President Mohamed Nasheed has called for the United Nations to deploy peacekeepers in the troubled gulf state of Libya, in an effort “to contain” its leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Nasheed made the suggestion during an interview on ‘Walk the Talk’, a current affairs program on Indian television station NDTV.
The Libyan government, a 42 year autocracy under Gaddafi, is facing rising international censure after using African mercenaries and military hardware – including anti-aircraft missiles – against civilian protesters.
At least 300 people are believed dead in the uprising while armed opposition groups now control much of the east of the country including Zawiyah, a town just 30 miles from the west of the capital of Tripoli. The British SAS meanwhile evacuated more than 500 British oil workers from a staging point in the Libyan desert, using C-130 Hercules transports.
“I feel that the UN should now be thinking about peacekeeping in Libya – on the ground intervention. This is very important,” Nasheed said on ‘Walk the Talk’.
“It is very disturbing to see the whole thing being played out, and everyone talking about their nationals – we all humans and sovereignty cannot be played over humanity,” Nasheed said.
“It is very disturbing to hear everyone talking only about their own nationals. People should be talking about Libya and the people. You kill an Indian, you kill a Libyan, what difference does that make? You’ve killed someone.”
Direct action was needed, Nasheed said, rather than the further economic sanctions that had been imposed.
“[The international community] are talking about sanctions – but Libyans already can’t import anything,” he said.
Nasheed noted that Gaddafi had survived the extreme political turbulence of the last 3-4 days, and said he was “very jittery” about the prospects of the leader stepping down voluntarily.
“Certainly he should go – I’ve no doubt about that,” he said. “It is our responsibility to make sure that at the end of the day we don’t have headlines saying 500,000 people are dead from aerial bombing in Libya.”
The Maldives, Nasheed said, was a “laboratory case” for the current call for democracy in the Middle East and the ousting of autocratic leaders.
“For the last 100 years Maldivian leaders have tried to emulate Egypt. There was Gayoom, but other leaders before him also studied in Egypt.
“What they need now are political parties. We will always support movement in any country when people want to be free – it is very important for development that countries haves strong political parties and free and fair elections.”
The uprisings had showcased that there was “no contradiction between Islam and democracy”, Nasheed said. “We are a 100 percent Muslim country and we have been able to galvanise the public for political activism, we’ve been able to amend our constitution, we able to build political parties, we have had free and fair presidential elections, parliamentary elections, local elections, we have separation of powers, we have a very vibrant independent media, we have all the fundamental rights – but all that requires space for organised political activism.”
A theocracy based around an extreme religious idea, Nasheed said, was simply “The camoflage of a standard dictatorship – except in the name of God.”
Issues such as Israel and Middle East peace issues could be more easily dealt with in a free and democratic country, Nasheed said.
“We have been able to have a number contacts with Israel now – the people have no issue with that.”
Queried by the interviewer about the widespread public anger Nasheed faced when reaching out to Israel, Nasheed claimed that “there is always organised opposition, and there should be and we can always talk about it and give our point of view.”
The uprisings had broken many Middle Eastern stereotypes, Nasheed agreed.
“Finally we will be able to show Islam for what it is – a high sophisticated intellectual life, that is highly attractive to people.”
Asked by the interviewer if he himself was “a devout Muslim”, Nasheed described himself as “practicing”, “but I don’t think that necessarily narrows my thinking or my attitude or my interactions with anyone.”
The interviewer also challenged Nasheed on how the Maldives could balance a broadly Islamic population with the influences of Western-style beach tourism.
“Traditionally we were Sufi Muslim, so therefore we were very liberal,” Nasheed said. “But in 70s we had wahabism starting to come in. Then in the late 70s Gayoom came to power, after living in Egypt.
“There was always a tendency to use religion or verses from the Quran or hadiths to justify yourself or justify your actions. Some other leader might have said “for development’. But Gayoom would say, ‘for God, so that we may attain paradise.’ What you are really saying is that you are building a school.”