MALÃ‰, October 11, 2013 (AFP) – The Maldives is one of the world’s most exclusive holiday destinations but it has quietly opened up to backpackers in the last five years with a reform that has upset religious hardliners. Most visitors arrive at the country’s airport island, take a speed boat or seaplane to their expensive coral-fringed private resort and spend the next week relaxing in blissful ignorance of the country around them.
It has been this way for decades, the result of a deliberate policy of keeping the wealthy holidaymakers — mostly Westerners and often newly-weds — on uninhabited islands separate from the local Muslim population.
The Islamic Republic applies different laws for both: travellers are free to drink alcohol, eat pork, and for those not on their honeymoon, enjoy pre-marital sex. Elsewhere, Maldivian women can be flogged in public for fornication.
“Since Maldives is a Muslim country, we have always supported the idea that the tourism industry should be separate from the inhabited islands,” says Mauroof Hussain, vice president of the conservative Adhaalath Party.
“If the hippy-type of travellers come, along will come drugs and narcotics which even now our society is suffering fro