The government has lifted a controversial nationwide ban on spas and massage parlors with immediate effect while it awaits a ruling from the Supreme Court over the legality of spa operations and sale of pork and alcohol in resorts.
The announcement was made by President Mohamed Nasheed during a press conference today at Kurumba Island Resort, the country’s first resort which opened in 1972.
The week-long ban, which has made headlines in both local and international media, was lifted “because the government does not want the economy to suffer any damage during the time Supreme Court takes to come to a decision,” President Nasheed said.
Sale of pork and alcohol would also continue while other goods and services “such as casinos” demanded by the tourists, said Nasheed, would be allowed under the Contraband Act of 1975 until a judicial declaration is reached.
As the Maldivian constitution states that “Islam shall be one of the basis of all the laws of the Maldives” and prohibits the enactment of any laws “contrary to any tenet of Islam”, Nasheed said that the Tourism Ministry requested advice on legality of spa operations and sale of pork and alcohol at the recently-concluded ‘Islamic Scholars Symposium.’
However the scholars recommended that the government seek a judicial declaration, he revealed. Nasheed urged the apex court to settle the dispute in the near future.
Asked if the ban was necessary, Nasheed responded that the move was prompted by allegations made at the December 23 ‘Defend Islam’ demonstration.
Nasheed also dismissed opposition parties’ contention that the government should bear full responsibility for the economic consequences, arguing that “in a democracy, it is difficult to decide who’s responsible”, though conceding that the tourism sector’s reputation has been damaged in the process.
“We wanted to impress upon everyone where the opposition’s demands were ultimately going to end,” Nasheed explained.
The government’s ultimatum “woke the nation from its slumber and sparked a healthy national debate about the future direction of the country,” he insisted.
“The extremist demonstration on 23 December attracted a sizeable crowd. But their radical demands awoke the silent majority who categorically reject extremism,” Nasheed said.
The reason Maldives tourism industry have flourished for years, said Nasheed, is because the sector has been “free from religious fundamentalist demands.”
Referring to controversy over allowing Israeli airlines to operate flights to the Maldives, President Nasheed said that the tourist arrivals would be adversely affected “if we start saying that only certain nationals or certain airlines can come to Maldives,” noting that a sizable portion of tourists were Jewish.
The government’s decision rests on a decision made by parliament on recommendations by its National Security Committee, he said.
The December 23 religious rally organised by a coalition of NGOs and opposition parties was the “biggest use of religion as a political tool” in Maldivian history, Nasheed contended.
“We all must know such fundamentalist demands will damage the Maldives tourism industry’s [image] in the international community,” he said. “News will not always reach the international community in the way we prefer.”