As King Salman of Saudi Arabia is set to arrive on the Maldives on 9 March, economic cooperation and investment opportunities will likely dominate the talks. The kingdom is planning on buying an entire atoll of the island – a development that opposition figures warn could endanger the stability of the country and threaten the security of the Indian Ocean.
Maldivian land was previously protected under the country’s constitution, but following the coup in 2012 – against the first democratically elected government of President Mohamed Nasheed – the constitution was amended in 2015 and now allows for foreign investors to buy land.
“The implications cannot be stressed enough,” warns former Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed. “Our most precious resource is our land – over 90% of territory is covered in water. We live from tourism. Selling our land is giving away our sovereignty to countries with their own agenda – an agenda that could threaten the stability of the Maldives and the Indian Ocean.”
The dismantling of democracy in the country is going hand in hand with the rise of Islamic extremism. Nasheed was disposed by a movement led by the former autocratic leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom under the premise of “defending Islam” against Nasheed’s alleged collusion with the West and promotion of Western culture.
Allowing Saudi Arabia to gain a bigger foothold in the Maldives could exacerbate that problem. Since the current president Abdulla Yameen came to power in 2013, the government has reached out to Saudi Arabia for cooperation in various sectors, including Islamic affairs.
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