By Joshua Corpuz
On March 7, the Maldives announced that it would implement economic development and high-end tourism in the Faafu Atoll. Protests took place in the Faafu Atoll, located in the Maldives, as a demonstration of the opposition to its rumored sale, a 19-island chain in the Indian Ocean, to Saudi Arabia.
Citizens began to protest when information about the project went out to the public, and the police have halted the activities by Faafu Atoll residents and detained a few of the protesters.
Initial talks regarding the transition of Maldivian sovereignty to Saudi Arabian sovereignty began in January, where “reports [of] the government was breaking with a longstanding policy of leasing islands that are home to the world’s premier resorts and selling the atoll outright to the Saudis. The inhabitants fear they might be moved off the islands”, reported The New York Times.
Officially, the Maldives’ President Abdulla Yameen denied any sales of the atoll, while the Saudi embassy in the Maldives stated it has no intention of investing in a project or buying an atoll in the island nation.
It is believed that the government of Saudi Arabia desired to start this project in 2016, but moved it to Spring 2017 due to the political instability following the deposition of its former president in 2012. President Yameen addressed the recent protests to the Maldives Independent by saying, “we are the architects of the blessings we receive, and we are the architects of the damnation that befalls us. So why must we let things be like that?” questioned Yameen.
Abdul Hameen Mohamed, president of the atoll council, said that “a mega project would improve the standard of living on the atoll… even if the government has a population consolidation policy or not. People here have different opinions as well”, reported the Maldives Independent.
In 2015, the government approved a constitutional amendment authorizing foreign freeholds in the Maldives. Saudi Arabia invested $10 million in the development of the Faafu Atoll. Last week, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, was expected to visit the atoll. However, he canceled at the last minute, claiming that the flu epidemic has swept through the island and that he did not want to compromise his health.
The Maldivian government has split into two groups: the incumbent political party and former president Mohamed Nasheed and the opposition party. Nasheed stated that the Saudi project would give the Faafu Atoll in the form of a colony to Saudi Arabia.
On the other hand, President Yameen said in a statement to Reuters, Faffu “is part of a wider, multifaceted program to finance a major, multi—billion dollar investment project encompassing mixed development, residential, and high-class development”.
According to The Guardian, the Maldives’ government stated that it changed its approach to environmental issues, “saying that mass tourism and mega-developments rather than solar power and carbon neutrality would enable it to adapt itself to climate change and give its young population hope for the future.”
Shiham Adam, director of the Marine Research Center, is positive about the developments, stating that they may lead to an increase in tourism for the country, “which may be the savior of the Maldives.”
The Faafu Atoll has approximately 4,000 residents. Home to farmers and fishers, the project may uproot the families and citizens. Many of the inhabitants of the Atoll are fearful of losing the historical ties to the atoll’s sacred land and fishing grounds.