There were only two ways to dethrone a Maldivian ruler, according to historian and linguist Naseema Mohamed. “One is death, natural or assassination, and the other by a coup d’état.”
For many Maldivians, the September 28 explosion on President Abdulla Yameen’s speedboat, which the government insists is an assassination attempt plotted by Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, was reminiscent of the palace intrigue of old. Adeeb has since been detained and impeached, and is likely to be prosecuted and jailed. The incident also follows the jailing of former President Mohamed Nasheed on a terrorism charge.
With Naseema’s guidance, I have summarized below the stories of four rulers, three kings and a president, in the hopes that we are soon able to break the cycle of assassinations, jailing and banishments.
In December 1773, Sultan Mohamed Ghiyasuddin went to Mecca on the Hajj pilgrimage, after seven years and 35 days on the throne. Just four days after his departure, he was dethroned by Mohamed Manikufaanu, nephew of the famed Dhon Bandaara, a king credited with saving the Maldives from the Indian Malabar rule. Manikufaanu assumed the throne after winning an armed confrontation with Ghiyasuddin’s supporters – all of the king’s properties and those of his aides’ were looted and his supporters were banished to remote islands.
Unaware of events in Malé, Ghiyasuddin returned nearly a year later, in October 1774. On entering Maldivian waters, he was informed of the coup, but chose to travel to Malé anyway. He anchored in an island not far from Malé, and wrote a letter to Manikufaanu, expressing his desire for peace. I will accept God’s will, he said in his letter, adding that he would not challenge Manikfaanu’s seizure of power.
But Ghiyasuddin’s return made the new king nervous. He told the people of Malé to prepare for the sultan’s return from the Hajj, and festivities were prepared. A small dhoni was sent to fetch Ghiyasuddin, but instead of transporting the rightful sultan to the city, the three men on the dhoni attached weights to his legs and threw him overboard. Ghiyasuddin’s murder ended the Dhiyamigili Dynasty, and paved way for the Huravee Dynasty’s uncontested rule, which lasted till the abolition of the monarchy in 1968.
A Suez romance
Sultan Mohamed Imaduddin IV, known as Haji Imaduddin, fell in love with an Egyptian woman on his way to Mecca for the Hajj. The year was 1900. Imaduddin met Sharifa Hanim in Suez, Egypt. On his return to Malé in June 1901, he immediately began preparations for his return, despite being in debt. In November 1902, Imaduddin set off, on large sums of money borrowed from the powerful Borah Indian merchants. Although the king told his subjects that he was seeking medical care, it was common knowledge that he was off to marry Sharifa Hanim.
At the time, the Maldives was a British protectorate and rulers had to seek British support to claim the throne. Soon after Imaduddin departed, the Borah merchants complained to the British of the increasingly unsustainable debt of the Maldivian state.
A few months later, in March 1903, Imaduddin was dethroned by his first cousin Sultan Shamsudeen III. Imaduddin was not able to guarantee British support for his reinstatement, and remained in exile in Egypt until his death in 1932.
Every trip a king makes abroad, given the poor communication and transport facilities of the time, gave conspirators and contenders ample time to plot coup d’états. Imaduddin’s long trips abroad, coupled with the mismanagement of public finances, were behind his overthrow.
Feet in shackles
Imaduddin’s successor Sultan Shamsuddin sat on the throne for over thirty years. But he too faced a similar fate – Shamsuddin was deposed and banished to southern Fuvahmulah, his feet in shackles.
How did this happen? In 1932, with British encouragement, Maldives drafted a constitution. A constitutional monarchy was established. Shamsuddin appointed his son Hassan Izzuddin as the crown prince. Just nine months later, amidst an escalating power struggle between the sultan, who had curbs on his powers for the first time, and the elites of Malé, the constitution was ripped to shreds. Ministers and the chief judge were attacked, and their property was destroyed, and many of the ruling elites were exiled.
The discontent never died down, and Shamsuddin was removed from power through parliament months later. Him and his crown prince were then banished to Fuvahmulah.
To Dhoonidhoo, for your own safety
Mohamed Amin Didi, the first president of the Maldives, a modernizer, historian, writer, who meticulously documented Shamsuddin’s fall, too, suffered a similar fate. The man who introduced the notion of nationhood to the Maldives died recovering from torture, in banishment.
Amin, who suffered from diabetes, had returned from a visit to Colombo, only to be escorted to Dhoonidhoo Island, home to the modern-day remand facility, instead of Malé. Its for your own good, the crew told him. He remained on Dhoonidhoo for four months.
In Dhoonidhoo, Amin received reassurance that he still had support and had to just retake Malé. On December 31, 1954, in the dead of the night, Amin stole back to Malé, only to be mobbed and tortured while the army watched on. The mobbing was reportedly plotted by none other than his own vice president, Ibrahim Didi, Amin’s cousin.
Additional writing by Zaheena Rasheed
Photo of the military headquarters from Maldiveshistory.com
Correction, November 15, 2015
An earlier version of this article said that the Hilalee Dynasty ruled in the Maldives following the murder of Ghiyasuddin. This is incorrect. It was the Huravee Dynasty.