to lift their plight higher in the consciousness of the world’s priveleged. To get them to understand what’s at stake and that we’re all in this together.

In 2009 Nasheed was named as one of Time magazine’s leading ‘Heroes of the Environment’. In 2010 he was became one of the UN’s Champions of the Earth.

The above video is the trailer for the the documentary ‘The Island President’ – an in-depth portrait of the man due for release 28 March 2012. (You can find international screening dates and places on the film’s website.)

Following the events of last week filmmaker Jon Shenk cut this latest short portrait of Mohamed Nasheed. Worth checking out in the meantime.

So will we see Nasheed’s return to the world stage? Time will tell. But then time is not really a luxury for the world’s most vulnerable nations.

Related links
Nasheed’s 2009 address to the UN – where he announces his country’s intention to lead by example (video)
Nasheed’s 2009 address to the Climate Vulnerable Forum (video)
The Guardian’s recent profile of Nasheed

Here’s Nasheed being arrested in a shop in Male last week:

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