The United States and India have been watching with concern as radical Islam, fuelled by Saudi Arabian Wahhabi and Salafi charities, takes root in the Maldives, stoking fears the archipelago could become a terrorist haven, writes Jonathan Manthorpe for the Vancouver Sun.
At the same time Washington and New Delhi are mistrustful of China’s growing influence with the Male government.
There is apprehension the Maldives could become yet another supply base for China’s navy. India, Beijing’s regional rival, is already concerned that China’s naval link’s with Pakistan and the Bay of Bengal ports of Burma are part of a containment strategy.
The march of radical Islam in the Maldives began in the 1980s during the dictatorship of Gayoom, who allowed Saudi Arabian Wahhabist charities to establish themselves in the Maldives and who oversaw a radicalization of the education system.
Many Maldivian students now go to radical madrassas – religious schools – in Pakistan for higher education. Several are known to have become affiliated with al-Qaida as a result.
The increasing popularity of puritanical Islam in the Maldives sits uneasily with the country’s main industry as an upmarket tourist destination, which accounts for 30 per cent of the annual gross national product.
Aspects of Shariah religious law, such as the banning of alcohol, prohibition of men and women dancing together, and public flogging for adultery, are applied in the capital Male. But these restrictions are not imposed in the tourist resorts on the 250 inhabited islands of the archipelago.