Recent turmoil in the Maldives might cost Israel one of its few allies in the Muslim world, as the South Asian nation’s new president is expected to steer his country toward Islamism and to cut ties with Jerusalem.
Earlier this month, Mohamed Nasheed – the island nation’s first democratically elected president, known for his pro-Israel stance, – was deposed in what he calls a political coup. He was replaced by Mohammed Waheed Hassan, who vowed to appoint hardline Islamic conservatives to his cabinet. While Islamist groups in Maldives have for months called for their government to curtail relations with Israel, observers fear that the new regime might indeed cut all ties.
The Adhaalat party in particular, which promotes the introduction of Shariah law and will receive several ministerial posts in the new government, has protested the former president’s friendliness toward Israel.
Located in the Indian Ocean, this archipelago republic of roughly 330,000 inhabitants, spread across hundreds of islands, does not tolerate the public practice of any religion other than Islam and does not grant non-Muslims citizenship. However, while the Maldives do not entertain official diplomatic relations with Israel, since the 1990s the two nations established friendly ties.
Just last May, the Maldives’s then-foreign minister, Ahmed Naseem, became the first top official to visit Israel. During his four-day stay he met with President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem and visited other sites throughout the country.
Nasheed’s government maintained “relations of appreciation and friendship with Israel,” the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem stated less than a year ago.
In light of violent clashes that erupted earlier this month between supporters fo Nasheed and Hassan, the Israeli Foreign Ministry last week issued a travel warning for Maldives, cautioning travelers currently in the country not to visit the capital Male. Jerusalem also issued a general travel advisory to citizens considering visiting the country, which is known for its sandy beaches. Israeli tourists can visit the Maldives without a visa.
Ministry officials on Wednesday declined to comment on the current political upheaval in Maldives.
In 1965, Israel was third state to recognize Maldives, and the Israeli ambassador was the first to present his credentials to the Maldives’ president, according to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. However, diplomatic relations were suspended in 1974.
About 20 years ago, relations improved again; the two states have since signed three agreements in the fields of health, tourism and education.
In 2010, Israeli ophthalmologists visited the country to perform eye operations. Islamists protested their arrival.