The Maldives has ordered hundreds of luxury hotels to close their spas after protests by an Islamist party which claimed they were a front for prostitution, an official told AFP Friday.
The tourism ministry instructed all resort hotels across the nation’s 1,192 tiny coral islands to shut their spas and health centers with immediate effect.
The opposition Adhaalath party, a socially conservative movement whose website features an article criticizing “lustful music,” staged protests in the capital Male last week accusing spas of being used as brothels.
“An Islamic party has been agitating against spas hoping to embarrass the government,” an official told AFP by telephone, confirming Thursday’s ministry order but asking not to be named.
Tourism is a key foreign exchange earner in the Maldives, a popular high-end destination for well-heeled honeymooners where luxury rooms can cost up to $12,000 a day.
The Indian Ocean country this year received more than 850,000 tourists, drawn to its secluded islands known for turquoise blue lagoons, flourishing corals and reefs filled with multi-colored fish.
But the government bowed to the pressure less than a week after President Mohamed Nasheed called for a “tolerant” form of Islam in his nation of 330,000 people, who by law are all Muslims.
He urged Maldivians to reject religious extremism and support the more liberal “traditional form” of Islam that has been practiced in the Maldives for centuries.
“I asked you to come here in support of the middle, tolerant path,” Nasheed, who came to power in the country’s first democratic elections in 2008, told ruling party supporters last week.
The government move to shut spas will directly affect an opposition leader, Gasim Ibrahim, head of the Jumhoory Party, who owns five, the independent Minivan news website reported.
It said they were asked to shut down this week before the government’s blanket ban on Thursday, and the companies had sought court intervention to remain in business. Thursday’s order applied to all spas in the country.