The crucial geopolitical position of the Maldives has meant that it was able to retain internal autonomy whilst remaining free of external threats by accepting the protection of the Dutch, entering into a defence treaty with the French and maintaining good relations with the Britain, especially after they took possession of Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka) in 1796. In 1887, the Sultan entered into a formal agreement with Britain declaring the Maldives as a British protectorate. On 26 July 1965 an independence agreement was signed with Britain, recognizing the Islands as completely sovereign and independent.
The Islands fluctuated between a Sultanate and a republic for the first half of the 20th Century. In 1978 Muamoon Gayoom took the Presidency, remaining in office for 6 terms – 30 years. His presidency was mired with controversy. On the one hand he bought prominence and wealth to the islands through his focus on tourism and trade. On the other he violently curtailed any political and even civil dissension to his rule – with reports of torture, mass beatings and solitary confinement. Despite free elections in 2008, the election of current President Abdulla Yameen (President Gayooms brother) in 2013 has led to civil unrest and corruption scandals. Despite this tumultuous internal workings the Maldives remains a favourite tourist destination.
The Maldives has a diverse culture that is mostly influenced by South India and Sri Lanka. Since the 12th century, the island nation has had a huge influence from Arabia which is still visible in the language and religion of the country. There are also a few elements of African origin from people bought as slaves to the island nation to serve the royal family, and nobles who stopped over on their way to the Hajj journey in Arabia. Most of today’s population are Indo-Aryan, and are entirely of Muslim faith.