Moderator: Damian Carrington (Head of Environment, The Guardian)
Panellists: Mark Lynas (Climate Advisor to former President Nasheed) and Ahmed Shafeeq Moosa (Envoy for Science and Technology, The President’s Office)
The fact that Mohamed Nasheed, the likeable President of the Maldives featured in The Island President, was ousted in a coup d’état only last month, makes this “an unfortunately topical film” as was remarked at the post-screening panel discussion.
Nasheed was forced to resign on 7th February of this year, after weeks of protests by those loyal to former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was president of the Maldives for 30 years and was Asia’s longest-ruling dictator. Some factions of the military also joined the coup, and Nasheed has stated he resigned at gunpoint after peaceful counter-protests led by him and his supporters were brutally dispersed.
Asked whether Nasheed is currently safe, Ahmed Shafeeq Moosa (the Maldives envoy for Science and Technology, who features in the film) replied, “No one is safe. No one is safe in the Maldives at the moment.”
Moosa and Mark Lynas, who also features in the film as climate advisor to Nasheed, are desperately concerned that the environmental plight of the Maldives as now been mostly forgotten in the chaos and uncertainty of the coup d’état and the new regime, and that the whole effort to combat the catastrophic effects of rising sea levels on this island nation, spearheaded by Nasheed, has now been completely destabilised.
They believe that the Maldives’ fight to save their nation from being submerged within fifty years cannot resume until democracy is restored. As Lynas said, “There’s no point in discussing climate change without stable democracy.”
This doesn’t mean that the film has been completely ignored by the new regime though. Damian Carrington, moderator of the discussion and Head of Environment at The Guardian, was telephoned before the screening by an advisor who once worked for Nasheed and who is now an advisor to the current President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik. This advisor told him, “Don’t believe the news reports – there are two sides to every tale.”
Yet Lynas is convinced of who the good guys and bad guys are in this real-life story. He feels he cannot work with the incumbent president Manik, saying that he “doesn’t know how he [Manik] can sleep at night”, referring to Manik’s alleged collusion with the coup leaders and the corrupt nature of the current regime.
With regards to what can be done to help the current situation in the Maldives, by the international community, Lynas and Moosa delivered some very clear points. They urged the many tourists who visit the Maldives every year to be more aware of the island’s current political situation – to not stay in luxurious resorts that have connections to the coup and the new regime, to be an ethical tourist. Moosa near pleaded with the audience to write to their MPs and MEPs, to try to get the situation questioned and debated in national and European parliaments.
When asked if there was anything positive about the current situation, Moosa responded, “Well, no one has died in the Maldives…” The unsaid ‘yet’ hung in the air ominously. Yet he added that immediately after the coup, Nasheed had said to his supporters “we must go forward” – one hopes they will be able to do so, and that The Island President will not one day become a documentary about an extinct nation.
by Stephanie Robinson