The dramatic transfer of power in the Maldives has ripped the mask off a placid tourist paradise with sun-drenched beaches and global jetsetters. Behind the veil is brewing a heady mix of Islamisation and politics that also has India worried.
"The Islamist parties stoked resentment against the Nasheed government and tried to discredit him as anti-Islamic. Islamists ganged up with the disgruntled sections of the police, the military and the opposition to engineer a coup," Ahmed Shaheed, Maldives former foreign minister and a key aide of Nasheed, told IANS over the phone from Male.
Ahmed Naseem, who succeeded Shaheed and was foreign minister till last week when Nasheed resigned amid a police mutiny, has also blamed the Islamists for the coup in the Maldives, a 100% Sunni Muslim nation. Naseem incurred the wrath of hardline opposition last year when he became the first senior Maldivian diplomat to visit Israel.
In fact, on the day Nasheed resigned amid a coup, a group of vandals destroyed priceless Buddhist statues and artefacts from the pre-Islamic era, considered idolatrous by hardline Islamic salafists, in the National Museum in the capital Male, an assault that was reminiscent of the the Afghan Taliban's destruction of priceless Buddha statues at Bamiyan in 2001.
In the weeks before opposition protests became more strident after the arrest of a judge at the behest of Nasheed, the tussle between the moderate, modernist Islam and the radical hardline version came to the fore when the Nasheed government was forced to order the closure of spas in hundreds of luxury resorts.
On Dec 30, a statement from the president's office said: "The government has decided to close massage parlours and spas in the Maldives, following an opposition-led religious protest last week calling for their closure."
The order followed concerted protests led by the opposition Adhaalat, or Justice Party, seen as an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood movement, and several rag-tag groups that accused the Nasheed government of compromising Islamic principles and wanted a strict adherence to strict Islamic law.