The Maldives was long a sultanate, first under Dutch and then under British protection. It became a republic in 1968, three years after independence. Since 1978, President Maumoon Abdul GAYOOM - currently in his sixth term in office - has dominated the islands' political scene. Following riots in the capital Male in August 2004, the president and his government pledged to embark upon democratic reforms, including a more representative political system and expanded political freedoms. Progress has been slow, however, and many promised reforms have been slow to come to fruition. Nonetheless, political parties were legalized in 2005. A constituent assembly - termed the "special majlis" - has pledged to complete the drafting of a new constitution by the end of 2007 and first-ever presidential elections under a multi-candidate, multi-party system are slated for November 2008. Tourism and fishing are being developed on the archipelago.
Comparative studies of the Maldivian oral tradition suggest that the first settlers were Dravidian people from the nearest coasts, probably fishermen from the southwest coasts of the Indian Subcontinent and the western shores of Sri Lanka, like the group today known as the Giravaaru who claim ancestry from ancient Tamils. It is unlikely that the Giraavaru islanders were the only early settlers in the Maldives. The importance they have been given is because they are mentioned in the legend about the establishment of the capital and kingly rule in Malé. The Giraavaru people were just one of the island communities predating Buddhism and the arrival of a Northern Kingly dynasty and the establishment of centralized political and administrative institutions.
Buddhism came to the Maldives at the time of Emperor Ashoka's expansion and became the dominant religion of the people of the Maldives until the 12th century AD.
Western interest in the archaeological remains of early cultures on the Maldives began with the work of H.C.P. Bell, a British commissioner of the Ceylon Civil Service. Bell was shipwrecked on the islands in 1879, and returned several times to investigate ancient Buddhist ruins. He studied the ancient mounds, called havitta or ustubu (these names are derived from chaitiya or stupa) (Mahl: ހަވިއްތަ) by the Maldivians, which are found on many of the atolls.
Although Bell asserted that the ancient Maldivians followed Theravada Buddhism, many local Buddhist archaeological remains now in the Malé Museum display in fact Mahayana and Vajrayana iconography.
According to a legend from the Maldivian Folklore, a prince named Koimala from India or Sri Lanka entered the Maldives from the North (Ihavandhu) and became the first king from the House of Theemuge. The ancient Maldivian Kings promoted Buddhism and the first Maldive writings and artistic achievements in the form of highly developed sculpture and architecture are from that period. The conversion to Islam is mentioned in the ancient edicts written in copper plates from the end of the 12th century AD. There is also a locally well-known legend about a foreign saint (a Persian from the city of Tabriz or a Moroccan Berber according to the versions) who subdued a demon known as Rannamaari.
Over the centuries, the islands have been visited and their development influenced by sailors and traders from countries on the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Until relatively recent times, Mappila pirates from the Malabar Coast – present-day Kerala state in India – harassed the islands.
Although governed as an independent Islamic sultanate from 1153 to 1968, the Maldives was a British protectorate from 1887 until July 25, 1965. In 1953, there was a brief, abortive attempt to form a republic, but the sultanate was re-imposed. In 1959, objecting to Nasir's centralism, the inhabitants of the three southernmost atolls protested against the government. They formed the United Suvadive Republic and elected, Abdullah Afeef as president and Hithadhoo as capital of this republic.
After independence from Britain in 1965, the sultanate continued to operate for another three years under King Muhammad Fareed. On November 11, 1968, the monarchy was abolished and replaced by a republic, although this was a cosmetic change without any significant alteration in the structures of government. The official name of the country was changed from Maldive Islands to the Maldives in a progressive manner. Tourism began to be developed on the archipelago about five years later, by the beginning of the 1970s.
In November 1988, a group of Maldivians headed by Mr. Lutfee a small time businessman used Tamil mercenaries from Sri Lanka to stage a coup against President Gayyoom. After an appeal by the Maldivian government for help, the Indian military intervened against the mercenaries in order to reinstate Gayyoom in power. On the night of November 3, 1988, the Indian Air Force airlifted a parachute battalion group from Agra and flew them non-stop over 2,000 kilometres (1,240 mi) to the Maldives. The Indian paratroopers landed at Hulule and secured the airfield and restored the Government rule at Malé within hours. The brief, bloodless operation, labelled Operation Cactus, also involved the Indian Navy.
On 26 December 2004, the Maldives were devastated by a tsunami following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. Only nine islands were reported to have escaped any flooding, while fifty-seven islands faced serious damage to critical infrastructure, fourteen islands had to be totally evacuated, and six islands were decimated. A further twenty-one resort islands were forced to shut down due to serious damage. The total damage was estimated at over 400 million dollars or some 62% of the GDP. A total of 108 people, including six foreigners, reportedly died in the tsunami. The destructive impact of the waves on the low-lying islands was mitigated by the fact there was no continental shelf or land mass upon which the waves could gain height. The tallest waves were reported 14 feet high.
Location: Southern Asia, group of atolls in the Indian Ocean, south-southwest of India
Geographic coordinates: 3 15 N, 73 00 E
Map references: Asia
Area: total: 300 sq km
land: 300 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Area - comparative: about 1.7 times the size of Washington, DC
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 644 km
Maritime claims: measured from claimed archipelagic straight baselines
territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
Climate: tropical; hot, humid; dry, northeast monsoon (November to March); rainy, southwest monsoon (June to August)
Terrain: flat, with white sandy beaches
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m
highest point: unnamed location on Wilingili island in the Addu Atoll 2.4 m
Natural resources: fish
Land use: arable land: 13.33%
permanent crops: 30%
other: 56.67% (2005)
Irrigated land: NA
Total renewable water resources: 0.03 cu km (1999)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 0.003 cu km/yr (98%/2%/0%)
per capita: 9 cu m/yr (1987)
Natural hazards: low level of islands makes them sensitive to sea level rise
Environment - current issues: depletion of freshwater aquifers threatens water supplies; global warming and sea level rise; coral reef bleaching
Environment - international agreements: party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - note: 1,190 coral islands grouped into 26 atolls (200 inhabited islands, plus 80 islands with tourist resorts); archipelago with strategic location astride and along major sea lanes in Indian Ocean
Politics in the Maldives takes place in the framework of a presidential republic, whereby the President is the head of government. The President heads the executive branch and appoints the cabinet. The President is nominated to a five-year term by a secret ballot of the Majlis (parliament), a nomination which is confirmed by national referendum.
The unicameral Majlis of the Maldives is composed of fifty members serving five-year terms. Two members from each atoll are elected directly by universal suffrage. Eight are appointed by the president, which is the main route through which women enter parliament. The country introduced political parties for the first time in its history in July 2005, six months after the last elections for the parliament. Nearly thirty-six members of the existing parliament joined the Dhivehi Raiyyathunge Party (the Maldivian People's Party) and elected President Gayoom as its leader. Twelve members of parliament became the Opposition and joined the Maldivian Democratic Party. Two members remained independent. In March 2006, President Gayoom published a detailed Roadmap for the Reform Agenda, providing time-bound measures to write a new Constitution, and modernise the legal framework. Under the Roadmap, the government has submitted to the Parliament a raft of reform measures. The most significant piece of legislation passed so far is the Amendment to the Human Rights Commission Act, making the new body fully compliant with the Paris Principles.
The fifty members of parliament sit with an equal number of similarly constituted persons and the Cabinet to form the Constitutional Assembly, which has been convened at the initiative of the President to write a modern liberal democratic constitution for the Maldives. The Assembly has been sitting since July 2004, and has been widely criticised for making very slow progress. The Government and the Opposition have been blaming each other for the delays, but independent observers attribute the slow progress to weak parliamentary traditions, poor whipping (none of the MPs were elected on a party ticket) and endless points of order interventions. Progress has also been slow due to the commitment of the main opposition party, MDP, to depose President Gayoom by direct action ahead of the implementation of the reform agenda, leading to civil unrest in July-August 2004, August 2005 and an abortive putsch in November 2006. Significantly, the leader of the MDP, Ibrahim Ismail (MP for the biggest constituency - Malé) resigned from his party post in April 2005 after having narrowly beat Dr. Mohammed Waheed Hassan only a couple months earlier. He eventually left MDP in November 2006 citing the intransigence of his own National Executive Committee. The government had engaged the services of a Commonwealth Special Envoy Tun Musa Hitam to facilitate all party dialogue, and when the MDP boycotted him, enlisted the services of the British High Commissioner to facilitate a dialogue. The ensuing Westminster House process made some progress but was abandoned as MDP called for the November revolution.
The Roadmap provides the deadline of 31 May 2007 for the Assembly to conclude its work and to pave the way for the first multi-party elections in the country by October 2008. This deadline has not been achieved.
On 19 June 2006, the Assembly voted to hold a public referendum to decide the form of government under the new constitutional settlement. The resulting referendum has led to the public choosing a Presidential Republic.
Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed, along with Justice Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed resigned from cabinet on 5 August 2007 accusing President Maumoon Abdul Qayyoom of deliberately obstructing reform process in the country which Dr Saeed engineered and spearheaded. Dr Saaed is now running against Qayyoom for the Presidency and is seen as his main opponent.
The political structure of the Maldives has remained practically unchanged for centuries. Despite the passage from Monarchy to republic, the contemporary political structure shows a continuity with the feudal past in which power was shared among a few families at the top of the social structure. In some islands, the offices have remained within the same family for generations. The village is ruled by an administrative officer called Katību, who serves as the executive headman of the island. Above the Katībus of every atoll is the AtoỊuveriya (Atoll Chief). The power of these local chiefs is very limited and they take few responsibilities. They are trained to report to the government about the situation in their islands and to merely wait for instructions from the central power and to follow them thoroughly.
Population: 379,174 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 42.4% (male 82,616/female 78,165)
15-64 years: 54.5% (male 105,465/female 101,115)
65 years and over: 3.1% (male 5,753/female 6,060) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 18.3 years
male: 18.2 years
female: 18.4 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 2.69% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 33.61 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 6.71 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: NA (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.06 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.95 male(s)/female
total population: 1.05 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 51.62 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 50.78 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 52.5 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 65.12 years
male: 63.73 years
female: 66.58 years (2008 est.)
Total fertility rate: 4.66 children born/woman (2008 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 0.1% (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS: less than 100 (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths: NA
Nationality: noun: Maldivian(s)
Ethnic groups: South Indians, Sinhalese, Arabs
Religions: Sunni Muslim
Languages: Maldivian Dhivehi (dialect of Sinhala, script derived from Arabic), English spoken by most government officials
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 96.3%
female: 96.4% (2000 census)
Country name: conventional long form: Republic of Maldives
conventional short form: Maldives
local long form: Dhivehi Raajjeyge Jumhooriyyaa
local short form: Dhivehi Raajje
Government type: republic
Capital: name: Male
geographic coordinates: 4 10 N, 73 30 E
time difference: UTC+5 (10 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions: 19 atolls (atholhu, singular and plural) and the capital city*; Alifu, Baa, Dhaalu, Faafu, Gaafu Alifu, Gaafu Dhaalu, Gnaviyani, Haa Alifu, Haa Dhaalu, Kaafu, Laamu, Lhaviyani, Maale* (Male), Meemu, Noonu, Raa, Seenu, Shaviyani, Thaa, Vaavu
Independence: 26 July 1965 (from UK)
National holiday: Independence Day, 26 July (1965)
Constitution: adopted 1 January 1998
Legal system: based on Islamic law with admixtures of English common law primarily in commercial matters; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
Suffrage: 21 years of age; universal
Executive branch: chief of state: President Maumoon Abdul GAYOOM (since 11 November 1978); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government
head of government: President Maumoon Abdul GAYOOM (since 11 November 1978)
cabinet: Cabinet of Ministers appointed by the president
elections: president nominated by the Majlis; nomination must be ratified by a national referendum (at least a 51% approval margin is required); president elected for a five-year term; election last held 17 October 2003 (next to be held in 2008)
election results: President Maumoon Abdul GAYOOM reelected in referendum held 17 October 2003; percent of popular vote - Maumoon Abdul GAYOOM 90.3%
Legislative branch: unicameral People's Council or Majlis (50 seats; 42 members elected by popular vote, 8 appointed by the president; to serve five-year terms)
elections: last held 22 January 2005 (next to be held in 2010)
election results: percent of vote - NA; seats - independents 50
Judicial branch: High Court
Political parties and leaders: Adhaalath (Justice) Party or AP [Abdul Majeed Abdul BARI]; Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (Maldivian People's Party) or DRP [Maumoon Abdul GAYOOM]; Islamic Democratic Party or IDP [Omar NASEER]; Maldivian Democratic Party or MDP [Mohamed NASHEED]; note - political parties were allowed to register in June 2005
Political pressure groups and leaders: various unregistered political parties
International organization participation: ADB, C, CP, FAO, G-77, IBRD, ICAO, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IPU, ITU, MIGA, NAM, OIC, OPCW, SAARC, SACEP, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO
Diplomatic representation in the US: chief of mission: Ambassador Mohamed Hussain MANIKU
chancery: 800 2nd Avenue, Suite 400E, New York, NY 10017
telephone:  (212) 599-6194
FAX:  (212) 599-6195
Diplomatic representation from the US: the US does not have an embassy in Maldives; the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka is accredited to Maldives and makes periodic visits there
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
Maldivian culture is derived from a number of sources, the most important of which are its proximity to the shores of Sri Lanka and southern India. Thus the population is mainly Dravidian from the anthropological point of view.
The official and common language is Dhivehi, an Indo-European language having some similarities with Elu, the ancient Sinhalese language . The present-day written script is called Thaana and is written from right to left. English is used widely in commerce and increasingly as the medium of instruction in government schools.
The language is of Indo-Iranian Sanskritic origin, which points at a later influence from the north of the subcontinent. According to the legends, the kingly dynasty that ruled the country in the past has its origin there.
Possibly these ancient kings brought Buddhism from the subcontinent, but the Maldivian legends don't make it clear. In Sri Lanka there are similar legends, however it is improbable that the ancient Maldive royals and Buddhism came both from that island because none of the Sri Lankan chronicles mentions the Maldives. It is unlikely that the ancient chronicles of Sri Lanka would have failed to mention the Maldives if a branch of its kingdom would have extended itself to the Maldive Islands.
After the long Buddhist  period of Maldivian history, Muslim invaders introduced Sunni Islam. Maldivians converted to it by the mid-12th century. Islam is the official religion of the entire population, as adherence to it is required for citizenship.
Since the 12th century AD there are also influences from Arabia in the language and culture of the Maldives because of the general conversion to Islam in the 12th century, and its location as a crossroads in the central Indian Ocean.
In the island culture there are a few elements of African origin as well from slaves brought to the court by the royal family and nobles from their hajj journeys to Arabia in the past. There are islands like Feridhu and Maalhos in Northern Ari Atoll, and Goidhu in Southern Maalhosmadulhu Atoll where many of the inhabitants trace their ancestry to released African slaves.
Economy - overview: Tourism, Maldives' largest industry, accounts for 28% of GDP and more than 60% of the Maldives' foreign exchange receipts. Over 90% of government tax revenue comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes. Fishing is the second leading sector. Agriculture and manufacturing continue to play a lesser role in the economy, constrained by the limited availability of cultivable land and the shortage of domestic labor. Most staple foods must be imported. Industry, which consists mainly of garment production, boat building, and handicrafts, accounts for about 7% of GDP. The Maldivian Government began an economic reform program in 1989 initially by lifting import quotas and opening some exports to the private sector. Subsequently, it has liberalized regulations to allow more foreign investment. Real GDP growth averaged over 7.5% per year for more than a decade. In late December 2004, a major tsunami left more than 100 dead, 12,000 displaced, and property damage exceeding $300 million. As a result of the tsunami, the GDP contracted by about 3.6% in 2005. A rebound in tourism, post-tsunami reconstruction, and development of new resorts helped the economy recover quickly. The trade deficit has expanded sharply as a result of high oil prices and imports of construction material. Diversifying beyond tourism and fishing and increasing employment are the major challenges facing the government. Over the longer term Maldivian authorities worry about the impact of erosion and possible global warming on their low-lying country; 80% of the area is one meter or less above sea level.
GDP (purchasing power parity): $2.839 billion (2006 est.)
GDP (official exchange rate): $1.024 billion (2007 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 5.5% (2007 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP): $3,900 (2002 est.)
GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 16%
services: 77% (2006 est.)
Labor force: 101,300 (2004)
Labor force - by occupation: agriculture: 22%
services: 60% (1995)
Unemployment rate: NEGL% (2003 est.)
Population below poverty line: 21% (2004)
Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10%: NA%
highest 10%: NA%
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 6% (2005 est.)
Budget: revenues: $508 million (including foreign grants)
expenditures: $671 million (2006 est.)
Agriculture - products: coconuts, corn, sweet potatoes; fish
Industries: tourism, fish processing, shipping, boat building, coconut processing, garments, woven mats, rope, handicrafts, coral and sand mining
Industrial production growth rate: -0.9% (2004 est.)
Electricity - production: 169 million kWh (2005)
Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: 100%
other: 0% (2001)
Electricity - consumption: 157.1 million kWh (2005)
Electricity - exports: 0 kWh (2005)
Electricity - imports: 0 kWh (2005)
Oil - production: 0 bbl/day (2005 est.)
Oil - consumption: 5,000 bbl/day (2005 est.)
Oil - exports: 1,517 bbl/day (2004)
Oil - imports: 6,390 bbl/day (2004)
Oil - proved reserves: 0 bbl (1 January 2006 est.)
Natural gas - production: 0 cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - consumption: 0 cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - exports: 0 cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - imports: 0 cu m (2005)
Natural gas - proved reserves: 0 cu m (1 January 2006 est.)
Exports: $167 million f.o.b. (2006)
Exports - commodities: fish
Exports - partners: Thailand 33.1%, UK 14.3%, Sri Lanka 11.9%, Japan 10.3%, France 6.9%, Algeria 6.1% (2006)
Imports: $930 million f.o.b. (2006)
Imports - commodities: petroleum products, ships, foodstuffs, clothing, intermediate and capital goods
Imports - partners: Singapore 23.2%, UAE 15.8%, India 11.1%, Malaysia 7.9%, Thailand 6.9%, Sri Lanka 5.6% (2006)
Economic aid - recipient: $66.83 million (2005)
Debt - external: $482 million (2006 est.)
Market value of publicly traded shares: $NA
Currency (code): rufiyaa (MVR)
Currency code: MVR
Exchange rates: rufiyaa per US dollar - NA (2007), 12.8 (2006), 12.8 (2005), 12.8 (2004), 12.8 (2003)
Fiscal year: calendar year
Telephones - main lines in use: 32,500 (2006)
Telephones - mobile cellular: 262,600 (2006)
Telephone system: general assessment: telephone services have improved; each island now has at least 1 public telephone, and there are mobile cellular networks with rapidly expanding subscribership
domestic: interatoll communication through microwave links; all inhabited islands and resorts are connected with telephone and fax service
international: country code - 960; linked to international submarine cable Fiber-Optic Link Around the Globe (FLAG); satellite earth station - 3 Intelsat (Indian Ocean)
Radio broadcast stations: AM 1, FM 1, shortwave 1 (1998)
Radios: 35,000 (1999)
Television broadcast stations: 1 (2006)
Televisions: 10,000 (1999)
Internet country code: .mv
Internet hosts: 1,082 (2007)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 1 (2000)
Internet users: 20,100 (2005)
Airports: 5 (2007)
Airports - with paved runways: total: 3
over 3,047 m: 1
2,438 to 3,047 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 1 (2007)
Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 2
914 to 1,523 m: 2 (2007)
Roadways: total: 88 km
paved roads: 88 km - 60 km in Male; 14 km on Addu Atolis; 14 km on Laamu
note: village roads are mainly compacted coral (2006)
Merchant marine: total: 22 ships (1000 GRT or over) 85,935 GRT/114,054 DWT
by type: cargo 17, petroleum tanker 3, refrigerated cargo 2
foreign-owned: 1 (Greece 1)
registered in other countries: 2 (Panama 1, Tuvalu 1) (2007)
Ports and terminals: Male
Military branches: Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF): Quick Reaction Force, Security Protection Group, Coast Guard (2007)
Military service age and obligation: 18 years of age for voluntary military service; no conscription (2008)
Manpower available for military service: males age 18-49: 71,774
females age 18-49: 69,229 (2005 est.)
Manpower fit for military service: males age 18-49: 56,687
females age 18-49: 54,454 (2005 est.)
Military expenditures - percent of GDP: 5.5% (2005 est.)
Military - note: the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF), with its small size and with little serviceable equipment, is inadequate to prevent external aggression and is primarily tasked to reinforce the Maldives Police Service (MPS) and ensure security in the exclusive economic zone (2008)