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Maldives: President Nasheed's Tourism Master Plan - boot out all Maldivians

Male', Maldives.

President Nasheed's Tourism Master Plan is well underway as the year 2011 comes to a close, the target being to force out all Maldivian businesses from the Maldivian Tourism industry.

The first step was begun last week, by a Presidential Order to Tourism Minister Mariyam Zulfa to close down all spas in tourist resorts. The reason being given that it was an act to accede to demands by the Civic Coalition which staged a historic 20,000 strong civic protest against Nasheed on December 23 in Male'. However, the Civic Coalition in no way called for the closure of spas. It demanded the closure of all places of prostitution, a valid demand anywhere in the world as prostitution is an illegal trade in human flesh. Nasheed and his government cleverly twisted the Civic Coalition demand and then took it to the highest extent by ordering a ban on all spas.

The Maldivian tourism industry's response to this has been very mild, not surprising perhaps as Nasheed has most likely negotiated a deal on this with all spa owners, except of course, Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim. On the one hand Minister Zulfa closes the spas, and on the other hand her husband Ibrahim Mohamed (SIM), Secretary General of Maldivian Association of Travel and Tourism Industries (MATI), voices grave concern. It is not likely that Maldivians would believe that that Nasheed would not personally discuss these matters with Sim. Sim Mohamed is a cousin of Nasheed's right hand, MDP Parliamentary leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, and is a the elder brother of Nasheed's uncle in law, Dahlia Abdulla Ibrahim (husband of Nasheed's aunty Zuhaira, and father of Eva Abdullah, MP for Galolhu Uthuru).

The darama continues as days later, industry big wig Champa Hussain Afeef jumps to Nasheed's bidding and cleverly pins the blame on Nasheed's political opposition. Today Champa Afeef happily made a statement calling upon the opposition and Nasheed not to destroy the Maldivian tourism industry.

The Maldivian tourism industry is owned by a sprinkling of rich Maldivians and foreign interests. The Nasheed government has a brilliant track record of coordinating its policies with the Maldivian head honchos of the tourism industry. The first such record being their financing of his election to the presidency. Universal Industries is reported to have spent 11 million rupees to buy Nasheed votes in the second round of the Presidential Elections 2008. Others like Champa Afeef were more sly, their actual financial aid not known but reported to be about MRF 10 million. Mohamed Waheeduddeen (Deen) reportedly forked out a similar amount for MDP.

The Tourism Elite scurried like mice to congratulate him at Ma Hilaaleege as president-elect and emerged flaunting to media their hogwash deal with Nasheed. Nasheed was happy to reward his financiers by keeping his side of the bargain, giving whole sale extension periods to pay overdue tourism taxes and rents and bringing amendments to tourism laws, regulations and tourist resort lease agreements.

In 2010, Nasheed conferred the title of ‘State Dignitary’ on Mohamed Umar Maniku (Chaiman of Universal Enterprises/Resorts, Maldives) and Champa Hussain Afeef (Managing Director of Crown Tours Maldives & Crown & Champa Resorts, Maldives), "in recognition of their invaluable service to the State". This is the first time a Maldivian Government has conferred the title on individuals outside service in the Government.

With such a close blood link between Nasheed's presidency and the rich capitalist few in the Maldives, it is hardly likely that Nasheed would make any political move against the tourism industry without their approval and active participation.

The more likely scenario is Nasheed's so-called ban on all spas will suddenly be converted to a ban on spas at resorts run by Maldivians. Elitists such as Champa Afeef, Koli Mohamed Umar Maniku (MUM) and Deen would play a little drama of meeting Nasheed and asking for leniency. Nasheed would show his leniency by just limiting his spa-ban to resorts owned by Maldivians, thereby crippling only Gasim Ibrahim and Sun Travel Siyam, while letting the rest enjoy their spa business. None amongst Champa Afeef, MUM and Deen presently "own" resorts in the Maldives. They have cleverly moved their businesses and corrupt cash abroad, leaving their resorts in the names of their overseas business partners. The end result?

A superb killing of two birds with one stone. Firstly, an effective butchering of the Maldivian in their own tourism industry; and secondly, crippling of one of his strongest political opponents, Gasim Ibrahim.

No one can deny the facts of history: that the few rich Maldivian capitalists in the tourism industry make and break Maldivian presidencies, not the other way round. There is no reason to even think that the Nasheed presidency will be any different.

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