Commercial and trade ties with Qatar will continue despite the Maldives severing diplomatic relations with the Gulf state, the government has said.
“The Maldives has not decided to take any further measures other than cutting diplomatic ties. Business ties between the Maldives and Qatari companies have not changed,” Attorney General Mohamed Anil told the press Monday night.
The surprise announcement of the Maldives severing 33-year-old ties with Qatar came amidst a diplomatic crisis sparked by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and four other Arab countries cutting ties with the tiny gas-rich state.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates closed airspace to the Qatari national carrier and the UAE-based Emirates, Etihad Airways and FlyDubai suspended flights to Doha.
Briefing the press last night, the attorney general and foreign minister stressed that the Maldives’ action was limited to closing official channels of communication.
An official from Qatar Airways told the Maldives Independent that scheduled flights between Doha and Malé will continue. According to the foreign ministry, Maldivians and Qataris will also be able to travel between the countries.
On Tuesday morning, Home Minister Azleen Ahmed and officials from the communications authority met with the CEO of Ooredoo Maldives, a subsidiary of Qatari telecommunication giant Ooredoo Group, “to ensure that business ties between Maldives and Ooredoo will continue,” the home ministry tweeted.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party meanwhile strongly condemned President Abdulla Yameen’s “reckless foreign policy decisions, which appear to be increasingly dictated by Riyadh.”
Since assuming office in November 2013, President Yameen has fostered close ties with Saudi Arabia and China, visiting the kingdom thrice and securing loans to finance an ambitious infrastructure scale-up. In March, Yameen announced a forthcoming US$10 billion investment from Saudi Arabia, prompting fears that Faafu atoll or parts of it could be sold to the Saudi royal family.
“President Yameen’s short-sighted decision will cause additional damage to the Maldives’ standing in the world, destabilise the Maldivian economy and further deter foreign investment,” the MDP said in a statement.
“The MDP calls on President Yameen not to sell Maldivian foreign policy to the highest bidder just to further his personal interests.”
Exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed, the opposition leader, also contended that foreign policy is now “dictated by President Yameen’s paymasters in Riyadh” and called for a return to “traditional South Asian alliances.”
Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom tweeted: “It is sad that the 100 percent Muslim Maldives is cutting ties with one Muslim nation after another. Iran last year and Qatar this year.”
The Maldives severed ties with Iran in May last year, joining other Sunni Muslim countries that took diplomatic action after Saudi Arabia cut ties with its Shia-majority regional rival.
The move was unprecedented for the Maldives, which has traditionally pursued a foreign policy of non-alignment.
Asked about alleged Saudi influence, Attorney General Anil insisted that the move was prompted by the Maldives’ zero-tolerance policy on terrorism and extremism. The cabinet advised the president to sever ties with Qatar following extensive deliberations, he added.
Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of destabilising the region by supporting militant groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaeda as well as “Iranian-backed terrorist groups”.
Asked about plans to build a sports stadium in Hulhumalé with funding from Qatar, Anil acknowledged that financial assistance is likely to cease.
The MDP meanwhile went on to criticise the government for making the decision to sever ties “unilaterally, without any regard for Maldivian public interest or opinion.
But Foreign Minister Dr Mohamed Asim insisted that the move was not abrupt despite meeting with the non-resident ambassador of Qatar a day before.
Asim said the meeting was arranged at the ambassador’s request during his recent visit to Sri Lanka, where most embassies accredited to the Maldives are based.
According to the Qatari foreign ministry, the pair “reviewed bilateral relations and ways to develop them” and discussed “a number of topics of common interest.”
Other opposition parties have also condemned the move. The Jumhooree Party called the decision “ad hoc and hasty without appropriate regard for its implications to the development of the Maldives or the region.” The JP also expressed concern with the lack of transparency, consultation or substantiation of the allegations concerning terrorism.
The religious conservative Adhaalath Party criticised the government for involvement in “issues and conflicts between global power blocs as well as into similar matters within the Islamic world, in spite of the fact that the country has no direct stake in them.”
The Maldives is the only non-Arab country to sever ties with Qatar following the diplomatic row between the Gulf neighbours.
Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said the decision of Arab countries to cut ties with Qatar was an “internal matter” for the Gulf Cooperation Council.