The game of political brinkmanship plumbed to new depths in The Maldives with the government striking back — by conceding the demands of the December 23 protesters!
On December 23, protesters, largely from the opposition parties but claiming to be part of an NGO, sought to label President Mohamed Nasheed, a “bad” Muslim. He was accused of trying to open up the country to other religions, and some of those claimed that spas and massage parlours in resorts were actually promoting commercial sex trade. One opposition party wanted a blanket ban on alcohol.
The government responded by asking the Tourism Ministry to issue a circular to all resorts to close down their massage/spa parlours. Its reasoning: since some of those who run resorts made the accusations, there was no need for a separate investigation to find out if there was prostitution. “Insiders don't lie. The government went by their word,” said one source.
The government was targeting Gasim Ibrahim, a businessman who owns five resorts, and key ally of the former President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Spas in his resorts were ordered shut last week which he challenged in court. The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party believes that he has been bankrolling the protests. Other opposition leaders including Thasmeen Ali and Yamin Abdul Gayoom, own resorts and were at the rally.
The MDP is also taken aback by the attitude of the Big Boys in the Tourism Business. One source said Mr. Nasheed's call for expanding on the Maldivian brand of tolerant Islam did not evoke support among the big players in the industry — all of who run multi-million dollar resorts. For now, the stay in a local court has meant that the new order of the tourism department has not taken effect. But the rallies and the government's reaction will certainly hurt the industry said a promoter.
Keywords: Maldives unrest