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Saudi atoll-designs in the Maldives cause shockwaves in India

Saudi Arabia are reported to be planning a "massive project" in the Maldives [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 March, 2017

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Both Indian officials and opposition figures have expressed concern that rumoured government plans to sell an atoll to Saudi Arabia will increase Wahhabi influence in the picturesque high-end holiday hotspot
Indian officials, and opposition figures are fretting over controversial plans by the Maldives government to "sell" one of the archipellago nation's atolls to Saudi Arabia, according to reports in the Indian press on Friday.

Abdulla Yameen’s government is reportedly planning to discuss a potential deal with Abdulaziz Al Saud concerning the Faafu atoll - one of 26 in the country - during an imminent visit by the Saudi monarch.

In late January Yameen said that Saudi Arabia had established plans for a "massive project" in the Maldives, aggravating long-standing speculation that his government plans to sell the entire atoll to Riyadh.

In 2015 the Maldivian government issued a constitutional amendment permitting foreigners to own land in the Maldives. 

Saudi Arabia is reportedly considering building a special economic zone on Faafu, home to around 4,300 people.

Both Indian officials, and Maldivian opposition parties have expressed concern that such a move could lead to a rise of Wahhabism in the country, reported The Times of India.

"Saudis fund scholarships for 300 students every year. About 70% of Maldivian population already subscribes to the Wahabi sect," said one official from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, in comment to The Times of India.

"There is a plan by Yameen to bring in Islamic teachers from Saudi Arabia. This will turn these schools to madrasas."

Fears of growing Wahhabi influence, and increased security threats, have in part been stoked by reports that as many as 200 Maldivians have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join jihadist groups in the past few years. 

According to the New Delhi based Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict - the highest concentration of these recruits hail from Faafu.

Al-Saud began a tour of Asia earlier this week in Malaysia, and is also set to visit Indonesia, Japan and China, in addition to the Maldives.

Maldives President Abdullah Yameen, who came to power in 2013, has been accused by critics of repressing political opponents, and members of civil society, in addition to failing to confront a growing Islamist threat in the country, a high-end tourism hotspot. 

In May 2016 Yameen severed diplomatic ties with Iran citing Tehran's policies in the Middle East, moving closer towards Saudi Arabia, the archipellago's main financial backer.

India's President Narendra Modi has notably not visited the Maldives since being sworn into office in May 2014. 

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