Minivan News brings you the final instalment in a three-part interview with Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed. A founding member of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and later, the New Maldives, a faction within the party which aimed to make the Maldives a liberal democracy, Shaheed has served under two successive administrations. In the 2008 presidential elections, he was independent candidate Dr Hassan Saeedâ€™s running mate. In January, the pair formed the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), which is part of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) led coalition government.
Why donâ€™t you tell me a little bit about this award that you have recently won?
Iâ€™m very happy to be named Muslim Democrat of the year. Theyâ€™ve been looking at the work that I do. Iâ€™ve been very much in the limelight since the tsunami. I was the government spokesperson, trying to defend a reform agenda but I was putting it together as well. I am recognised as very strong on human rights and advocacy.
We had a government here which was very adamant on cultural human rights. I changed that round to put it into the international perspective, but in the end I also left them because you can take a horse to water but you canâ€™t make it drink.
The work I did in the previous government trying to move towards democracy and the work I did after being in the government, to pressure them and to build a coalition and currently in trying to sustain the government.
I sent a paper to the conference. The paper looked at what we were doing in the Maldives to bring democracy, but in particular how the former government had used Islam as a tool for control and how we thought we could dismantle that and make Islam a positive force for democracy in the Maldives.
How did the previous government use Islam as a tool?
The point is before the last regime came to power, we had a very relaxed regime towards Islam with almost Sufi traditions being practised here. But I think they almost Salafised it. Gayoom is perhaps a moderate in many ways but his language is that of a Salafist. Islamic brotherhood in Egypt is very Salafist in many ways.
So they used Islam for everything in the country, they used something Islamic as the benchmark to look at. So Islam came into every aspect in modern politics, it came into every ritual, in every political event and anyone who opposed the regime faced the danger of being labelled un-Islamic.
What was the impact on this?
The negative effects of this are it obfuscates rational thinking. Islam strikes a very emotive chord in people here and it doesnâ€™t necessarily bring out the most rational thinking. It also presents in some ways an official version of Islam sanctioned by the government. What I mean to say is that Islam is in any case very diverse.
So you have a problem with an official version of Islam sanctioned by the government?
In an ideal world how should it be?
Well Islam has a lot to do with the individual and God. We donâ€™t have to have an intercessory in between the two. But when you have secular authorities pronouncing on these issues, they mix the two. And one very unfortunate development is that when they drafted the last constitution in 1977, the Islamists argued that in a Muslim country you canâ€™t have a separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive.
So the president assumed powers as the head of judiciary as something Islamic, which is not the case. Then again when it came to denying representation, they used Islam as the justification. They misused Islam for political gain, the primary one being the role of the president as head of the judiciary.
For now Iâ€™m very happy to be in a 100 per cent Muslim country having achieved homegrown democracy. Itâ€™s not something that was imposed on us. The movement for democracy grew in the countryâ€¦weâ€™re still trying to complete the revolution here.
We donâ€™t think Islam and democracy are incompatible. We are also showing that an Islamic country can be pro-West. In fact, an argument you donâ€™t hear from us but they quote throughout the Islamic world is that the West is to blame for a lot of things. Now you donâ€™t hear that argument from us. We donâ€™t blame the West for anything.
But we think there are things the Islamic world ought to be doing and can do to build bridges with Western countries. The point is we as Muslim countries must recognise certain things, like international law for example and the fact that weâ€™re living in a globalised society and that there is the United Nations.
These basic things we recognise, the Islamists donâ€™t do that. We are a country that recognises the universality of human rights. We recognise that Islam can co-exist with other values.