The government has decided to withdraw controversial new alcohol regulations governing the sale of alcohol on inhabited islands, following a meeting attended by the Maldives Police Service, Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), the Home Affairs Ministry, the Economic Development Ministry, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and several religious scholars.
Last week the Ministry of Economic Development released regulations allowing the sale of alcohol to non-Muslims by hotels on inhabited islands with over 100 beds. The regulations were intended to replace a system of individual liquor licenses issued to expatriates, allowing the private consumption of alcohol.
However the changes were met with a major protest on Friday afternoon organised by senior members of the Islamic Affairs Ministry and Adhaalath party.
“The president has always said he would try to gauge public opinion and sentiment,” said spokesman for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair. “It was of major concern to him that a large segment of the public not happy with the new regulations.”
He noted that “a coalition partner” had threatened to “work on bringing down the government” if the regulations had not been rescinded.
He also confirmed that Holiday Inn, believed to have been seeking to acquire a license, had received threats against its premises since the regulations were announced.
Hassan Moosa Fikree, Vice President of Islamic NGO Jamiyyath-al-Salaf campaigning against the regulations, said the decision had generated a “very postive opinion for the government and the president’s promise to listen to the voice of the citizens. That’s why we voted for him.”
Suggestions that the old regulations allowed less control than centralised liquor licensing were “completely false”, he said, explaining that it would have caused a surge in the number of drinking establishments “in a very congested city” if “each and every hotel with more than 100 beds opens a bar.”
Fikree said he did not object to permits for diplomats and foreigners, but rather “pubs and bars in the city.” However,”i n my opinion there shouldn’t be anyone using alcohol except in private by diplomatic people.”
State Minister for Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed said he was “pleased with the decision.”
Sheikh Shaheem had claimed he would leave the government along with other senior members of the conservative Adhaalath party if the president has persisted with the regulations, “but as he took the decision he did, there’s no need to talk more about that.”
He agreed with Fikree “that I think it is better if the 826 licenses are cancelled, [and alcohol] is only allowed for official diplomatic delegations.”
Zuhair suggested that the objection was politically motivated by the Adhaalath party “as there is nothing banning the sale of alcohol to non-Muslims.”
He noted that there were 4000 Maldivians living in Colombo in Sri Lanka, “and you don’t see them flocking to bars despite there being one every fourth block.”
“The next step”, Zuhair predicted, “is that Holiday Inn will sue the government because they have invested so much on the understanding they would receive a liquor license. There are so many points they could make.”
Holiday Inn declined to comment.