Madam President, Madam High Commissioner, Excellencies, distinguished colleagues, friends,

I have been invited here today as a President, but I stand before you as a protester.

I stand before you as someone who has spent much of his adult life speaking out against leaders who place their own interests over those of their people, leaders who seek power for power’s sake.

I have led peaceful protests, and have been arrested and imprisoned for demanding change.

I therefore stand here today in solidarity with Mohamed Bouazizi of Tunisia, with Asmaa Mahfouz and Wael Ghonim of Egypt, with Fathi Terbil in Libya and the thousands of other people across the Muslim world who, in the space of a few months, have inspired protests that have changed the course of history.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Recent events across North Africa and the Middle East represent a defining geopolitical moment, comparable to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

It is a time of awakening, a moment when Muslims across the world are standing up as one to demand equality, human rights, democracy and the rule of law. These developments provide a fitting rebuttal to those, inside and outside of Islam, who claim that our religion is not compatible with democracy.

The determination of protesters in Tunis, Cairo, Benghazi and Homs provides us with a lens through which we can perceive the truth: that all people, no matter where they are born or which religion they follow, want the same thing – dignity and freedom.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I also believe that 2011 will come to be seen, when the history books are written, as a tipping point for peaceful protests, as the moment when the balance of power swung, irreversibly, from the state to the streets.

Globalization has wrought many changes, some positive some negative. One of the most important has been the democratization of information; the use of the internet, of Facebook, and of mobile phones to break the State’s stranglehold on the news media.

In the past, facts and truths could be constructed and controlled by a few. Today they can be discovered and learned by everyone. The use of modern communication technology has allowed those with grievances to mobilize and spread their message. And, crucially, modern media also provides a lens through which the outside world can witness events unfold and learn the truth.

This year’s protests show that the power of governments to control information has been broken forever.

Those of us who believe in individual liberties should rejoice at this fact because, quite simply, it changes the rules of the game.

In the past, when news and information were more malleable, governments had the option of suppressing protests in the hope of breaking them before news spread. Swift, decisive and often violent action at the outset could, in this sense, nip the problem in the bud. Life, especially for those in positions of power, could go on as normal.

After 2011, such an option is no longer tenable.

As we saw with events following the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, information now flows out rapidly and in all directions. It is impossible for governments to contain or manage it. Once that single pebble was dropped into the southern Mediterranean on 17 December 2010, States in the region were powerless to prevent the ripples from spreading ever-wider.

Today, the only viable option for States is to listen to the grievances of protesters and to try to address them. In other words, their only option is to pre-empt the ripples by stopping the pebble from falling.

This means that governments must see peaceful protest not as a threat, but as an opportunity; an opportunity to start a dialogue with the people and to begin a process of reform.

Such a course is, I think, unavoidable – governments simply have no choice. But it is also the enlightened course – the course of wisdom. In the globalised world, the more a government tries to control, the less control it actually has. The more those in power try to tighten their grip, the more power slips through their fingers.

Today, the only way to rule sustainably is to rule with the trust and consent of the governed.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is very sad that the governments of first Libya and now Syria have chosen to deny this new reality. They have responded to the upwelling of popular protest, not with dialogue and reform, but with intimidation and violence.

The Maldives, as a fellow Muslim State, has watched with increasing distress as State security forces have been used against unarmed men, women and children. We have read with concern the conclusions of the Commission of Inquiry on Libya and the Fact-Finding Mission on Syria, that human rights violations committed in both countries may amount to crimes against humanity.

In our view, as soon as any government chooses to rule by the gun rather than by consent, it loses its legitimacy and its right to govern.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to end by making an important final point.

Peaceful protests cannot and must not be seen in isolation – rather they are an important part of a wider process of reform and transition.

Eight years ago the people of the Maldives began a protest movement. It was a movement that, like those witnessed this year, changed the course of history for my country.

At one level we were protesting against something – against an autocratic system of government which had monopolized power for thirty years. But we were also protesting for something – for a better, fairer system of government, for equality and for justice.

Today, we have succeeded in sweeping away the old. In 2008 the previous government was peacefully removed from power in free and fair elections under a new Constitution.

However, it is clear that responding to the protesters’ demand to build a better society is still a work in progress. The consolidation of democracy did not end with the 2008 elections; it started. The Maldives, like Tunisia, Egypt and others, is in a process of transition. And it is the long-term outcome of that process – not the short-term toppling of a regime - that will determine whether we have succeeded in meeting the aspirations of the protesters.

Although each country’s transition is different, it is possible to identify certain common challenges. One challenge is to establish and strengthen independent institutions, to ensure that democracy and human rights are guaranteed regardless of who is in power. A second challenge relates to transitional justice and reconciliation – how to deal with the past without endangering the future. There can be no doubt that serious human rights violations were committed in the Maldives and that the victims of those violations deserve justice. But we must draw a clear line between reconciliation and revenge. To move forward, the search for truth and justice must be placed within an overall framework of national reconciliation.

We must look forward, not back.

A third challenge is to rebuild the economic fabric of the country. People cannot properly enjoy democratic freedoms if their basic needs are left unfulfilled. Without socio-economic development, political transitions quickly unravel.

These challenges are relevant not only for the Maldives. They are also relevant for other countries that have dismantled autocratic regimes.

Ladies and gentlemen,

With this in mind, today’s panel debate on peaceful protest is both well-timed and much-needed. I hope it sends out a clear message to governments everywhere that peaceful protest should not be viewed as a threat but as an opportunity - an opportunity to connect with the people, to understand their concerns and to work together to improve society.

If governments do not adopt this enlightened approach, if they choose aggression over discussion and entrenchment over reform, then in today’s globalised world, it is increasingly clear that they will fail and, most likely, they will fall.

Thank you.