In the Maldives, Tourists Caught in Battle of Religion and Politics

The debate over the role of religion in the Maldives is now affecting the countries tourists.

On December 23, opposition groups held a demonstration advocating for a strict imposition of Islamic values in the Maldives including the banning of massage parlors in the capital of Male, and other highly populated areas.

The government intentionally issued an order last week to close all the massage parlors and spas across the country’s islands although opposition groups were not seeking such a drastic measure. Government leaders wanted to highlight the hypocrisy of many opposition leaders who themselves are owners of spas.

"Ironically, the same opposition leaders who railed against spas and the selling of alcohol and pork to tourists are some of the country's biggest resort owners," said a statement by the president's office according to

Opposition groups retorted saying this was not their intention. “We respect tourists,” said a spokesman for Adhaalath Party, Mohamed Shaheem, which participated in the rally. “We are very happy with the tourism industry in the Maldives.”

CNN reported other rally participants who are also involved in the tourism industry include the Founder and Chairman of Villa Group, Qasim Ibrahim. The Villa Group owns five resorts in the Maldives. Ibrahim is also the head of Jumhooree Party, which participated in the rally.

Industry supporters believe the opposition and bans serve political purposes only and have continued to open their spas and other facilities. The hotel industry has sought a temporary court injunction and are talking with the government to get the spa services back to their clients, said Rashad of Royal Island Hotel according to

“This was done for political purposes,” he said. “Nobody has come out to check on us or to carry out inspections.”

The Maldives has a population of 350,000, mostly Muslim citizens. In 2010, the nation brought in almost 800,000 tourists.

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