Prospect of “radicalised, authoritarian” Maldives threatens all nations: former president Nasheed

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has spoken of the close relationship between climate change, human rights, and democracy during separate addresses to the Danish parliament and the University of Copenhagen this week.

Discussing concerns over political instability in the Maldives that have been raised by NGOs such as Amnesty Intentional since President Dr Mohamed Waheed came to power last year, Nasheed accused the current government of reversing “hard won freedoms” and awarding “Islamic extremists” with cabinet positions.

He also claimed that the prospect of the Maldives becoming a “radicalised, authoritarian stronghold” would have negative connotations well beyond the country’s borders.

“In many ways, [extremists] set the tone of Government communications and they are busy trying to indoctrinate the people with a misguided version of Islam,” Nasheed said.

The office of President Waheed – who entered into office through a controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012 – today dismissed Nasheed allegations that Islamic extremists were serving in the government.

“I urge Mr Nasheed to stop spreading lies to promote his political agenda.  I call on him to engage professionally,” President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said via SMS today.

Senior government figures have earlier this year criticised some of the recent findings published about the Maldives by Amnesty International, accusing the group of publishing reports without conducting research.

During his visit to the Danish capital, Nasheed also met with current and former Danish Ministers, high-level officials, supporters, as well as gave an interview to local tv news show DR2 Dagen.

Nasheed, who is a globally recognised high-profile advocate for climate justice, expounded on how he believed environmental issues, human rights, and political stability are increasingly intertwined.

“The fight against climate change is a human rights issue and the way we respond to it will shape not just our environment, but also geopolitical reality – for generations to come,” he stated while speaking at the University of Copenhagen yesterday (April 16).

“Bad energy policy is not just polluting our planet, it is polluting our politics, warping international relations.”

“New balance of power”

Nasheed gave a lecture to the University of Copenhagen highlighting the “corrupting influence of fossil fuels” on energy politics and how this has clashed with the newly-founded Maldivian democracy.

“The politics of energy is polluting international relations, just as it pollutes the air, casting a shadow over much of the world and holding back clean energy,” he stated.

“It is the invisible force holding nations in thrall to dictators, causing conflicts and repressing human rights, a suffocating inertia that holds back democracy and development.”

Nasheed addressed how “the fight for fossil fuel resources has shaped the world” for over a century, but now “the time has come for a reformation in energy politics; one that values human rights above mineral rights.”

While fossil fuels have “driven companies to corruption, governments to repression, and nations to war, the new resources – solar, wind, waves – are much more widely distributed…there are no ‘resource fields’ to fight over.”

Clean energy is about a significant shift in the established geopolitical order, a shuffling of the deck in the great game, not just about rewiring the world economy, Nasheed explained.

“Carbon emissions”

“If we turn our backs on corrupting influence of fossil fuels, if we reject the polluting in pursuit of the beautiful, we can protect the world around us. We can deliver sustainable economic growth. And we can do so whilst putting development and democracy first,” he stated.

“For the first time since the Industrial Revolution, it is now technologically, economically and politically feasible for people to get their energy sustainably.

Nasheed said it was important that climate change not be underplayed as “some abstract risk,” claiming that the lives and freedoms of people all over the world were threatened if no action was taken to address environmental concerns meaningfully.

“I know it is possible, because we had a plan to do it in the Maldives. A fully costed plan, approved by the World Bank, to go carbon neutral. The only reason we didn’t was because we were rudely interrupted by a coup!” Nasheed exclaimed.

“Radicalised, authoritarian stronghold”

Nasheed also gave a speech to the Danish Parliament that reiterated similar environmental themes, but with an emphasis on the Maldives’ 2008 democratic transition.

A year prior to the Copenhagen Accords – the first time that big emitters from the developed and the developing world all agreed to cut carbon emissions – the Maldives had transitioned from former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 30-year authoritarian rule to democracy, Nasheed explained.

“Positive changes such as ‘Basic freedoms’ – freedoms which been repressed for generations – began to take hold,” said Nasheed.

“The Maldives was being hailed by NGOs as a model of liberal, Islamic democracy,” he added.

Nasheed provided the Danish parliament with a brief narrative account of the police and military mutiny on February 7, 2012, which he alleged was controlled by “Gayoom, and his allies, alongside Islamic extremists keen to re-establish the old order.”

“[Gayoom’s] former dictatorship organised the coup because they could see the edifice of their economic and political power crumbling,” he explained. “It was crumbling because Maldivians had rejected authoritarianism, rejected feudalism and largely rejected Islamic extremism.”

Nasheed also added that the prospect of the Maldives becoming a “radicalised, authoritarian stronghold” was a threat for many people.

“It is a threat to the hundreds of thousands of Europeans who holiday there every year. It is a threat to neighbouring democracies, such as India.  And it is a threat to the stability of the wider Indian Ocean, through which 40% of world trade passes,” he said.

“A democratic Maldives is not only your friend; it is also the best guarantor of your interests,” he emphasised.

Free and fair elections

Domestically, Nasheed is presently being tried in the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court over the controversial detention of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

However, Nasheed has maintained that the trial, presently on hold pending a High Court decision on the legitimacy of judges appointed to hear the former president’s case, is politically motivated to try and prevent free and fair elections from occurring this September.

He highlighted recent conclusions of both local and international experts into the present status of the country’s judiciary to support his claims.

“The United Nations Special Rapporteur says the court is bias and politicised. This view is shared by Amnesty International and the UN Human Rights Committee,” he said.


Former President Nasheed reaches Copenhagen climate talks despite alleged obstruction

Former President Mohamed Nasheed was temporarily obstructed from traveling overseas yesterday (April 14) despite having High Court approval, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has alleged.  Nasheed’s office has said this is the fourth time over the last 12 months that he has faced restrictions on his travel.

The High Court had granted Nasheed permission to travel abroad yesterday, while Maldivian authorities were informed of his planned departure to Copenhagen, Denmark, at 7:30pm in the evening, MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed today.

However, an hour before Nasheed’s scheduled departure – after he had arrived at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) in Male’ –  his office said they were informed Nasheed could not leave the country.

The Department of Immigration and Emigration were then accused of preventing Nasheed from leaving the Maldives, claiming the High Court had not granted him permission to travel overseas before April 15.

After Nasheed’s flight departed, the Immigration Department then granted their official permission, Ghafoor said.

Nasheed then rescheduled his flight and departed the Maldives for Copenhagen at 11:40pm on April 14.

Ghafoor added that this was the fourth instance where Nasheed has been obstructed from traveling abroad on a scheduled international visit under the present government.

He explained that “everything was scheduled properly and there was no controversy from the High Court,” instead the issue lies with the Immigration Department.

“The Immigration Department will not stop trying to find any little administrative mistakes – and when they can’t, they invent something. They will most likely quote an administrative error on the part of Nasheed’s staff,” said Ghafoor.

“President Nasheed has not been shown the courtesy a former head of state deserves,” he added.

Nasheed’s spokesperson, Mariya Didi echoed these sentiments stating: “As a former President, it deeply concerning that the Maldivian authorities continue to withhold the constitutionally stipulated privileges accorded to President Nasheed.”

When asked about Nasheed’s travel arrangements, Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali told Minivan News today to “ask the MDP about it,” adding he would not comment on any instance of the former president being obstructed from traveling overseas.

Climate change, economics, and democracy

While in Denmark, Nasheed has been invited to speak at the University of Copenhagen on the economics of climate change.

His office has said he will speak on outlining the dangers posed to the Maldives by climate change, and explain how the world can build a carbon neutral global economy by focusing on the opportunities provided by clean technology.

The investments for producing sustainable energy in the Maldives are now viable, Nasheed told local media prior to his departure yesterday.

Ghafoor said that Nasheed plans to speak at the Danish Parliament and meet with ministers during this “rushed but comprehensive trip”.

“He’s not a green man per se, but rather supports economics of the green movement,” he added.

Nasheed told local media that his parliamentary speech will highlight how the Maldives has deviated from democratic principles and the efforts necessary to put the country “back on track to democratic governance”.

Nasheed is scheduled to return April 18.

Previous travel bans

Earlier this year,the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court denied former Nasheed’s request to travel abroad for a family wedding from March 27 to March 31.

Meanwhile, Nasheed’s request to travel overseas between February 27 to March 5 was denied by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court because “he had not cooperated with the court on previous instances”. The trip had been scheduled after Nasheed received an invitation from the Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma, and to Denmark under an invitation from the state.

Nasheed was also prevented from leaving the country December 21, 2012 to visit his ill father in Bangkok, Thailand due to a “technical problem,” the Department of Immigration and Emigration has claimed.

Earlier in 2012, the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court imposed an internal travel ban “confining Nasheed Male’,” which he said will hinder his political campaigning and wider party work.

Copenhagen climate justice advocacy

Nasheed galvanised thousands of environmentalists at a rally in Copenhagen December 2009, vowing to persevere until a politically binding climate change treaty was attained.

The Danish Prime Minister called Nasheed “the real hero of Copenhagen” following a marathon 30 hour negotiation session to reach an agreement during the 2009 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks.

The agreed-upon accord recognises that global temperatures should rise no higher than two degrees Celcius above pre-industrial levels, but does not commit developed countries to legally-binding emission reduction targets.

Current carbon-neutral commitments

The current government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has said it is committed to pursuing carbon neutral ambitions, despite last year’s political tensions reportedly affecting investment potential for such schemes.

Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela said last year that some of the programs presently being undertaken by her ministry had started seven years previously – before Former President Mohamed Nasheed came to power – and were being adhered to on the grounds they would benefit the nation.

“We are continuing with the carbon neutrality program,” she said at the time. “ We are giving it our best shot.”

Since early 2012, the Maldivian government has overseen the initial stages of a few new renewable energy projects to achieve this goal.

The Maldives’ State Electric Company Limited (STELCO) announced in March 2013 plans to implement a 50 megawatt floating solar panel project to power the country’s capital Male’ and provide renewable energy for 28 islands with rooftop installations.

The Ministry of Environment in conjunction with the Ministry of Finance issued a prequalification application in January 2013 for the “Solar Maldives Programme.” The project aims to “design, build, finance, own, operate and transfer grid-tied solar photovoltaic systems for integration with diesel generators on 15 islands” in the south, north, and upper north provinces.

The government has also received bids to install a 300 kW grid connected solar PV system on Thinadhoo Island, the regional capital of Gaaf Dhaal (Huvadhoo) Atoll. This is part of the “Clean Energy for Climate Mitigation (CECM) Project” financed by the Climate Change Trust Fund (CCTF) – a collaboration between the Maldivian government, World Bank, European Union (EU) and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).

“The system is expected to meet 30 percent of the peak day time demand of electricity and will offset approximately 300 tons of carbon dioxide annually,” the Ministry of Environment previously claimed.

The Waheed administration has also announced its intention to move ahead with plans to transform the Maldives into a biosphere reserve through the designation of zones across the country that would earmark land use for specific purposes such as tourism development or conservation.


Former President Nasheed to speak at University of Copenhagen

Former President Mohamed Nasheed speaking at a Sustainability Lecture organised by the University of Copenhagen on the 16th of April 2013.

According to a statement from Nasheed’s office, for former President will outline the dangers posed to the Maldives by climate change, and explain how the world can build a carbon neutral global economy by focusing on the opportunities provided by clean technology, “in order to defeat climate change and overcome the fossil fuel interests trying to prevent progress.”

The University of Copenhagen invites speakers to pass on their experiences and opinions on how to approach challenges concerning sustainability.


Island President opens to packed audiences

The pre-release premiere of the Island President opened last night in Dharubaarge to packed audiences.

Tickets that had originally been sold for Rf 80 (US$5) were selling for Rf 150 (US$10) on the black market yesterday afternoon. Such was the demand that organisers squeezed an extra 50 chairs into the auditorium at the last minute for on-the-door sales.

The film details the lead up to President Mohamed Nasheed’s election and the introduction of multi-party democracy. This is by no means an objective film: former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is treated harshly by the filmmakers and portrayed as thoroughly creepy, as in one scene where he stares unblinking at the camera while soldiers goose step past and a tinny patriotic song plays in the background.

Neither is it propaganda – rare archival footage of brutal military crackdowns and photos of the battered body of Evan Naseem lead up to one of the film’s strongest moments: time-lapse footage of the tin shed in which Nasheed was incarcerated in solitary confinement for 18 months.

“You walk in your mind,” he explains. “Even if you can only take 4-5 steps, you walk it over and over again.”

Nasheed’s seriousness on the subjects of democracy and climate change is given contrast as the filmmakers home in on endearing personal touches – the President’s assistant struggling to do up his tie, Nasheed’s request that the Muleaage staff fetch his mother’s spicy fish recipe, his bitter asides expressing frustration with diplomatic bureaucracy, his phone call home to tell his mother he had secured a deal in Copenhagen, and photos from the days he sported an afro.

The film portrays him as a very human and accessible leader, qualities which are sure to make the film a success among the liberal university student demographic when it is released to cinemas in the US in February.

Foreign audiences with more interest in global climate politics than in the Maldives will find much to take from the film. Nasheed serves as a fascinating behind-the-scenes ticket to the Copenhagen Summit and the diplomatic wrangling of 192 world leaders. In one scene he bullies the President of Grenada into rewriting a document on the climate change ambitions of small island states, in another he disappears behind a palm tree to speak to the Australian Prime Minister over the phone – the filmmakers follow.

Descriptions of The Island President as ‘the West Wing of climate change’ are apt – in one scene, a Chinese diplomat is filmed asking a protocol officer to identify the Maldivian President. “Your government should know this,” she snaps.

The impact of the film locally will be hard to predict. Whatever the politics of the viewer, there is a great deal for Maldivians to be proud about in The Island President. In one scene, Nasheed and Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam argue bitterly about whether to compromise on 1.5 degrees in order to at least secure an adaptation deal.

“People listen to you. We don’t want to look like we’ve been bought,” Aslam insists. Nasheed’s explosive reaction quickly dispels any doubt that his is a calculated attempt to milk foreign aid – he is clearly convinced the threat is existential, but is forced to come to terms with compromising his global ambitions for the sake of his country.

The first screening last night was predictably brimming with Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters, but the second session was a mixed – and younger – crowd. With 40 percent of the population aged between 15-24 and many disenfranchised by the ‘he said, she said’ nature of Maldivian politics, the film could well have political ramifications in 2013 if it proves popular with this set.

Eleanor Johnstone:

“The Island President” sets a mood of gravity and hope. Using footage and interviews original and historic, television broadcasts, and moments intimate as well as highly public, the film offers a cinematic collage of President Nasheed’s pursuit of democracy and in putting, and keeping, the Maldives on the map.

A combined sense of crisis and action dominates the film, particularly on the environmental issue. But threads of hope are strung throughout, most notably in the Maldivian government’s negotiating style. Regularly confronted with the baby-step methods of many foreign powers, Nasheed’s strident style may unnerve his own delegation but it presents him as a man of action, keen to keep his word.

Everyone knows someone who disdains politics as a sport of chatter and show. Nasheed is one of them. At Copenhagen he regularly vents of the slow-moving discussions and hesitant delegations to his own group of ministers. The Island President might leave Maldivians in fear for their homeland. But with a leader who speaks his mind without reservation, the country has more than many world powers can boast.

Extra showings of The Island President will be held at Athena Cinema on Friday
and Saturday, following unprecedented demand.

Friday 25 November at Athena Cinema: 14:30; 17:30; 20:30; 23:30.

Saturday 26 November at Athena Cinema: 17:30; 20:00.

Tickets can be bought from Athena Cinema between 16:30 – 23:00. Planned screenings for Dharubaarge on Thursday will be moved to Athena Cinema to meet demand. Ticket hotline: 9797356.


Pre-release screenings of The Island President to be shown this week

Tickets are on sale for pre-release screenings of The Island President, a documentary feature film following President Mohamed Nasheed to the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit.

Screenings in the Maldives will be subtitled in Dhivehi for the local audience. Director Jon Shenk will attend the premiere.

The film, which has a 9/10 rating on IMDB (Internet Movie Database) and received the People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary at the Toronto International Film Festival, will be released in cinemas across the US in February 2012.

The Island President has been warmly received by film critics overseas both for behind-the-scenes look at international climate politics, and Nasheed’s candour in his dealings with foreign heads of state.

Reelfilms criticised the film for its 101 minute length and “dry, overtly political final half hour”, but praised director Jon Shenk’s opening of the film “with a whirlwind look at Nasheed’s journey from political prisoner to public official.”

“It’s ultimately Nasheed himself who compensates for the movie’s uneven atmosphere, as the remarkably even-tempered politician comes off as a tremendously likeable and engaging figure who seems universally beloved by his people,” wrote reviewer David Nusair, following the film’s airing in Toronto.

Toronto weekly entertainment publication NOW described the film as “a fascinating look at an extraordinary personality”, with Shenk given “impressive access to this humble head of state”.

“Unfortunately, the director undermines the urgency of his material with poor choices including flashy visuals and a soundtrack featuring Radiohead that feels completely out of place,” wrote Radheyan Simonpillai.

The film was funded by several American charitable foundations, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Ford Foundation, John D. and The Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Atlantic Philanthropies and the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund.

It has also appeared at the Telluride Film Festival, a documentary film festival in New York, and will be be aired at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam this week before travelling to the Maldives.

After the Maldives, the film will travel to Goa, to be screened at the International Film Festival of India.

The Island President premieres at Dharubaaruge on Wednesday night at 8:30pm Tickets are on sale at Raalhugandu point and Athena Cinema from 4:30pm to 11:00pm.

It will also be shown at 11:30pm on Wednesday, and at 8:30pm and 11:30pm on Thursday. The film will also be screened at Athena Cinema at 8:30pm and 11:30pm on Thursday. Tickets for the Athena showings must be bought from Athena Cinema.


“Copenhagen Accord was not an admission of defeat”: Foreign Minister

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Naseem has delivered a keynote address in Dhaka at the Climate Vulnerable Forum organized by the Government of Bangladesh.

The forum was inaugurated by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and attended by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“Today, conventional wisdom suggests that Copenhagen was a failure,” Naseem said. “I beg to differ. In my opinion, the Copenhagen Accord was not an admission of defeat, but the first step on the road towards a solution – a solution based on the vision laid down in the Male’ Declaration. That vision was simple: that global warming will only be halted when States realize the futility of arguing over whom should cut emissions, and begin competing to become the leaders of the new industrial revolution – a revolution based not on the finite power of coal and oil, but on the infinite power of the sun, sea and wind.”

Minister highlighted that it was the hope of President Nasheed that this year’s meeting will achieve on to remind the world of the plight of the most climate vulnerable countries and in so doing confront the  growing sense of apathy and re-energise the international community to  act.

Naseem also called for “a strong progressive message [at] COP 17 in Durban, encouraging the UNFCCC to establish a new legal framework on climate change which encourages and helps states take positive action, in other words to invest in low carbon technology, rather than only demanding that they accept negative obligations – namely to cut emissions.”

In his statement Minister also stressed on the challenges and difficulties faced by developing countries in shifting to a low carbon development pathway, and to give guidance to the international community regarding how it can best held and support that shift.


Q&A: UN Ambassador Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed

Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed is the Maldives Ambassador to the UN and was defacto non-resident Ambassador to the US, prior to the recent appointment of Ahmed Sareer to the position. He speaks to Minivan News about the Maldives-US relationship, climate politics and the challenges facing the country with the introduction of new interpretations of religion.

JJ Robinson: Why do you think countries such as the US and UK are interested in the Maldives considering it is such a small and remote nation?

Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed: Right now small states make up a substantial part of the international community and they have a loud voice. They not willing to sit back and take what comes, they are making their presence known and making waves, trying to assert their rights as they become more confident.

As they become more experienced in international affairs, they are becoming a much bigger presence than before. Sometimes small states are also able to act in ways larger, more powerful states are unable – other countries are much more wary of positions taken by larger states.

Small states have the opportunity to speak more openly and frankly on issues in an objective manner. I think when our views are consistent, eventually the international community does recognise that here is a country that does its homework and tries to be responsible within the resource constraints it has.

In particular the Maldives has undergone tremendous changes in the last few years; changes that present a symbol of hope for many other countries. The Maldives is a small island Muslim country, with relations with the Commonwealth and a wide range of membership which helps it have access to a large pool of friends, and the views of countries. It is also a founding member of SAARC, and although the Maldives and Bhutan are the smallest SAARC states, both played an important role in shaping its direction, especially this year as we take up the chairmanship.

Here’s a country that has had no political parties in its entire history. It went from an autocratic monarchy to an autocratic presidency. Although we moved from a sultanate, it was in some ways a change in name rather than a change in psyche, for the people and those in government.

Consequently it was a very difficult change to multiparty democracy, with new novel concepts such as independent institutions, and a President more constrained than the heads of governments we are used to having.

Yet despite the turmoil, I think the Maldives has showed that through dialogue and robust engagement, you can change a government through the ballot box. It is a credit to both the former President and the serving President that they were able to manage the transition so smoothly, given the potential for disruption.

JJ: Do you hold to the view that the Maldives is in some ways two years ahead of the current turmoil in the Middle East, and could perhaps set an example for some of these countries?

AGM: Yes and no. Yes in the sense that there are certain similarities: it was the ordinary people, and not just the poor and uncared for. It was the educated middle class and youth who took the lead in bringing the changes to the Maldives. And they demanded their rights on the streets.

But the Middle East is large and the countries complex, and a lot more people have vested interests in what happens there. We should note the success of the Maldives, in part because of the support and encouragement the international community gave to it. I’m not saying they interfered, but they certainly encouraged a democratic transition. They were engaged with both the government and the opposition, and keen to ensure the unrest did not become too costly, as a country that is dependent so much on tourism – peace and stability are important to the Maldives.

There are certainly things that can be learned from the Maldives’ experience. One of the things is the fast pace at which we moved, which made it very difficult to complete the institutions in time. Most people need time to adjust to the new thinking and new concepts.

In the Maldives we are lucky to have a homogenous religion and race, whereas in many Middle Eastern countries you have tribes and different religious and racial backgrounds. For them to come together to make sure a new political framework protects all the interests of this people may by more challenging than in the Maldives.

JJ: Since the Maldives joined the UN Human Rights Council, have you observed a difference in the way in which the Maldives is regarded and its diplomatic position?

AGM: The Maldives has always been fairly well received. We have good standing as a country run quite stably and with good development. Whatever problems we have had we have kept to ourselves.

The fact that we moved in 30-40 years from one of the least developed 16 countries to being a graduated non-LDC (least developed country) by end of first decade of the 21st century, means not only we but the last government achieved some things quite well.

The new government has taken a much more active position and is willing to be engaged with the international community even on issues of controversy, speaking its mind quite frankly.

This is the first time ever the Maldives is holding a position of this nature in the international arena. We have never been a member of a UN institution. We came in with a lot of good will because of our established record of engagement and a record of openness and transparency. We are one of the few countries which has a standing invitation to special rapporteurs.

We are also one of the few small countries – and a Muslim country – with a permanent presence in Geneva. As there are often misunderstandings about human rights instruments and values by the West and Muslim countries, many saw us, and we certainly promote ourselves, as a country that can provide a bridge for these views, as well as provide a voice for smaller states on the Council.

JJ: A US State Department cable leaked by Wikileaks documents your meeting with the State Department in February 2010. During the meeting, Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake asks if the Maldives required “quiet US assistance” to take up the Human Rights Council position. Was that offer taken up, and what was the extent of US support for the Maldives in entering the Human Rights Council?

AGM: As a small country we didn’t have resources to run an election campaign in the way larger countries can run. Our record is of making ourselves heard and meeting as many ambassadors as possible, letter writing campaigns, and using our embassies in other parts of the world. Ministers also made contact at any international meetings.

Our campaign went on at a persistent and consistent level that didn’t cost us, because we didn’t have any money. We were obviously happy with the support that anyone extended to us, be it the US, UK or Canada. Most Western countries saw us as a moderate country that could play a constructive role.

While we appreciated the offer of help we were very keen to ensure than nobody viewed the Maldives as being sponsored. It was a conscious decision by the government because we felt we had a constructive role to play. We got 185 votes – the maximum number we could get.

JJ: The Maldives was running against Iran?

AGM: We were not running against Iran at the later stage, as they graciously withdrew and made way for the Maldives to run the race uncontested. We appreciated that, because while we were trying to win we didn’t want anyone to feel we were running against a particular country. We felt we had a strong case in running for the election in 2010, because this was the first time the Maldives had run for a position on a UN body.

There are very few small nations in Geneva who can be in the council. We had a history of positive engagement, and we wanted to use our membership in the council to improve the human rights situation at home as well.

Locally, not everyone agrees with some of the concepts. Either they are misunderstood, or seen as threatening. Our membership on the Human Rights Council also makes it easier for us to lobby the domestic community.

JJ: Later in the leaked document, Special Envoy to facilitate the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp offered the Maldives US$85,000 for the resettlement of a Guantanamo detainee.

AGM: This was at an informal level to see the possibility. With regard to the money offered to the government of the Maldives, this was to help the person settle in the Maldives, and for his upkeep. This was not prize money. Obviously housing a person in the Maldives, giving him a place to stay, trying to find him an employment opportunity – that is a cost, and obviously one the Maldives should not have to pay as we are doing a favour for the US.

JJ: What ultimately happened? Did the Maldives take the US up on that offer?

AGM: The matter became quite a stir in the country, and it later died down. To my knowledge there was been no transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo to the Maldives.

JJ: You also discussed the possibility of the US putting down US$50 million in climate change assistance, which the UK’s Guardian newspaper interpreted as in return for taking a particular position at the Copenhagen climate summit.

AGM: The Maldives was one of the few small countries that supported the Copenhagen Accord, because we felt that accepting Copenhagen was more helpful than not accepting it.

We also felt that if more states came on board, the likelihood that the commitments that were given would become reality much quicker. The government did try to encourage other small states to come on board. It was a catch 22 situation – some small countries wanted to wait and see commitments become reality.

The US felt that unless there were enough people committed to the Copenhagen Accord, it would be difficult to make money available. They have to sell the commitments to their people and Congress as well.

I remember the conversation. I said that if the US were to be more forthcoming with their commitments and put the money in, it may actually encourage small states to come on more quickly, because they would see there was value in taking on the Copenhagen Accord. It wasn’t just the Maldives – I was keen to see commitments available for small states, which would mean other small states would also benefit.

Even before my meeting with the State Department the President had written to many heads of state to try and encourage them to come on board. The Maldives sent its letter of acceptance of the accord immediately after the meeting.

Unfortunately there were allegations, but I can certainly say no money was exchanged for votes.

JJ: Did the US$50 million in climate assistance ever materialise?

AGM: I believe are a number of climate-related projects with which the US is now helping.

JJ: Do you think the Maldives’ international human rights agenda at times conflicts not only with the understanding of human rights here, but also the constitution?

AGM: I wouldn’t say conflicts. But I think there are various interpretations between those who are liberal and conservative in their interpretations. But it would be wrong to say a conflict as such. I think through dialogue and discussion we can find a common ground where human rights are universal.

JJ: This topic came up during your discussion with the US State Department – you mentioned the need for greater access in the Maldives to “Western liberal education” to counter some of the extremist views coming back from places such as Pakistan.

AGM: Again, different people interpreted the comment differently. Some people interpret it as though I was trying to stop Maldivian students from traveling to places like Egypt to study. I was not – the point I was making was that many of the educational opportunities we get are in the Middle East, and sometimes for free – especially in Pakistan, where the madrassas offer free education.

Given the limited resources many parents have, it is very appealing to send children, especially sons, to these places that offer free education – in religion. The Maldives has traditionally been a very religious country. There is a love of religion and a very strong identity held about being Muslim.

When they have an opportunity for free education in Islam, many parents send their children. We have also relied on scholarships from other countries to educate children in higher studies. The more we receive these from Western countries, the more children will come back and have an influence on society. Many leading public figures have been educated abroad.

The US was one of the prime sponsors of Maldivians some time back in the 80s – we had 50 plus students in the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. Some of the best and brightest of that generation were educated in Beirut.

So we are trying to encourage especially the US to grant more scholarships for Maldivian students. It is an expensive place to study, especially for undergraduates. We felt quite keenly the loss of opportunities in Beirut. We looked to revive such opportunities.

JJ: People talk here about views from overseas being brought back to the Maldives. To what extent do you think that the Arab or Saudi interpretations of religion have been brought to the Maldives in this way, and to what extent have they supplanted traditional Maldivian interpretations of Islam?

AGM: This is my own very personal opinion: our earliest scholars studied at Azhar University in Egypt, and they were highly regarded [back in the Maldives]. There is a strong connection between religion taught in Azhar university, and religion practiced in the Maldives.

The one book that taught religion to a generation of Maldivians was a religious book by Mohamed Jameel, the father of the former Foreign Minister Fathulla Jameel. He was known as the teacher of a generation in terms of educating the public in religion.

That was the basis. These days, with the advent of modern communications and transport, we have many people coming from many schools. Even in the Middle East you have many ways of teaching and practicing religion, from the Gulf states to the more conservative Saudi Arabia. When they come back, they bring their own views of Islam, and how they have been taught.

In some ways this is unfortunate in a society that has had a very strong accord with religion. People are coming back with different religious experiences, and when they try to practice it here it sows discord. We have always seen religion as a force that bound the people of Maldives together as one, we are now seeing it as a source of discord. And that is a pity.

We hope that rather than stick to dogmatic views, we will be able to stick to a point of view that brings us together as one. The more you study the more you become aware of the complexities – whereas when you have only the basics, you can accept unquestioningly. Now there are questions being asked – people are more willing to question religious and political leaders.

There is also the internet. But it takes a strong intellect and a very good sense of right and wrong to determine sense from nonsense on the internet.

JJ: With more people talking about this, questions being asked and different interpretations coming forward, does this not conflict with what you said earlier about the Maldives being a homogenous society with one interpretation of religion binding it together?

AGM: I think this is part of progress and development. People are becoming more open to new ways of thinking and alternative view points. I think it is becoming more mature. Even if we were to hold different views on religion, we are learning to disagree without being disagreeable.

JJ: What has been the impact of the Maldives’ graduation from the UN’s definition of a least developed country to a middle income country? Has this affected countries’ willingness to engage with the Maldives as a development partner? Does this risk the Maldives being cut off from support?

AGM: I don’t think we will be cut off. This a point we have with the international community. Although we graduated in 2011, this was not a cause for celebration because it meant we had more challenges. Many of the challenges we faced before we will continue to face as a developing island nation: our small resource base, our transport costs, our dependence on one or two resources, and vulnerability to what happens outside in tourism and fishing – we have little control over the world market.

We have a fairly small economy and we do not have the economies of scale. One of the things the donor countries promised was a smooth transition. The Maldives’ efforts during the LDC conference meant we were able to adopt a resolution on transition, which would continue to provide certain benefits to a country for three years, as well as call on donor countries to continue assisting with the transition.

The worst message the international community could give to other potential countries graduating would be to see us revert to an LDC. There should not be a fear of slipping back. There is a very ambitious document that came out in the LDC conference in Turkey, which pledged to graduate 10-12 countries in the next 10 year period. It is important that these countries welcome rather than fear graduation.

There should be certain benefits we receive after graduating and showing that we are on the right path, and a country worth investing in. Certainly we have challenges, but we also have opportunities, and become exploit to our benefit, and show we are successful, be our partner in development.


Maldives documentary makes waves at Toronto and North American film festivals

The Island President, a Hollywood-style documentary film featuring President Mohamed Nasheed, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) today in Canada.

A grant-funded project, the film is one of the first to bring the Maldives’ fight against climate change to the international movie-going audiences. Starting with Nasheed’s initial vow to make the Maldives carbon-neutral, the film documents the president’s efforts to make climate change an important issue for politicians around the globe.

“The ability to sustain human life here is very fragile,” Nasheed says in the documentary. “The most important fight is the fight for our survival…. There is impending disaster.”

The film culminates in Copenhagen, where world leaders met in December 2009 for the United National Climate Change Conference. Although the summit was later reviewed as a failure, it did mark the first time that leading world powers agreed that the issue needed to be addressed.

Actual Films, an Oscar and Emmy-winning American documentary film company based in San Francisco, contacted the Maldivian government in early 2009 and asked for permission to film President Nasheed, members of the government and others as they prepared for the Copenhagen summit.

Director Jon Shenk, who directed the 2003 documentary “Lost Boys of Sudan”, followed Nasheed closely during his first year in office. Shenk told the Los Angeles Times that the documentary team hoped Nasheed would give a personal edge to a groundbreaking environmental and political topic.

“He was willing to be out there and say what a lot of politicians are afraid to say, which intrigued us,” said Shenk. “Climate change is so difficult to grasp and so difficult to generate world momentum around, but there are real people who are going to be affected really soon.”

The film looks inside previously unseen recordings of the Maldivian government’s preparations for the summit, and delivers behind-the-scenes footage from the event itself.

The filmmakers report having an unprecedented level of access to a head of state. Shenk said Nasheed’s candid behavior as a politician was a significant factor in the film’s success.

Nasheed said he was surprised at the film crew’s level of interest in his policies. “We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into at the start,” said Nasheed. “I thought they just wanted to do a longer interview than normal and would leave after a few days. I didn’t expect them to stay for a year!”

The Island President was screened at Colorado’s Telluride Film Festival (TFF) earlier this month, and made it’s debut in Canada yesterday at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Reviews about the film vary from enthusiastic to technically critical. David D’arcy’s review on calls the film “more entertaining and less didactic that An Inconvenient Truth,” and praises the filmmakers for making “visual richness” out of a contradictory story.

Reel Film Reviews criticises the movie’s length, but appreciates the content and leading man. “It’s ultimately Nasheed himself who compensates for the movie’s uneven atmosphere, as the remarkably even-tempered politician comes off as a tremendously likeable and engaging figure who seems universally beloved by his people (and with good reason).”

The review concludes that the film is “a stirring piece of work” that highlights an important issue.

President Nasheed delivered the keynote address on climate change yesterday at TIFF. Nasheed also attended a meeting on the possible Legal Form of New Climate Agreement yesterday, hosted by the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice (MRFCJ) at the Grantham Research Institute for Climate Change and Environment in London.

The Island President was produced by Richard Berge and Bonni Cohen. Actual Films have spent over two years and $1.5 million in grants making the film, which is due to be aired in the Maldives in early 2012. Reports state, however, that the film does not yet have a domestic distributor.


Male’ will not survive without resolving housing, congestion and fuel challenges: President Nasheed

President Mohamed Nasheed has said that Male’ “will not survive without some solution to its housing, some solution to its congestion, some solution to the amount of oil that we are importing everyday.”

Nasheed was speaking at a press conference yesterday to launch the second phase of the Gulhi Falhu development project, attended by the Danish Ambassador Freddy Svane.

The first street of the US$600 million Gulhi Falhu development project, intended to reduce the congestion of Male’, will be called Copenhagen Avenue.

The project involves the reclamation of 40 hectares of land on which will be constructed 2500 housing units. The new landmass will be connected by bridge to Villingili on completion of the second stage of the project and eventually, Nasheed said, joined to Male’ via a bridge from the tsunami monument to Vilingili.

“We have one long stretch of road that starts from the tsunami monument in Male’, and ends at Thilafalhu, which is right next to Giraavaru, which is very far away,” he said. This road would be called Copenhagen Avenue, in recognition of the support of the Danish government.

The houses built by the project’s Global Projects Development Company will be constructed in an environmentally-friendly manner, in partnership with US company Red Dot. Red Dot will construct a solar park which will provide electricity to the new residential and industrial districts.

Nasheed also said that a campus for the recently inaugrated Maldives National University would also be constructed on Gulhi Falhu.

“[Gulhi Falhu] is our showpiece development, our showpiece community and we are quite confident that we will be able to use the land by, hopefully end of next year or early 2013,” President Nasheed said.

Development, the President added, was not measured in concrete.

“During the last two months, I have visited more than 130 islands and very often I am given a shopping list. ‘President; we need a harbor, we need a sewerage system.’

“They [say they] need a water system and they also like a lot of concrete. I have been consistently trying to tell everyone that development is not measured in concrete. It is measure by what we know and what we understand. It’s a phenomenon that happens to a person, not to a country. If we want to develop, we will have to develop our minds. We will have to broaden our minds. We will have to be able to think outside the box, find solutions and fix problems.”

Projects such as Gulhi Falhu would not save the world, Nasheed said, “but we like to think that if we can become an example, the rest of the world can have a look at it and people can actually see and understand that it is working. So in very many senses, this whole project is a green project, and at the centre of it is a green park.”

Nasheed thanked the Danish government for its support of the undertaking.

“If all goes wrong in the Maldives, of course it is an issue for the Danes,” Nasheed said. “All of us are interconnected. If things go wrong in Denmark it’s going to have huge effects and impacts on us. We must be able to look after each other. That doesn’t mean that we should be asking for aid and grants. No, we are asking, seeking for trade. This is a very good example of trade collaborations and also a very good example of how a friendly country can actually back a flourishing or a democracy that is in the process of making.

Danish Ambassador Svane expressed gratitude for Nasheed’s “tremendous job” in Copenhagen at the COP15 summit, saying that the Maldives was setting a benchmark for global efforts to fight climate change.

However he also agreed that development was as much a state of mind as it was physical infrastructure.

“We can build up all these fancy buildings, towers and so forth, but we need to change the mindset of people,” he said, adding that President Nasheed had played an important role in changing the mindset of many people all over the world.