Tourism industry may be disrupted in the months and years ahead
A militant brand of Islam is disrupting the political scene in the Maldives, with possible implications for the islands’ tourism industry. Not many of the million tourists who visit the Maldives each year are able to spot it, but a militant threat appears to be growing. President Mohamed Nasheed is accused of using an autocratic style and recently ordered the military to arrest the head of the country’s Criminal Court. To stand against him, the president’s opponents have taken on a hardline political Islam, accusing him of not being religious enough, bringing in Christianity and doing business with Jewish businesspeople.
The archipelago of 1,200 islands only emerged into democracy in 2008, but businesspeople in Male are shocked by the unpredictable acts of the president. Opposition protests in recent weeks have turned violent. With a presidential election approaching in 2013, hardline Salafist and Wahabist groups are gaining ground in some of the more distant atolls as well as in Male. Meanwhile, the UN estimates that 30,000 of the islands’ 330,000 people are addicted to heroin.
Islamist parties pressured the government to briefly shut down all hotel spas in January, even though tourism accounts for two-thirds of the country’s GDP. “They’re really quite infiltrated into many, many islands and they have literally taken over our way of life,” the president warned.
[pictured: Conrad Maldives]