In international circles, Nasheed attracted attention for his climate campaigning. The Maldives are a low-lying chain of islands in the Indian Ocean, and climate-driven sea level rise could consume them. In 2009, Nasheed promised his country would be carbon-neutral within a decade. He held a cabinet meeting underwater as a publicity stunt calling attention to the danger of climate change. He also looked into a plan to relocate Maldives citizens to less threatened islands, although he faced some public opposition, as he told Foreign Policy in 2010. After a woman bit and kicked him at the suggestion of moving to a neighboring island, he was forced to conclude that “Maldivians do not want to leave their homeland.”
This work and his leadership at U.N.-led climate conferences earned him accolades; in 2010 he was named a United Nations’ Champion of the Earth, and in November 2011, British prime minister David Cameron called Nasheed his “new best friend.” The Island President, a documentary that lionizes Nasheed, earned praise on the film festival circuit and is coming out to a wider distribution next month.
Nasheed’s fall isn’t connected directly to his environmental activism, but to his shift away from his reputation as a government reformer. He was elected in the country’s first democratic election but has faced protests over economic policy. The most recent round of protests focused on the arrest of a top judge who had ordered a government critic released. The Associated Press writes:
As the protests grew, there were disturbing signs the one-time rights activist was changing.
Police routinely cracked down on opposition protests, while letting government supporters gather freely. For many, the judge’s arrest three weeks ago was the final straw.