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Maldives (mălˈdēvz, –dīvz), Dhivehi Dhivehi Raajje, officially Republic of Maldives, republic (2015 est. pop. 418,000), 115 sq mi (298 sq km), off the coast of S Asia in the N Indian Ocean. Malé is the capital and the largest island.

Land and People

The Maldives stretch c.500 mi (800 km) from north to south in the N Indian Ocean, SW of Sri Lanka. They consist of about 25 atolls made up of some 1,200 coral islands that are the exposed tops of a submarine ridge. They have a tropical monsoon climate modified by their marine location. The islands, which are mostly very low lying, are covered with tropical vegetation, particularly coconut palms. About 200 of the islands are inhabited, and some have freshwater lagoons. Maldivians are of mixed Dravidian, Sinhalese, Arab, and African stock, and nearly all are Sunni Muslims. The predominant language is Dhivehi (or Divehi), a Sinhala dialect.


Tourism and fishing are the chief sources of income. Coconuts and coconut products (especially copra) are also important. Corn, sweet potatoes, and tropical fruit are raised for local consumption, but most staple foods must be imported. Industry is limited, consisting primarily of fish and coconut processing, shipping, boat building, garment and handicraft production, and coral and sand mining. In recent years the government has encouraged more foreign investment. Fish is the largest export, while petroleum products, ships, foodstuffs, clothing, and capital goods are the main imports. Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Great Britain, and the United Arab Emirates are the major trading partners.


The Maldives are governed under the constitution of 2008. The president, who is both head of state and head of government, is popularly elected to a five-year term. The unicameral legislature consists of the People's Council or Majlis; its 85 members are directly elected from single member constituencies. Legislators serve five-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into 19 atolls and the capital city.


The Maldives were originally settled by peoples who came from S Asia. Islam was brought to the islands in the 12th cent. Starting in the 16th cent., with the coming of the Portuguese, the Maldives were intermittently under European influence. In 1887 they became a British protectorate and military base but retained internal self-government. The Maldives obtained complete independence as a sultanate in 1965, but in 1968 the ad-Din dynasty, which had ruled the islands since the 14th cent., was ended and a republic was declared.

Following the British withdrawal from their base on the southernmost island of Gan in 1976, first the Soviet Union, then India and Sri Lanka courted Maldivian favor. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was first elected president in 1978 and retained power for three decades, ruled in an authoritarian manner. Indian troops landed in the Maldives in 1988 to foil one of several coup attempts. In the late 1980s the Maldives joined with a number of coral atoll nations to raise international awareness of the consequences of global warming, and in 1989 hosted an international conference to discuss this issue.

Beginning in 2003 the country experienced occasional antigovernment demonstrations that called for political reforms. The Dec., 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami caused severe damage to many of the country's low-lying islands, and hurt the important fishing and tourist industries. In the Jan., 2005, nonpartisan elections for the Majlis, candidates supported by the banned opposition party won 18 of the elected seats. President Gayoom subsequently called for the establishment of a multiparty democracy by the end of the year, and the Majlis approved the changes in June, but opposition party leader Mohamed Nasheed was arrested at a prodemocracy rally later in the year and charged with treason and terrorism. Opposition activists continued to face repressive government measures in 2006.

Following a bombing in Sept., 2007, that was linked to Islamic militants, the president issued a wide-ranging decree designed to promote moderate Islam and suppress Islamic extremism. In Aug., 2008, a new constitution was adopted that allowed for direct election of the president, multiparty elections, and other democratic reforms; two months later, Mohamed Nasheed was elected president, defeating Gayoom after a runoff. The May, 2009, Majlis elections were won by the opposition, however, and in mid-2010 increasing tensions between the government and Majlis, especially the refusal of the Majlis to confirm supreme court appointments, led the cabinet to resign en masse in protest. In Aug., 2010, the court members were confirmed, but relations between the government and Majlis remained difficult.

During 2011 poor economic conditions led to protests against the government. After the military arrested the top criminal court judge in Jan., 2012, several weeks of demonstrations by Gayoom supporters and others culminated in a police mutiny and the forced resignation of Nasheed (February). He was succeeded as president by Vice President Mohammed Waheed Hassan. Nasheed was later (July) charged with illegally ordering the arrest of the judge. In Aug., 2012, a report by a Commonwealth-backed Maldives commission called the succession constitutional; the report led to protests in the Maldives.

Nasheed placed first in the Sept., 2013, presidential election, but he failed to win a majority, forcing a runoff with Adbulla Yameen, Gayoom's half-brother. The vote, however, was annulled by the supreme court after the third-place candidate, businessman Qasim Ibrahim, alleged vote fraud. A new election in November led to similar results, and Yameen subsequently won the runoff. In the Mar., 2014, legislative elections, the president's party won a plurality; Nasheed's party placed second. Prior to the vote, the supreme court had convicted the election commission of contempt of court and dismissed the chairman of the commission, who had criticized the court's interference in the 2013 presidential election.

In 2015 Nasheed convicted of terrorism in connection with the 2012 arrest of the top criminal court judge and imprisoned; he was allowed to travel to Britain in 2016. Also in 2015, the defense minister was separately dismissed and later convicted on smuggling and other charges. In Sept., 2015, Yameen survived a boat explosion of an unclear cause, but he used it to crack down on opponents. Subsequently the vice president, Ahmed Adeeb, was arrested, accused of involvement in the blast, removed from office, and secretly tried and convicted. (Adeeb was freed after Yameen lost power, but he was later convicted on money laundering and other charges.) In 2016 the country, faced with a possible suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations for failure to make democratic progress, withdrew from the organization and accused it of interefering in its domestic affairs.

Yameen, who had lost Gayoom's support, lost his legislative majority in July, 2017, but subsequently blocked attempted no-confidence votes and arrested a number of opposition politicians. In Feb., 2018, the supreme court voided Nasheed's conviction and ordered the release of the opposition politicians. Yameen declared a state of emergency and arrested two justices, Gayoom, and others, accusing them of attempting a coup (Gayoom and the justices were convicted of not cooperating with the police in June); the remaining justices reversed the court's decision. In the Sept., 2018, presidential election Yameen lost to Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the candidate of the opposition alliance. Subsequently, Gayoom was released from prison, opposition lawmakers who had been expelled were restored to their seats, and Nasheed returned from exile and had his conviction reversed. In the Apr., 2019, parliamentary elections the president's party secured a majority. The country rejoined the Commonwealth in Feb., 2020.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Republic of the Maldives), a state in southern Asia, situated on the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean, southwest of Sri Lanka. Area, 298 sq km. Population, 114,000 (1972, estimate). The capital is Malé. For administrative purposes the Republic of the Maldives is divided into 19 island groups (atolls).

Constitution and government. The Maldives are a republic. The constitution went into effect on Aug. 1, 1972. The chief of state is the president, who is elected by the population to a five-year term. The president has a number of broad powers, including the power to ratify bills passed by parliament and the power to appoint the prime minister, other ministers, judges, and other high officials. In addition, he has the right to grant pardons and declare a state of emergency. The highest legislative body is the unicameral parliament (the People’s Majlis), which consists of 54 deputies, eight of whom are appointed by the president and 46 of whom are elected by the population to five-year terms. All citizens who have reached the age of 21 have the right to vote. The constitution provides for the formation of the Special Peopie’s Majlis, which is made up of the members of the People’s Majlis, the ministers, and representatives of the atolls and which has the exclusive power to pass particularly important laws, such as those introducing changes in the constitution. The atolls have elected committees chaired by verins (chiefs), who are appointed by the president.

Natural features. The islands of the Maldive archipelago form two parallel chains of coral superstructures on the meridional, underwater mountain range between the Laccadive Islands and the Chagos Archipelago. The Maldive archipelago consists of more than 2,000 small, low island-atolls, the majority of which are uninhabited. Many of them are surrounded by barrier reefs. The climate is equatorial and monsoonal. The atmospheric temperature varies from 24° to 30°C. Despite abundant precipitation (approximately 2,500 mm per year), there is a lack of fresh water. (There are no springs, and the well water is saline.) There are groves of coconut palms and plantains. Breadfruit trees are found on the islands.

Population. The inhabitants of the Maldives are known as Maldivians. They are Muslims. The official language is Divehi. There are two official calendars—the Gregorian and the Islamic. According to UN data for 1963-71, the population increased by 1.8 percent a year. As of 1971, 53 percent of the population were males. Most of the gainfully employed population are fishermen and peasants. The average population density on the 220 inhabited islands is 380 persons per sq km. The urban population (13 percent in 1971) is concentrated in Malé (population, 15,000 in 1972).

Historical survey. During the first millennium A.D. the Maldives were populated by Sinhalese, Indians, and Malaysians, who professed Buddhism. Islam first penetrated into the islands in the 12th century. As early as the 14th century the Maldives were the site of a well-developed state ruled by sultans of the ad-Din (Didi) dynasty, who remained in power until 1968. In 1558 the archipelago was captured by the Portuguese, but they were expelled in 1573 by the local population. During the second half of the 17th century the sultanate became dependent upon the Dutch rulers of Ceylon, and in 1796 Great Britain established its influence over the islands. In December 1887 the Mal-dives became a British protectorate. They enjoyed internal self-rule, but until 1948 they were administratively subordinate to the British governor of Ceylon. After 1948 the islands were administered by the British high commissioner for Ceylon. A constitution that established the principle of electing the sultan came into effect in 1932.

Under an agreement reached in 1948 with the sultan, Great Britain gained control of the sultanate’s foreign relations and was granted unrestricted rights to use the islands’ territory “for the defense of the Commonwealth.” At the end of 1956 the British began to build an air base on the island of Gan. The government of Ibrahim Nasir, which came to power in 1957, demanded a reconsideration of the agreement to permit construction of the base. In March 1958 a rebellion provoked by Great Britain broke out on the atoll of Addu. In February 1960 the government of the Maldives concluded an agreement with Great Britain providing that Gan (the Addu Atoll) be leased to the British for 30 years (retroactive to 1956). Under this agreement, Great Britain was obligated to provide economic aid to the islands and to recognize the jurisdiction of the government of the Maldives over the entire territory of the islands.

On July 26, 1965, an agreement granting complete independence to the Maldive Islands was signed. (July 26 is celebrated as the national holiday.) Great Britain retained the right to use the Addu Atoll until 1986 “for the defense of the Commonwealth.” In September 1965 the Maldive Islands were admitted to the UN. Diplomatic relations between the Maldives and the USSR were established in 1966. The foreign policy of the Maldives is conducted primarily through the republic’s embassy in Sri Lanka. After a referendum, the Maldives were proclaimed a republic on Nov. 11, 1968.

Economy. The economy of the Republic of the Maldives depends on fishing and on maritime industries. A state monopoly has been established on commercial fishing and fish products. The annual catch ranges from 20,000 to 30,000 tons. Fish (primarily dried fish—that is, “Maldive fish,” or dried tuna) accounts for 97 percent of the value of the islands’ exports. The fishing fleet includes more than 4,000 boats, most of which are small and powered by sails or oars. Sea turtles are also caught, and pearls, shells, and coral are gathered.

Agriculture is poorly developed. The land belongs to the state, and farmers pay half of the harvest in rent for their plots of land. Small quantities of rice and vegetables (peppers, onions, and sweet potatoes) are grown. Breadfruit trees, mangoes, bananas, and citrus fruits are cultivated. There are plantations of coconut palms. Animal husbandry is practically nonexistent, although poultry farming has been developed to some extent. Cottage industry is important and is represented by smithies and small enterprises that build fishing boats, process coconuts, weave nets, and produce fishmeal, fruit preserves, and coral articles. Means of transportation include sailboats and cutters. There are 150 motor vehicles. The Maldives are connected by air with the city of Colombo (Sri Lanka). The principal airport is on the island of Hudele (in the Male Island group). The chief trading port is Male. The merchant fleet consists of more than 30 vessels and is extensively used for hauling foreign freight. Commercial operations are conducted through the Maldive State Trade Corporation, which is located in Colombo. The republic has foreign trade ties with Sri Lanka, India, and Singapore. The principal exports are fish and copra, and the chief imports are rice, other foodstuffs, and industrial goods. Postage stamps and tourism are important sources of revenue. The Maldives have established two modern tourist centers. The monetary unit is the Maldive rupee, which equalled 1.23 Sri Lanka rupees as of January 1973.


Education. About 80 percent of the native population is illiterate. There is no unified educational system. On all of the more than 200 islands there are elementary schools that provide from three to four years of instruction. In Malé during the 1971-72 school year 1,900 pupils were enrolled in one preparatory and two secondary schools providing from five to six years of instruction. In the elementary schools teaching is conducted in Divehi, but in the secondary schools it is conducted in English. Instruction in Islam is compulsory. The Republic of the Maldives has no specialized secondary schools or higher educational institutions. The country’s only state public library, which has 12,000 volumes, is located in Malé.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Official name: Republic of Maldives

Capital city: Male

Internet country code: .mv

Flag description: Red with a large green rectangle in the center bearing a vertical white crescent; the closed side of the crescent is on the hoist side of the flag

National flower: Finifenmaa (Pink rose)

National tree: Dhivehi Ruh (Coconut palm)

Geographical description: Southern Asia, group of atolls in the Indian Ocean, south-southwest of India

Total area: 115 sq. mi. (298 sq. km.)

Climate: Tropical; hot, humid; dry, northeast monsoon (November to March); rainy, southwest monsoon (June to August)

Nationality: noun: Maldivian(s); adjective: Maldivian

Population: 369,031 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: South Indians, Sinhalese, Arabs

Languages spoken: Maldivian Dhivehi (dialect of Sinhala, script derived from Arabic), English spoken by most gov­ernment officials

Religions: Sunni Muslim

Legal Holidays:

Maldives Embraced IslamApr 8
New Year's DayJan 1
Republic DayNov 11
Victory DayNov 3
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
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