“Maldives Bows to Protests, Bans Spas”

So reports OnIslam.net:

Bowing to protests pressures, the Maldives has ordered hundreds of luxury hotels to close their spas, a decision expected to affect tourism industry which forms a vital foreign exchange source for the Indian Ocean country.

“An Islamic party has been agitating against spas hoping to embarrass the government,” a senior government figure told Agence France Presse (AFP) by telephone asking not to be named.

The official confirmed Thursday’s ministry order following the protests that erupted in the country last Friday.

Answering a protest call by the opposition Adhaalat, or Justice, Party and several other groups, more than 3,000 people accused President Mohammed Nasheed’s government of compromising principles of Islam and call for Islamic law.

The government bowed to the pressure less than a week after President Nasheed called for a “tolerant” form of Islam in his nation.

The Maldives is a cluster of 1,200 islands renowned for its luxury resorts.

The tourism industry is a vital foreign exchange earner and employer in the Maldives, a popular high-end destination for honeymooners and celebrities where luxury rooms can cost up to $12,000 a day.

The Indian Ocean country [population 400,000] this year received more than 850,000 tourists, drawn to its secluded islands known for turquoise blue lagoons, as well as corals and reefs filled with multi-colored fish….

Considering the huge revenue earned from the business, tourism industry sources said they expected the government to revoke the decision on spas soon….

Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer.

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter CockleCove, I saw an article from Minivan News, a Maldivean publication, that gives some of the explanation for the closing (CockleCove reports, by the way, that “Minivan” means “Independent,” and has nothing to do with minivan):

After thousands of protesters gathered last Friday and demanded the government “close the spas and massage parlors and such places where prostitution is conducted”, the Tourism Ministry has today published a circular asking all the resorts to shut down their spas and massage parlors….

Speaking at a press conference held yesterday, [President Mohamed] Zuhair said the protesters did not specify where exactly the prostitution was conducted but mentioned that prostitution was conducted inside spas and massage parlors.

He said the government does not know how to differentiate between the spas and massage parlors that are complicit with prostitution and those which are not.

Therefore, Zuhair said the government has decided to shut down all such locales because Maldivians, including high-profile individuals, have been visiting tourist resorts and having spa treatments.

He said the government does not want those high-profile individuals’ good names being damaged by visiting places accused of such crimes.

Zuhair added that some of the individuals making these demands last Friday also conduct business in the tourism industry. Therefore, the government believes that, given their insider understanding of the resort and spa industry, their accusations are well-founded and there is not much to investigate.

This week, five spas run in five resorts owned by opposition Jumhoory Party (JP) Leader ‘Burma’ Gasim Ibrahim were asked by the Tourism Ministry to shut down operations over similar allegations.

The company subsequently sued the government….