Future of Maldives tourism: exclusive or mid-market?

The Maldives is known for its high end world class resorts. Popular among the rich and famous, it seems the right amount of money can buy you some tropical privacy in the modern hectic world.

This privacy and seclusion of many Maldivian resorts is what makes them unique. This is what differentiates the Maldives from its competitors, and over the last few years many new exclusive resorts have sprung up.

These high end resorts, and the tourism sector as a whole, are an important part of the Maldivian economy: in 2008, the sector contributed 27.2% of the Maldivian GDP.

However several recent surveys suggest a vast majority of people are finding the price of a Maldivian getaway too expensive. Discussions on well-known travel forums such as Tripadvisor.com show that many guests and potential tourists are off put by the high prices.

Feelings on the issue are mixed. Many visitors, especially families, look for a cheaper option, while honeymooners are more willing to pay the extra dollars for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

There is demand from the high end markets for exclusive resorts. Ahmed Solih, permanent secretary for the tourism ministry noted that “expensive is a term dictated by demand & supply”.

Yet according to Solih, the development of a mid-market tourism sector in the Maldives  catering to the huge global middle class has always been on the government’s agenda.

“We lease the land to the developer, but it’s the private sector that makes the decision on who they will cater for,” said Solih.

The many tour operators and resort developers opt to cater for the high end market due to the proven profitable returns.

Solih continued: “In the Maldives, each resort has its own power and water generation, each resort is self sufficient, and for every head staying, there are two staff and they also live on site. This makes resorts a very expensive operation to maintain,” he said.

However the recent regulations allowing guest houses on inhabited islands and the introduction of a national transportation system (the Maldivian Dhoni Services, or MDS) has the potential to open the country to the mid-market tourist sector.

Former Minister of Tourism Abdulla Mausoom said ” it is vital to maintain the exclusive image that we have created for the Maldives, but with careful management, a venture into the mid-market sector is important.”

Both Solih and Mausoom said that it was not just a matter of accommodation, and that the infrastructure had to be in place for this new market.

Currently, guests are whisked off to their destinations on expensive seaplanes or fast boats to their destinations. If the mid-market sector is to gain a foothold in the country, a proper transportation system needs to be in place.

Another potential market for the Maldives is the Indian and Chinese middle class. India currently has the largest middle class in the world consisting of nearly 300 million people, contributing US$380 billion to the consumer market.

With such a large market at such a close proximity, it is surprising that only 2.4 per cent of the country’s tourists arrive from India.

Speaking on this issue, Solih noted that ” it is true that the Indian market has huge potential. According to World Trade Organisation (WTO), one in five tourists are now Indian. The reason that Indians do not come here is because our current packages are not desirable for them.

“Most Indians would come for a couple of days, at the most, and they look for duty free shopping complexes,” Solih claimed.

Indians like many Maldivians, love to go shopping when they are overseas. If we are to cater for these new emerging markets, we must plan on what it is they are looking for.

“The success of the tourism industry in the Maldives has been due to carefully planned expansion,” Mausoom.

The current system is well established, and has reaped benefits for the Maldives. It is now up to the developers and tour operators to decide whether they are willing to cater for the new markets that are out there.


Tepid response to Copenhagen accord, but a win for the Maldives

The Danish Prime Minister has called Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed “the real hero of Copenhagen” following a marathon 30 hour negotiation session, however global response to the final accord is proving underwhelming.

Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen told a press conference that intense pressure from the Maldives reignited the debate when it threatened to stall. When talks broke down, Nasheed appealed to argumentative nations “to leave pride aside and adopt this accord for the sake of our grandchildren.”

The Maldivian president joined world leaders including Barack Obama (US), Gordon Brown (UK), Nicholas Sarkozy (France) and Angela Merkel (Germany) in drawing up the Copenhagen Accord, which was then adopted by more than 150 countries following fiery debate.

The accord recognises that global temperatures should rise no higher than two degrees Celcius above pre-industrial levels, but does not commit developed countries to legally-binding emission reduction targets.

The flavour of the talks revealed that sovergnity and development remain a higher priority than climate change for many large growing economies. China was particularly irritable on the subject: Prime Minister Wen Jiabao stormed out of the conference after disagreements with the US over international monitoring.

“This was our sovereignty and our national interest [at stake],” said the head of China’s delegation, Xie Zhenhua, before sending a low-ranking protocol officer to resume negotiations with Obama.

China’s revised agreement, which was backed by many large developing nations including Brazil and India, commits to a two degree limit but does not force cuts on any country.

Meanwhile Sudanese delegate Lumumba Di-Aping caused carnage when he stood up and described the final accord as “a solution based on the same very values that piled six million people into furnaces in Europe”.

The most tangible success was an agreement to deliver US$30 billion in short-term funding to developing countries over a three year period, in an effort to help them adapt to climate change and adopt clean energy technologies.

“Small island developing states” were highlighted in the agreement as potential beneficiaries of this money, which included US$10.6 billion pledged by the European Union, US$11 billion from Japan, and US$3.6 billion from the United States.

It appeared there would also be more to come: the accord promised the developing world an annual US$100 billion by 2020 to aid ‘clean’ development, drawn from public and private sources.

“The world stood at the abyss last night but this morning we took a step back,” President Nasheed said, following yesterday’s negotiations.

“The Copenhagen Accord is a long way from perfect. But it is a step in the right direction. We did our best to accommodate all parties, we tried to bridge the wide gulf between different countries, and in the end we were able to reach a compromise,” he said.

However the two degree temperature limit fell short of his expectations: “To save our country from climate change, we need an agreement that limits temperature rises to 1.5 degrees and reduces atmospheric carbon concentrations to 350 parts per million,” Nasheed said.

“While this accord does not deliver these targets there is room within the agreement to migrate toward 1.5 degrees and 350 parts per million, pending scientific assessments.”


Media response to the accord was rather tepid, while some campaigners have called it “a disaster.”

In the UK, the Guardian described the final two page agreement as “vaguely worded, short on detail and not legally binding,” while the Times blasted it as “lukewarm” and “meaningless”.

Al Jazeera reported that the deal had left “only bitterness and anger at the deal done between the US and the world’s emerging economies”, while the Wall Street Journal observed that the final wording of the accord and a lack of formal approval “means countries are left with the choice of associating with the agreement or not.”


Review: Breakfast à la Maldivienne

The dozen or so little teashops beckon you when you step into the south-west harbour area of Male.

Located within easy walking distance of Villingilli ferry terminal, the teashops are squeezed together one alongside another, each painted in a vibrant colour with unique names like Fahari café (sister-in-law café), Lhiyanu Café (brother-in-law café) and Meal Deal.

Most of these cafés are famous for specific dishes. We head over to one gaining a reputation as serving one of the best local breakfasts in town.

X-Fresh 1 would be hard to find if you didn’t know its location – a canopy of leaves hides the name on the exterior. However it has the distinction of being one of the few cafes to have an outdoor area, complete with palm trees and coarse white sand.

Inside the café, the red colored walls give off a cheery feel. Even the table clothes are red and the fans follow the same theme with every other blade painted the same colour.

At nine in the morning the place is already starting to fill up. Half a dozen tables are occupied, including office workers in ties, people who’ve just stepped off the boats nearby and those who’ve wandered in off the street for chatter over coffee, tea and the variety of breakfasts on offer.


A classic Maldivian breakfast of mashuni roshi
A classic Maldivian breakfast of mashuni roshi

A Classic Breakfast

We choose a table outside. The shade from the palm trees and white coarse sand under foot gives the place an island feel. This reverie is broken every now and again by a passing pick up truck laden with goods being carried to a nearby dhoni (local boat).

Within the space of seconds a waiter appears by our table, his manner brisk.

We order the classic combination of Huni roshi (flat bread with grated coconut, shaped like a disk) and Mashuni (a mixture of tuna and grated coconut).

With an efficiency that would be the envy of top class restaurants, a small bottle of mineral water is served immediately and the food arrives fast on its heels, piping hot.

The disk lives up to its name – it is perfectly round. Legend has it that in the 90s a hota (local teashop) by the name of ‘Disk’ started serving Huni roshi, rounded to perfection. The hota named the dish as a kind of thumbs down to the concept of only the rich owning vinyl disk. A successful case of branding, à la Maldivienne.

The fresh pan-baked disk is baked to perfection with just the right hint of crispness and slightly sweet coconuty flavor.

The accompanying Mashuni is the perfect blend of tropical flavours that comprise the essence of Maldivian food: onion, chilli, lime juice, smoked tuna and freshly grated coconut.

The dish is unpretentious, flavoursome and testimony to the fact that the chef obviously knows his ropes.

The accompanying kurumba (young coconut) drink brings just the right touch to complete the meal.

Well chilled, the balanced combination of fresh coconut juice and soft flesh is a good balance of textures and is a delight to the taste buds on a hot morning.

While we are eating a constant stream of people come and go; a couple ventures in with a baby, as well as numerous well- dressed men. Four waiters in white shirts and black pants do a good job of attending to the customers.

No menus are on display in the café, but it’s generally understood that cafes in harbour area are light on the wallet. Our breakfast is Rf 15, the same price as the kurumba.

A pleasant atmosphere under the trees
A pleasant atmosphere under the trees

Some customers opt to try out the hedhika (short eats) piled on a tray, which the waiter brings to the table. Laden to the brim with savories and few sweet items, a person points at the item he wants, and the waiter serves it with a pair of tongs.

For those looking for more subtle flavors in the morning, toast and eggs are also on offer.

The aroma of coffee proves too tempting, and we order the Italian Lavazza coffee. To our pleasant surprise, coffee was well frothed and though a bit hot and lacking in body, it proved to be one of the best coffees in town.

One breakfast there and it’s easy to understand why people stream there in the morning, with the tables filled even on Friday mornings. In fact, if you turn up for breakfast on a Friday you’ll will be in the company of well-known personalities and MPs.

The usual little tray of betel nuts and betel leaves arrive, and a hastily scribbled bill brings an end to our morning escapade. At Rf 80 for two people it’s a bargain.

X-fresh 1 is a bit out of the way, for a delicious local breakfast at great price in a place reminiscent of islands in Maldives, right here in the capital, X-fresh 1 is hard to beat.

X-Fresh 1

  • Food 7/10
  • Atmosphere 6/10
  • Service 6/10
  • Price 10/10
  • Overall 7/10

X-Fresh 1 is the nearest café to Villingili ferry terminal, located at the south west harbor. Breakfast is served until 11am. Its open from 6am to 12pm and serves a variety of local and international dishes.


Comment: Silence is not always golden

Silence is not always golden, and never so under compulsion.

The Maldives is travelling on a road not just less travelled but abandoned by most other nations – the road of regression.

Reading the headlines of a Maldivian newspaper is like travelling back in time. Female genital mutilation (FGM), concubines, under-age brides, calls to bring back capital punishment, deportation of ‘suspect’ foreigners, increasing acceptance of man’s alleged superiority over women… concerned about this state of affairs?

The key, apparently, is to say nothing, because whatever you say is certain to be used against you as evidence of your apostasy.

This is the most common and invariably pejorative accusation against any critic of the current Maldivian condition. This emotive allegation is akin to Godwin’s Law, which states that the longer an Internet discussion grows, the higher the probability that a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler will arise, shutting off further discussion.

Similarly, criticise practices negating people’s human rights, obliterating traditions and marauding national identities in the name of ‘Islam’, and the probability of being called an apostate hits the roof, ending any further discourse.

Jürgen Habermas’ initial description of the public sphere may have been utopian, but a democracy cannot function without such a space for rational debate about subjects of societal concern.

Saying Maldivians are being robbed of their identity and culture by those importing a certain brand of Islam into the country is not a criticism of Islam itself. Nor is it a declaration of intent to follow in the footsteps of hate-mongering apostate Muslims who came pouring out of the woodworks following 11 September 2001 such as Dr Mark Gabriel, a doctoral graduate of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, Brigitte Gabriel and Walid Shoebat (to name but a few).

Gender regression

To point out that it is wrong for Maldivian women to be pushed back from a position of relative equality with men to being nothing but obedient child-bearing vessels, and to single out such thinking for criticism represents neither the perusal of a hidden political agenda nor a criticism of Islam per se.

Indeed, Quran 3:195 states: ‘…be you male or female, you are equal to one another…’

It is those who ignore this spiritual equality between men and women that 3:195 makes so clear, and preach contrary messages, that are being put in the dock for thorough and thoroughly required cross-examinations.

When criticism is leveled against the practice of butchering the genitalia of young girls, again, it is not Islam that is being criticized but those who are forcing the Maldives to regress into ancient cruelties its people have virtually abandoned. There is absolutely no mention of ‘female circumcision’ (as some who prefer to package this cruelty refer to it as) made in the Quran either directly or indirectly.

Neither is there a Hadheeth stating the act is required in Islam. While Prophet Mohamed did not explicitly ban the practice neither did he condone it, advising that if it were to be practiced, it should not be needlessly cruel. Criticism of FGM is a criticism of those who, under the name of Islam, are taking the most vulnerable Maldivians back to the times before people knew better.


Nor is it a criticism of Islam to decry policies of intolerance against people of other faiths – the most recent example being the imminent deportation of an American family because they are ‘suspected’ of being missionaries. It is to point out that ‘Islam’ is being manipulated to achieve certain aims and to pursue particular agendas.

Quran 49:13 states: ‘O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognize one another’ [own emphasis].

Recognition of differences, pluralism – not a false dichotomy between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – that is what Islam asks of its followers. For Muslims to do otherwise is ‘un-Islamic’ and for Maldivians to do so is, additionally, ‘un-Maldivian’.

Maldivians, until recently, were renowned for their openness and friendliness. The suspicions with which Maldivians now treat foreigners are consequences of this audacious robbery of Maldivian traditions and nature.

It is this loss that is being lamented by critics, the loss of the friendly Maldivian. The friendly Muslim Maldivian who welcomed foreigners with warmth and endearing curiosity. The Maldivians who have been indoctrinated into treating ‘the other’ with suspicion rather than with recognition as they once did – or as their religion tells them to do – it is they, and the practices that have made them so, that are the cause for concern and criticism.

No clash of civilisations

Islam is not monolithic. Nor is ‘the West’. Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilisations theory is a dangerous and vacuous idea based on Orientalism, colonialism and imaginary lines drawn across civilizations that he conjured up. Read the late Palestinian American intellectual and cultural critic Edward Said for a robust critique of the theory.

Unfortunately, it is a theory that many saw as proven with the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States. Criticism of what is happening in the Maldives in the name of Islam does not mean the critics are in favour of the so-called ‘War on Terror’, or are swooning fans of George W Bush who initially used the word ‘crusade’ to describe this seemingly endless ‘war’.

Nor does it mean being in favour of the illegal invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq that turned international law on its head and established the so-called Bush Doctrine of preemptive strikes. Neither does it automatically imply these critics are cheering at the inhuman treatment of ‘enemy combatants’ in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib; the ‘extraordinary renditions’; or the continuing surveillance and monitoring of Muslim communities in the name of ‘counter-terrorism’ and prevention of ‘radicalisation’.

Interpretations of Islam

It means none of those things because it is possible to be a Muslim and disagree with regressive and draconian policies that are being implemented in the name of Islam; and because it is possible for a Muslim to agree with certain ‘Western’ ideas and practices without abandoning their own faith.

Just as it is possible to be from the West and/or be a non-Muslim and disagree with inhumane and illegal policies implemented in the name of the ‘War on Terror’, or those that create the undeniably unjust North/South divisions of today’s world.

Such agreement and disagreement are possible precisely because, as quoted from the Quran before, human beings are ‘distinct peoples and tribes’ that should ‘recognise one another’ as such. It is wrong to try and erase these distinctions through violence and/or other means in order to establish a false homogeneity or hegemony of one group/religion/region over another.

In this disturbed world, the Maldives – had it been allowed to be itself and practice Islam the way it had done for centuries – could have stood as an example to the rest of the world that Islam is indeed a religion of peace, that it is diverse, and among its many followers are people of distinctive cultures.

Sadly, that Maldives is being taken away, its people being cookie-cutter-molded to fit the appearance and behaviours of a particular sect of Islam. A vast majority have allowed themselves to be led down this path, like rats by Pied Piper. Those that refused to be lured have been forced into silence, gagged by the implicit threat of being branded apostates, non-believers, Infidels.

Loss of identity

There still is time, yet, to fight the complete loss of Maldivian identity, to stand against the enforcement of this imported alien uniformity. It cannot be done if the first response to rational criticism is irrational accusations of apostasy.

Differences are inevitable and should be not just tolerated, but welcomed. Muslims are not the same world over. It may surprise some of those re-making themselves, willingly or otherwise, in the image of a particular sect of Islam to learn that the biggest concentrations of Muslim populations can be found in non-Arabic countries.

Not every Muslim is an Arab or every Arab a Muslim; nor does every Arab Muslim practice their faith in the same way. Seven percent of the world’s Muslims (over 50 million) live in Europe; two percent (over 7 million) in North America. Muslims today do not live in a world divided between an ‘Islamic civilization’ and a ‘Western civilisation’ nor do they conform to one look, one appearance, one set of customs – just the one God.

To sit and say nothing while Maldivian identity is taken away, while individuals are systematically turned into copies of a non-existent ideal with the argument that the right to individuality and to individual rights is but a covert tactic of ‘Western neo-colonialism’ – all in the name of Islam – now that would be a sin.

Accusations – of having been rendered brain-dead by the seemingly all-powerful silver bullets of Western media; political bias; and, above all, apostasy – should not, and will not, be allowed to silence the voices of reasoned criticism.

In the words, not of a lowly mortal critic, but the Quran itself: ‘there shall be no compulsion in religion’ (2:256).

Munirah Moosa is a journalism and international relations graduate. She is currently engaged in research into the ‘radicalisation’ of Muslim communities and its impact on international security.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Maldives President fires up rally at Copenhagen

President Mohamed Nasheed galvanised thousands of environmentalists at a 350.org rally in Copenhagen yesterday, vowing to persevere until a politically binding climate change treaty was attained.

“I refuse to believe that a better world isn’t possible,” said 42-year-old Nasheed at Klimaforum, the global civil society counterpart of the official UN conference.

“I have three words to say to the doubters and deniers. Three words with which to win this battle. Just three words are all I need. You may already have heard them. Three-Five-Oh,” he said.

World leaders will meet in the Danish capital this week at the historic UN climate change conference to thrash out a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

But, the two years of negotiations have reached a virtual impasse as the developed and developing world remain at loggerheads over who should shoulder the lion’s share of emissions cuts.

Over on 350.org, Bill McKibben, the man behind the campaign, wrote that Nasheed was the first head of state to arrive in Copenhagen and “he drove the crowd into a frenzy…with a thousand people on their feet chanting ‘3-5-0’”.

The 350 campaign is lobbying for cuts in atmospheric carbon to the safe levels of 350ppm, a figure cited by James Hansen, the head of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Current levels stand at around 387ppm.

In October, Nasheed demonstrated his commitment to the campaign by diving into a lagoon with 11 of his ministers to hold the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting.

The laws of physics, said Nasheed, could not be argued with. “You cannot cut a deal with Mother Nature, and we don’t intend to try. That is why, in March, the Maldives announced plans to become the first carbon neutral country in the world.”

In March, the president unveiled plans to make the Indian Ocean archipelago carbon neutral within a decade by switching to 100 per cent renewable energy and offsetting aviation pollution, primarily generated by tourists flying to one of the country’s luxury resorts.

Addressing yesterday’s rally, Nasheed said going carbon neutral was not simply a question of taking the moral high ground but was also economically prudent.

“Countries that have the foresight to green their economies today,will be the winners of tomorrow,” he said. “These pioneering countries will free themselves from the unpredictable price of foreign oil. They will capitalise on the new, green economy of the future.”

Looking back over history as well as his own experience, Nasheed said he believed in the power of peaceful protest.

“From the civil rights movement, to Gandhi’s Quit India campaign; non-violent protest can create change. Protest worked in the struggle for democracy in the Maldives,” he said.

Last year, Nasheed, the leader of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party unseated Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in the country’s first democratic elections. A former journalist, Nasheed was jailed by the former regime for his political writings on numerous occasions.

Recounting this period, he said, “We sat in those cells because we had deliberately broken the unjust laws of dictatorship. We had spoken out for a cause in which we believed. That cause was freedom and democracy.”

While the former government had “guns, bombs and tanks”, the opposition only had the “power of our words, and the moral clarity of our cause.”

“My message to you is to continue the protests. Continue after Copenhagen. Continue despite the odds. And eventually, together, we will reached that crucial number: Three-five-oh,” he said.


Comment: To be saved or to let drown, that is the question

President Nasheed is away fighting valiantly to save the country from drowning, lobbying hard for aid and assistance from the developed West at Copenhagen.

At the time of writing, there is talk that Britain should open its borders to climate refugees from Bangladesh. Surely the Maldivians, too, would be glad to find some space in a UK asylum centre or two once the islands go under? Or would they?

The problem is, we are talking about Britain here – the great colonizer, who – according to Adhaalath – ‘enslaved’ the Maldivians for so long. And, as if 78 years of slavery was not enough, once it had granted the Maldives a ‘bogus’ form of independence in 1965, Britain and ‘they in the West’ have been waging a covert war to corrupt the hearts and minds of Maldivian youth with Western decadence and hedonism.

Surely Maldivians would not be accepting any assistance from these people of ‘the West’? I wonder how Adhaalath feels about the manner in which President Nasheed is back-stabbing his valuable political ally, making Faustian pacts with those evildoers. How ungrateful.

One wonders, too, what ‘the West’ would think if they knew what one part of the government, represented by the genial President Nasheed with his charm and show-stealing ideas for saving the world, really thinks of ‘them’.

Maldivian history, á lá Adhaalath

According to Adhaalath, the Maldives was a British colony from 1887 to 1965. The difference between being a colony and a protectorate may have been lost at sea.

The numerous countries that were colonised, whose identities were robbed, languages stolen, who were forcibly ‘civilised’, made victims of rape and pillage, who fought centuries-long wars of independence, against whom genocides were committed, and whose lands have been forcibly occupied by the ‘civilised settlers’ – they may feel a wee bit peeved at the loss of distinction between colony and protectorate.

But, let’s not be pedantic. Adhaalath says the Maldives was colonised, and not just by the British, but also ‘others’.

History has always been a bit murky in the Maldives. Take for instance the official narrative of how the Maldives converted to Islam in 1153 – the Infidel genie was (literally) put into a bottle by a visiting Moroccan Muslim scholar pretending to be a sacrificial virgin girl (don’t ask), and, voila! All Maldivians became 100 per cent Muslim overnight with no force, no blood shed, nothing.

Anyway, the other ‘colonisers’ that Adhaalath says enslaved the Maldives were individuals – an Andre Andre and a Raja with a double-barrel name. According to the dictionary, a colony is a country that is under the control of another country, not a wayward traveler (even if a Raja) or possibly the captain of a pirate ship (even if he sounds as good as Captain Jack Sparrow). But, never mind. Gratuitous pedantry can be unbecoming, and should be avoided.

The West, according to Adhaalath, once its colonies were lost, remained determined to infiltrate the beautiful Muslim world, with its strong community spirit, always living in peace bound by their strong faith in the Ummah.

You have to admit, you would be hard put to find a Muslim community in conflict in the twenty-first century.

This beautific Muslim world would have remained forever happy, if not for the stealthy shenanigans of the pseudo-intellectuals of the West. ‘They’, according to Adhaalath, have infiltrated Muslim societies such as the Maldives, luring the youth into materialism and philosophies of individualism through promises of education and progress.

Masking their jealousy and anger under benevolence, they have seduced Muslim youth with atheist and agnostic theories. This has been the ultimate goal of the West, their hidden agenda – the undermining of the firm religious belief that has been at the very core of the Muslim identity. This is the ‘neo-colonialism’ that the West now pursues, and it is aimed at Muslim youth.

Alas, the Maldivians have become easy victims, forgetting the beautiful ‘Islamic culture’ that made them Maldivians, forgetting centuries of tradition and culture.

Lost culture, or lost mind?

What is this ‘Islamic culture’ that Adhaalath accuses the West of stealing from the Maldives? Are they referring to the custom among Maldivian women that dictated they go topless until their first periods, no matter how old or how well endowed they became in the meantime?

According to the writings of the 14th Century Muslim explorer, Ibn Batuta, Maldivian women chose to ignore his criticism of the said custom when he came across it in his travels, and continued to practise it for many years after.

Dare it be said that in the ‘shameless’ West, women were literally swallowed up by cloth around the same time?

Perhaps Adhaalath is referring to the ‘Islamic culture’ of the free and fiery nature of Maldivian women much admired by Marco Polo in his travels? Or is it the ‘Islamic culture’ in which women reigned as queens for many years?

When Adhaalath says that the West has taught the Maldivian women – through the media – to sing and dance and expose themselves, are they referring to the women of the Thoddoo Badiyaa group and their ilk? Surely these pretty girls in their little pleated frocks and frizz-bomb hair did not learn how to powder their faces with white Cuticura and paint their lips with crepe paper from the West?

Hands up anyone who thinks that the dance moves of these women were learned from the West. Even the best of Top of the Pops did not figure a single move similar to the ones these ladies specialised in, waving their hair to the right and left so vigorously that one was afraid a head or two might fly lose at any time.

Or is the ‘Islamic culture’ that Adhaalath talks about the one that is reflected in the Maldivian women’s traditional clothing? You know, the dress with a neckline that plunges so deep that even Dolly Parton would blush, or the accompanying skirt that cannot even be bothered with stitching but wraps around the waist with a slit that goes up to the waistline itself?

Or is the ‘Islamic culture’ they want to protect the one where the Maldives once held the highest divorce rate in the world? Or the one where women ran after men going ‘Eid bolah gon’, accosting men from behind in a move that would have shocked even their ‘shameless’ Western contemporaries for its forwardness in pursuing potential husband material? Mr Darcy would never have been won with such unladylike displays.

Again, what ‘centuries of Islamic culture’, exactly, is it that the Maldives is losing because of the West?

Adhaalath is painting a false picture of a particular kind of ‘Islamic Maldives,’ that has never existed, then accuses the West of stealing it. The Maldives has been an Islamic nation for centuries, yes, but it has never had the culture that Adhaalath laments the loss of.

Rewriting history

Maldivians have practised and believed in the religion undisturbed, in their own way. Adhaalath wants the Maldives to forget whatever history that has been recorded, and pretend that Maldivians have been living the lives of some other people, following rules of a society and tradition these unassuming islanders have never before been familiar with.

Is the idea to get the Maldivian women to follow the ‘natural order’ of submissiveness while getting the men worked up about having a false identity stolen from them, and pitch them against ‘the West’ in an imaginary battle of civilizations that does not exist? These writings of Adhaalath are familiar and can be heard in the voices of those very same radical preachers who are recruiting vulnerable young people into a ‘war’ against an imagined enemy in the name of the ‘West’.

A Faustian Pact

Now, in the unlikely event that President Nasheed does manage to secure aid and other assistance from ‘the West’ to help save the Maldives from climate calamity, would Adhaalath be in favour of accepting the help?

Surely that would be hypocritical? Would it not be better to find a way to decamp to a burning hot desert somewhere where the women could keep their natural timidity and shyness intact under 500 yards of cloth, walk five steps behind her boss/husband, and breed in the safety of their tent while the man milks the camel while bravely battling the elements?

The children reared by the docile women and uncorrupted by the West can then go sacrifice themselves for the greater good in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.

The true Maldivian culture, the one that Maldivians did not know was theirs until it was revealed by Adhaalath, will then be able to blossom and bloom – finally letting Maldivians be independent, and free to be real Dhivehin.

It is becoming more and more clear that, yes, the chances are that the Maldives is destined to drown if it is not saved. What is harder to predict is which waters will sink it – the rising sea levels, or the ‘holy’ muck being used to brainwash its people.

Munirah Moosa is a journalism and international relations graduate. She is currently engaged in research into the ‘radicalisation’ of Muslim communities and its impact on international security.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Maldives narrowly defeated by India in penalty shootout

The Maldives national team was narrowly beaten by India in the SAFF Cup Final following a nail-biting 3-1 penalty showdown.

The streets of Male were deserted as the match began, with locals cramming teashops and restaurants. Those left on the streets gathered around TVs on street corners brought out by residents, or went to the main action at Lonuziyaaraikolhu where a large screen had been set up under the stars.

Young Maldivians dressed in red to support their team
Young Maldivians dressed in red to support their team

India was kept on the defensive throughout the match and during extra time, holding the score at 0-0 despite numerous close calls and several injured players. Indian goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharya weathered a brutal onslaught in the final minutes of the second half as the Maldivians ran rings around the bedraggled Indian defenders. But despite the perpetual pressure the team just couldn’t get the ball past Bhattacharya, who must have felt like he was playing a particularly vindictive game of Dodge Ball.

Tension mounted during the TVM broadcast’s pause for prayer in the first half of extra time, but nothing was scored during the break sparking a nervous sigh of relief from some in the crowd.

Crowds cram a shop trying to glimpse the game
Crowds cram a shop trying to glimpse the game

The audience was on their feet by the time of the penalty shoot-out, excited and nervous in equal measure. Jibon Singh’s opening goal was returned by Fazeel Ibrahim, but Thoriq missed in the second round while India’s Denzil Franco hit the back of the net. Both Nirmal Chettri and Mukhuthar missed in the third, but Subodh Kumar scored in the fourth and Ali Ashfag failed to make up the point, giving the match to India by the narrowest of possible margins.

Disheartened, the crowd gathered in Lonuziyaaraikolhu quickly melted away leaving nearby stallholders equally dispirited.

The few Indians in the crowd cautiously celebrated. “Do you still love my country?” one Maldivian teenager asked a group of spectating foreigners, worriedly, while a convoy of red-decked motorbikes set off to lap Boduthakurufaanu Magu, honking their horns somewhat half-heartedly.

Maldivian women and their children by the bright red sea wall
Maldivian women and their children by the bright red sea wall

It was a saddening picture compared to the uproarious celebrations that could have been triggered by a mere gust of wind during the Maldivians’ many attempts in the closing moments to creep the ball past the line. But in the end, India’s ironclad goal defence – and more than a little luck – saw them scrape through to their third SAFF victory in four years.


Scotland to support Maldivian green power

First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond will sign a joint statement of cooperation with President Mohamed Nasheed at Copenhagen, pledging Scottish knowledge and support for the development of green power in the Maldives.

Speaking at a press conference in Edinburgh, Salmond said Scotland would work together with the Maldives “to transfer knowledge about the capacity building needed to respond to the huge challenges posed by the climate change around us. We are delighted to help the Maldives in their endeavour to become the world’s first carbon neutral country.

“What is clear is that the industrialised nations must agree to targets that are both meaningful and binding. Anything short of that risks failing not just their own citizens, but those of the many developing nations most exposed to the destructive impact of climate change,” he added.

Glasgow-based Maldives Envoy for Science and Technology, Ahmed Moosa, said as a Scottish-trained engineer himself, he believed Scotland could play “a big part” in the development of renewable energy the Maldives, beginning with joint discussions in Copenhagen. “I think this is the start of something very special,” he added.

More than 30 per cent of Scotland’s energy will be provided by renewable energy sources by 2011, Salmond claimed, with the figure rising to half by 2020 – a key element of the country’s ambitious emission reduction target of 42 per cent by the same year.

Much of that will be produced by onshore wind farms. Scotland already has Europe’s largest onshore wind farm at Whitelee in Eaglesham Moor, which will soon be expanded to 593 megawatts allowing it power over a quarter of a million homes.

“Mr Moosa informed me that a wind farm of the same capacity could supply power to every house in the Maldives’ 1200 islands,” Salmond said, “although I think the transport lines might be a wee bit complex.”

The Maldives recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Swedish company Madsen Consulting, which will carry out a feasability study for establishing a wind farm in the Northern Province. The single 75w turbine will be installed in Lhaviyani atoll Hinnavaru early next year.


Letter on Copenhagen summit

Dear Editor,

A political agreement to prevent dangerous climate change is critical and achievable.

The world is five days into one of the most important global conferences of our time: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen (COP15). Negotiators currently getting down to work are tasked with coming up with a replacement to the Kyoto Protocol that will prevent the nightmare scenarios that many climate scientists have predicted becoming a reality. A formidable challenge.

Overwhelming scientific evidence – endorsed by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – shows that human activity is the primary force driving climate change. The UK recognises that the developed world has historic responsibility for climate change and must make ambitious commitments to tackle its effects, including through making funds available to developing countries.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown proposed, at last month’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, the establishment of an annual fund which would make available $10bn to assist developing countries in tacking climate climate immediately after an ambitious agreement at Copenhagen.

COP15 is a crucial engagement in the battle against dangerous climate change and the UK has taken an increasingly proactive position on pressing for an ambitious political agreement at Copenhagen. This year we became the world’s first country to have a legally binding long-term framework to cut emissions, adapt to climate change and commit to a low carbon economy: the UK Climate Change Act. And we have played a leading role in the European Union and the Commonwealth to encourage commitment to higher emission cuts and greater availability of resources to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.

Collectively we need to agree an ambitious deal at Copenhagen to rise to this challenge. The UK believes that this should include:

  • A global recognition to reduce carbon emissions to 50% below 1990 levels by 2050
  • Global temperature rise limited to 2 Degrees above pre-industrial levels.
  • Developed Country reduction targets that add up to least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020
  • Developing country actions that add up to at least 15% below business as usual for 2020.
  • Low carbon growth plans to prepare for transition to a global low carbon economy.

The above ambitions are a reflection of the importance the UK gives to recognising the developed world’s historic responsibility for global CO2 emissions, and the priority we have given to limiting the impact of dangerous climate change.

The UK has worked with Sri Lanka and Maldives as partners in tackling this critical global issue, over the past the year. In Sri Lanka, we funded a conference bringing together local environmental NGOs and the government to discuss critical issues that would be on the negotiating table in Copenhagen. In Maldives, we regularly discuss climate issues with the government and have welcomed their immense efforts to highlight the importance of acting against climate change. In particular, President Nasheed’s announcement to go carbon neutral by 2020 and the way Maldivian civil society have taken the initiative to support global climate change campaigns such as 350.org’s international day of action on 24 October 2009 have helped Maldives to lead the way in international debates on climate change.

Developing country commitments and actions have shifted the terms of negotiation in the path to Copenhagen but to achieve our global ambitions against climate change a sustained effort is needed. We look forward to continuing to work with Sri Lanka and Maldives to keep up the pressure through COP15 and beyond so that we do not leave climate change as a problem for the next generation.

Dr Peter Hayes is the British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka/Maldives