In a clever move aimed at forcing the Maldivian Supreme Court to decide if spas in the up-scale resorts went against Islamic principles, the government on Wednesday lifted the nationwide ban on spas and massage parlours, revoking a circular sent by the Tourism Ministry last week which ordered spas to cease operations.

The President Mohamed Nasheed chose the country’s first resort Kurumba Maldives resort, which began operations in 1972, to make the announcement: He said that the government has requested the Supreme Court to advise whether spas are legal under the Maldives constitution.

In effect, the President has made a strategic retreat from his earlier position and lifted the ban on spas. Earlier, the government imposed the ban after an opposition rally in Male’ on December 23, claiming to "defend Islam," ridiculed the government for being soft on issues banned by the religion. Some speakers wanted an ‘Islamic state’ and that the State to be guided by Sharia laws.

Spas, for instance, a few speakers claimed, were cover for prostitution. The government chose to selectively act on this demand, and ordered the country’s spas closed. It made sense for the government since leaders of some of the opposition parties owned resorts.

The government claimed that soon after the ban the resort owners “quickly changed their positions and stated they do not support a ban on spas nor wish to damage the tourism industry.”

The President reasserted his view that the vast majority of Maldivians reject religious extremism and want to continue the moderate form of Islam the Maldives has followed for the past 800 years. “We wanted to impress upon everyone where the opposition’s demands were ultimately going to end,” the President explained on Wednesday, according to a release.

The President said the government’s ultimatum “woke the nation from its slumber and sparked a healthy national debate about the future direction of the country.”

“The extremist demonstration on 23 December attracted a sizeable crowd. But their radical demands awoke the silent majority who categorically reject extremism,” the President said.

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