Former President Mohamed Nasheed has told UK media that growing concessions towards Islamic radicalisation in the Maldives could threaten the country’s upmarket tourism industry.
“I think that is the direction we are going. They are talking about alcohol-free resorts, about getting non-drinking tourists to come in from Iran. I can easily imagine holidaymakers being prosecuted for kissing in public, as in some Muslim countries,” Nasheed told the UK’s Telegraph newspaper. The former president also noted recent calls from the country’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs to ban mixed-gender dancing, and dancing by adolescent girls.
“If the country is being radicalised every day, then the staff in the resorts, and their families, are being radicalised also. That must have some impact on the resorts in the medium and long term,” Nasheed warned.
The current government this week said it would reject any such proposed ban on mixed-gender dancing, telling international media that the Maldives remained a “very tolerant society”.
Speaking to the UK’s Independent newspaper, Nasheed said he “feared that anti-Western feeling had dramatically increased recently within the country – fuelled by political instability – with the potential for attacks.”
“I don’t know why they haven’t blown up anything in the Maldives,” Nasheed told the paper. “Right now [maybe] they are thinking that strategically it isn’t good for them to do anything in the Maldives. Maybe they are using our national accounts. Maybe they are using our banks. Maybe it is a good place for recruitment.”
Nasheed observed that Maldivian nationals had been found to have been connected with al-Qa’ida attacks in Pakistan and India, and said he had had regular meetings with Western intelligence agencies during his time in office.
The international community had, he said, “thought that the game was over as soon as [the former president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom] was gone. But there is such a great need to build political parties, to support an independent judiciary, to install more liberal ideas.”
“We need to come up with a narrative other than the radical Islamic narrative because that is the only one there is at the moment. Unless we are able to understand the mistakes that have been made in the Maldives, we are bound to see the same thing happening elsewhere in Arab Spring countries.”
President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad and Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb were not responding to calls at time of press regarding the comments.
Religious rhetoric has a become a fixture of the Maldives’ political landscape, most significantly when the disparate former opposition last year found common cause on December 23 by holding a mass rally against Nasheed’s perceived liberalism.
During President Mohamed Waheed’s first public rally as leader in late February, he declared: “Be courageous. Today you are all mujaheddin [those who fight jihad] who love the nation. We will overcome all dangers faced by the nation with steadfastness.”
“We will not back down an inch. Today, the change [in power] in the Maldives is what Allah has willed. This did not happen because of one or two people coming out into the streets. Nobody had been waiting for this. Nobody even saw this day. This change came because Allah willed to protect Islam and the decent Maldivian norms,” Waheed stated.
Earlier this week the religious Adhaalath party added to the coalition government’s rhetoric against Indian infrastructure giant GMR, calling for a “national jihad” to take back the airport from the developer.
The resort industry, famed and marketed for idealising Western hedonistic excess, has traditionally kept a safe distance from religion and politics. Technically under the Constitution, no law can be enacted against a tenet of Islam, which potentially affects those relevant to the import, sale and service of products such as pork and alcohol. The resort islands are classified as ‘uninhabited’ under Maldivian law.
Following the December 23 rally, Nasheed temporarily met one of the gatherings’ demands – the closure of spas – and applied it to the entire country, not just its inhabited islands.
While the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) began legal action, Nasheed demanded the Supreme Court decisively state once and for all whether the Maldives could import pork and alcohol without violating the nation’s Shariah-based constitution. It declined to do so.
Following the transfer of power on Feburary 7, Nasheed’s opponents – some of them resort owners – continued to challenge him on religious grounds.
Leader of the Jumhoree Party (JP) Gasim Ibrahim, a local resort tycoon, in August reportedly called for a “jihad” to protect Maldivian society from “Nasheed’s antics”.
“The time has come to undertake a Jihad in the name of Allah to protect our religion, culture and nation. Such a sacrifice must be made to restore peace and stability in the nation,” Gasim declared.
Meanwhile, according to 2011 customs records, Gasim’s Villa Hotels chain – including the Royal, Paradise, Sun, and Holiday Island resorts, that year imported 121,234.51 litres of beer, 2048 litres of whiskey, 3684 litres of vodka and 219.96 kilograms of pork sausages, among other commodities considered haram (prohibited) under Islamic law.
“Un-Islamic behaviour is un-Islamic behaviour whether it is in Malé or in a resort,” Nasheed observed to the Telegraph.