The Maldivian parliament and Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council have agreed to form “integrated joint committees” to work together on issues of mutual interest including terrorism.
The decision was announced on Monday during the ongoing visit by Shura Council Speaker Dr Abdulla bin Mohamed bin Ibrahim Al-Sheikh.
Dr Abdulla – the first Shura Council speaker to visit the Maldives – held separate meetings with Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon and People’s Majlis Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed yesterday.
During the meeting with his Maldivian counterpart, Dr Abdulla also agreed to form “parliamentary friendship groups” in both legislatures.
He also donated US$100,000 to the recently established Islamic University of Maldives.
The Saudi Shura Council consists of 60 members appointed by the king. The council has authority to enact laws, oversee the functions of governmental agencies and investigate public cases. Decisions by the Shura Council are only enforced after the king’s approval.
The Shura Council speaker’s visit comes amidst growing Saudi influence in the Maldives.
Since assuming office in November 2013, President Abdulla Yameen’s administration has fostered closer ties with Saudi Arabia and China, seeking strategic alliances and investments for infrastructure development.
Yameen has repeatedly slammed alleged interference in domestic affairs by Western powers amidst persisting criticism of the government’s human rights record following the imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed and other opposition leaders in early 2015.
Yameen has visited Saudi Arabia thrice while then-Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud visited the Maldives in February 2014. During the trip, the crown prince pledged US$1.2 million to build 10 mosques across the country and donated US$1.5 million and US$1 million, respectively, to the health sector and the Islamic ministry’s waqf fund.
Following the passage of controversial constitutional amendments authorising foreign freeholds in July, then-Vice President Ahmed Adeeb said that the government was seeing interest from Middle Eastern investors, “especially from royal families there.”
“Maldives can be like Bahrain is for them,” he suggested.
Saudi Arabia and Maldives also recently penned an agreement hailed as a “religious bridge” to maintain religious unity here. The kingdom’s Islamic Affairs Minister Saleh bin Abdulaziz visited the Maldives in November and agreed to help improve the collection of Zakat (alms for the poor), publish books on Islam in English, expedite ongoing mosque projects and train Imams.
The visit came after Saudi Arabia hosted a conference on moderate Islam in Malé. Islamic Minister Dr Ahmed Ziyad said at the time that the Saudis will help maintain the Maldives’ 100 percent Muslim status and counter Western influences.
In August, Saudi Arabia established a diplomatic mission in the Maldives for the first time.
The kingdom also granted US$20 million for budget support last year, and agreed to provide a US$80 million loan for the development of a an urban centre on the artificial island of Hulhumalé.
Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed and Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee meanwhile traveled to Riyad last month to negotiate with the Saudi Investment Fund on investing in the iHavan transshipment port project.
The Saudi government had granted Maldives US$1 million to conduct a feasibility study for the venture.
In December, the Maldives joined a Saudi-led military alliance formed to combat terrorist organisations.
A joint communique issued during President Yameen’s state visit to Saudi Arabia in March stated that the two sides agreed to “continue fortifying their bilateral cooperation in all fields including foreign affairs, defence, Islamic affairs, judiciary, economy, commerce, investment, education, and health for the purpose of accomplishing their common interests and providing support to the issues of the Muslim nation, while rejecting any foreign interference in their internal affairs.”