It has a long history of control by foreign entities In the mid-15th century, it was ruled by Portugal (which at the time also controlled Ceylon). Then in the 17th century, the Dutch held the islands for four months. By the 19th century, it had fallen, along with most of the rest of the Indian subcontinent, under the control of The British Empire, who turned the islands into a protectorate, administered from Ceylon. Throughout these centuries, the Sultan still technically ruled the islands (a situation similar to India's Princely States). The islands became an independent Kingdom in 1965.note In 1968, the monarchy was abolished and the islands became a republic.
From 1978 to 2008, the Maldives was led by the authoritarian president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Democracy was subsequently introduced and has remained since. It remained a member of The Commonwealth of Nations until it was suspended in 2012, following the questionable circumstances of the then-President's resignation amidst street protests, with the government choosing to exit the bloc altogether in 2016. The president from 2013 to 2018, Abdulla Yameen, was a strongman accused of jailing political opponents and bringing the country close to China, which poured billions of dollars of investment into the Maldives as part of its Belt and Road initiative. He was surprisingly unseated in the 2018 election by Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who has started to investigate his predecessor for corruption and rights abuses. Solih's accession was a major sigh of relief for India, since it perceives him as more friendly to their interests in the face of neighbors who are increasingly turning their backs against it.
The Maldivian people are related to the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka (a.k.a. Ceylon) by language and ethnicity. However, they are set apart by religion. Whereas the Sinhalese are quite adamantly Buddhist, Maldivians converted en masse to Islam in the 12th century, after traders from North Africa introduced the religion to the islands. It is Serious Business. Today, being (Sunni) Muslim is a legal requirement for Maldivian citizenship, sharia law is considered superior to civil law in most cases, and freedom of religion is nonexistent. The largest diaspora of Maldivians is located right next door in India's Lakshadweep federal territory, chiefly in Minicoy, the atoll closest to the Maldives. Despite sharing everything with the Maldives and then some, the atoll became part of India upon independence because it was included as part of The Raj, unlike their brethren to the south.note
The script for the Maldivian language looks very strange-looking when compared to other scripts used in the Indian subcontinent. Actually, it's because it's not derived from any kind of Brahmi script, at least not those that are used for alphabets. Instead, (modified) Hindu-Arabic numerals, of all things, serve as its inspiration, complemented by Arabic diacritics to indicate sounds.
Maldives has the lowest high-point of any country on earth eight feet (just over two meters) above sea level. Considering that sea levels are expected to rise a significant amount over the next century, by 2100 there may not be a Maldives. This has led the government to be an active participant in climate change discussions, and to commit to becoming carbon-neutral by 2019.
One of the mainstays of the Maldivian economy is tourism no shock considering that the islands are well-known for their lush wildlife and white-sand beaches. The islands were badly hurt by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which caused damage totalling over 3/5 of the country's GDP. The tourist industry has been slowly recovering since.
The Maldivian flag