PRESS RELEASE: Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Maldives to Receive Prestigious CSID’s “Muslim Democrat of the Year” Award on May 5, 2009
April 27, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Radwan Masmoudi, 202-251-3036, email@example.com
Rabiah Ahmed, 202-439-1441, Rabiah@islam-democracy.org
Washington, DC – April 27, 2009 - The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) announced today that Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Maldives will receive its prestigious Annual “Muslim Democrat of the Year” award on May 5th. Dr. Shaheed will give a keynote speech during lunchtime at the 10th Annual Conference of CSID, to be held at the Sheraton Crystal City Hotel, in Arlington, Virginia, and will receive the award during the banquet dinner.
“Dr. Shaheed is a practionner who has worked tirelessly for the past decade and a half to strengthen and promote democracy and human rights in the Maldives,” said Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. “We look forward to hearing him speak and to learning from his experience about how to achieve peaceful transitions from dictatorship to democracy, in a conservative Muslim society.”
Since joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1982, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed has risen through the Foreign Service ranks; heading a number of departments including the Bilateral Relations Division, the SAARC Division, and the Multilateral Affairs Department. From 1999 to 2004, he held the position of Permanent Secretary. After leaving the Ministry in 2004 to become the Maldives’ first Chief Government Spokesperson at the President’s Office (at the rank of Deputy Minister), Shaheed returned in July 2005 when he was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, a post he held until he resigned in August 2007. In November 2008, Shaheed returned as Foreign Minister in the starting line-up of the first democratically-elected government in the Maldives.
Throughout his time at the Ministry and as Chief Government Spokesperson, Shaheed has been a visionary leader who foresaw a new modern country founded upon liberal democratic principles, strong human rights protection, and openness and engagement with the outside world. Shaheed’s beliefs led him to become one of the principal architects of the Maldives’ Democratic and Human Rights Reform Agenda, which culminated in late 2008 with the country’s smooth democratic transition under a new 21st Century Constitution.
A strong proponent of robust democratic and human rights safeguards, Minister Shaheed was instrumental in transforming the previous Government’s stand on human rights by securing political approval for the creation of a national Human Rights Commission in August 2003 and accession to the UN Convention against Torture in April 2004. In his role as the Chief Government Spokesperson, he also succeeded in reversing the decision of the Government’s Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs to ban the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in July 2005. A strong advocate of political pluralism, Shaheed was among the few visionary reformists in the government who championed the introduction of political parties in the Maldives in June 2005. Later in the year, Shaheed was co-founder of the New Maldives faction within the Cabinet which worked to promote democracy, good governance and human rights within the Government.
During his former tenure as Minister, the Maldives acceded to the vast majority of international human rights conventions, including the two Core Covenants, namely the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, with its Optional Protocol, and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and also acceded to the UN Convention against Corruption. During this time, the Maldives became one of the original signatories of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, and the Convention against Enforced Disappearance. Shaheed’s work as Minister was premised on the belief that real and lasting change must be undertaken in close cooperation with the international community, including international human rights mechanisms. In April 2006, Shaheed extended standing invitations to all human rights mandates and special procedures to visit the Maldives. In Office, Shaheed often demonstrated a willingness to put his job on the line in order to promote the values he believed in. This saw him expend, for example, considerable political capital to secure the release from detention of a large number of key opposition leaders in August – September 2006.
Ultimately, he resigned his post as Foreign Minister in August 2007, in protest over the government’s decision to backtrack on the democratic reform agenda, and in protest at the manipulation of the Parliament by the Executive. Prior to his resignation, Shaheed had campaigned to free the parliament of Executive control by championing the doctrine of the separation of powers, a battle he continues to wage openly even today. Following his resignation as Minister in 2007, Shaheed continued to promote human rights, a vibrant civil society, freedom of opinion and expression, and democratic change through the establishment of the Open Society Association and the Maldives Election Watch.
After leaving Office in August 2007, Minister Shaheed teamed up with his former Cabinet colleagues and fellow members of the New Maldives faction, Dr. Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and Dr. Hassan Saeed, and launched the New Maldives Movement and the Maldives Reform Movement. An ardent advocate of democratic change, From November 2007 to June 2008, Shaheed was active as the Spokesperson for the pro-democracy alliance of parties agitating for a democratic Constitution. In September 2008, Minister Shaheed became the running mate of presidential candidate Dr. Hassan Saeed in the country’s first multiparty Presidential Election. Although campaigning on an independent ticket, Saeed and Shaheed secured nearly 17% of the popular vote, finishing third and thus failing to qualify for the second round. However, immediately, Minister Shaheed and Dr. Saeed pledged their unconditional support to the presidential challenger, Mr. Mohamed Nasheed, and actively supported the Grand Patriotic Coalition. Their support was crucial in enabling the challenger to more than double his support in the second round, and to defeat the 30 year old regime.
Shaheed, Saeed and Jameel are also promoters of a new political party called Dhivehi Qawmee Party, and are actively campaigning for pro-democracy forces in the parliamentary elections slated for 9 May 2009, calling for a parliament that will effectively embody the doctrine of the separation of powers.
As the Maldives is a conservative Islamic society, the liberal democratic stance of DQP, whose chief ideologue is Dr Shaheed, has raised the ire of Islamist groups. Shaheed and his colleagues are noted for their cogent opposition to a number of Salafist positions, such as on the appointment of women as judges, and on the freedom of conscience and expression. They are also opposed to clerical rule. Coming into the new coalition government that is in place today, Shaheed and his colleagues successfully blocked the creation of a sovereign council of clerics at the apex of government, and continue to campaign for tolerance and moderation.
Minister Shaheed has also been extremely active at international-level, outspoken in his support for the Human Rights Council, and advocacy of the responsibility to protect, such as in issues that arose out of the breakdown of the former SFR of Yugoslavia, particularly in the case of Kosovo. He was a Member of the SAARC Eminent Persons Group from 1997-1998, and proposed the adoption of a SAARC Social Charter. He also served as the Maldives Governor to the Common Fund for Commodities between the years 1999-2008. He also campaigned strongly at the United Nations to oppose the Maldives’ graduation from the category of Least Develop Countries, which would result in the loss of economic, commercial and financial benefits; and successfully led the negotiations with the EU and other donors on the extension of aid and market access to the Maldives beyond graduation in 2011. Following the Indian Ocean tsunami, Shaheed worked tirelessly to mobilize international assistance for the recovery and reconstruction of the Maldives which suffered losses amounting to over 60% of the GDP. In July 2007, he launched an international initiative to identify the link between human rights and climate change. On 9 April 2009, Shaheed announced the intention of the Maldives to get elected to the Human Rights Council in 2010. A strong supporter of accountability for human rights violations, Shaheed has criticized human rights abuses in a number of instances, such as in Burma, North Korea, the Balkans, the Middle East and the Darfur region of Sudan, and has pledged that the Maldives will join the International Criminal Court.
Minister Shaheed has also served as a Parliamentarian, as a Presidential Appointee to the People’s Special Majlis (constitutional assembly) from 2004-2007, and was active in the founding of the former governing Dhivehi Raiyithunge Party (DRP), but left after accusing it of obstructing the democratic process.
H.E. Dr. Ahmed Shaheed graduated from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth with a Bachelor’s degree in International Politics and Strategic Studies, and obtained his PhD in 1995 from the University of Queensland, Brisbane, in the field of International Relations. He is an avid writer and academic, and has presented numerous papers at various international conferences covering topics as diverse as economic development, terrorism, diplomacy and democracy. Minister Shaheed is married with three children.
CSID 2009 Annual Conference
A Partnership for Democracy: What Can the US and the Ummah Do to Consolidate Democracy in the Maldives?
The presidential elections in October 2008 secured a successful and peaceful democratic transition in the Maldives, a country where Islam has traditionally dominated public life. For the past thirty years, under the Presidency of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Islam was often used as a political tool to entrench and protect authoritarianism. Critics and reformists were routinely branded as Islamic extremists, often with the acquiescence of the international community.
In 2004, the steady build-up in tension caused by this theologically-cloaked autocracy exploded in widespread rioting. The Government responded by declaring emergency rule, rounding-up opposition activists, and labelling them as Islamic terrorists.
Although not unusual in the Maldives polity, the sheer blatancy of these acts, at around the same time that the Maldives was requesting unprecedented levels of aid to help rebuild after the Asian Tsunami, resulted in international condemnation with related reputational risks for the country’s vital tourism industry. The Government, faced with the choice of either greater repression and isolation, or reform, chose the latter course and initiated a democratic liberalisation programme in 2005.
From that time, the international community, in particular the West, played a crucial role in encouraging, validating and assisting the reforms, as well as in preventing slip-back or reversal. This resulted, ultimately, in 2008, in peaceful regime change.
These gains, while impressive, can be easily reversed unless careful steps are taken to protect and nurture the new independent institutions and improve governance. In this regard, as with the initiation of the reform programme, the role of the international community will be crucial. This raises certain questions:
What can the Ummah and the international community do to help consolidate democracy? Can reversal be prevented? How will the Islamic traditions of the country affect the outcome? What can Maldives do to demonstrate its good faith to the international community?
These questions are important because a peaceful democratic transition in the Muslim world is a rarity. They are also important because the challenges in the Maldives are not unique. The response to them, or the lack of it, is likely to have implications for democracy-building efforts elsewhere in the Ummah. Will the Maldives be able to forge and maintain a partnership with the international community to strengthen democracy and human rights? What are the lessons for others?
The coalition that won the presidential election, the country’s first free and fair multiparty poll, encompasses religious conservatives and secular liberals. Can this situation be sustained or will the parliamentary elections in May destroy the balance? Will democratization strengthen religious conservatives or will ongoing economic liberalisation create more space for political pluralism?
The paper will address these questions by examining the efforts of the Maldives to consolidate democracy and by analysing the challenges for democracy-building in a conservative society. It will identify the ways in which the pro-democracy movement has been able to work together with the international community, and highlight the areas in which further collaboration is required if democratic consolidation is to succeed.
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