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Ed Webb

Sovereignty for cash? The Saudi-Maldives island deal making waves | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • It’s one of the world’s top tourist destinations, with more than a million scantily clad foreigners enjoying its glistening white beaches and crystal clear waters each year.Later this month, the Indian Ocean state of the Maldives – particularly popular with honeymooners – is scheduled to play host to a very different kind of visitor when King Salman bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia arrives for official talks and a holiday. Top of the agenda in talks with the government in Male, the Maldives small, cramped capital, is likely to be a $10bn Saudi investment project, believed to include the Saudi purchase or long-term lease of a string of 19 of the island state’s coral atolls.
  • “international sea sports, mixed development, residential high-class development, many tourist resorts, many airports and other industries"
  • “The plans would allow a foreign power control of one of the country’s 26 atolls. It amounts to creeping colonialism.”
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  • The opposition says part of the rational behind the multi-billion dollar Saudi development could be a plan by Riyadh to establish a staging post and special economic zone, complete with port facilities, for oil and gas exports to Asia, particularly to China.
  • with climate change and rising sea levels, there is a very real possibility that the majority of the island nation’s land area will be underwater by the end of the century
  • Abdulla Yameen, the current president – who has strongly denied allegations about government corruption made recently by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network - has stressed the need for economic growth and sees the giant Saudi investment as key to future prosperity.“We do not need cabinet meetings under water,” says the government. “We need development.”
  • There are also fears that the development, with its large-scale building work and dredging activities, will threaten irreparable damage to what is one of the world’s most pristine but vulnerable ecological regions.
  • Islam in the Maldives has traditionally blended elements of Sufism and other religions; in recent years, a stricter form of Saudi-style "Wahhabism" has predominated. There are concerns that a number of people from the Maldives are believed to have joined the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and Iraq.
  • The Saudis have pledged to build what they describe as 10 "world class" mosques in the archipelago and have donated $100,000 for scholarships to study in Saudi Arabia. 
  • In early 2016, the government in Male cut diplomat ties with Iran
  • The growing ties between Riyadh and Male have been causing some concern in the region, particularly in India.Last year the Binladin Group, the troubled Saudi construction conglomerate, was awarded – for an undisclosed sum – a contract to build a new international airport in the Maldives. A previous agreement with an Indian company to build the airport was terminated; it is likely the Maldives will have to pay millions of dollars in compensation. 
  • Analysts say the Asia trip is about extending Saudi influence and diversifying the Kingdom’s economy away from oil and gas and investing in the region.
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