The swaying palm trees, sparkling white beaches and crystal clear lagoons of Maldives are the stuff of dreams. But the country’s history is a bit more complicated than the simple tale of a tropical paradise.
In the past Maldivian society was dominated by Tamil and Sinhalese people from southern India and Sri Lanka. Later, traders from Arab countries and Malaya visited throughout the centuries. Today, Maldivian culture is a rich assemblage of traditional and foreign influences. The official language is Dhivehi (or Maldivian), but English and Arabic are also widely spoken. Islam is the state religion and the country’s legal system is based on sharia, Islamic law.
In recent years, the Maldives has a been a source of concern for its low scores on indices of human rights and freedoms. This is due to a series of events that began with the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and ended with a coup that ousted President Maumoon Gayoom.
The current government of Maldives is a multiparty democracy led by the president, who is elected for five years by a national vote. The legislature, the Majlis of Maldives, consists of 87 members representing seven provinces and 20 atolls. The president appoints the members of the Majlis and the Supreme Court and is responsible for foreign affairs, national security, communications and transport. He or she also represents the Maldives at international forums. In addition, the President is responsible for the state’s economy and the environment.