The Maldives president said yesterday he had lifted a ban on spas in the upmarket tourist destination after establishing they were not being used for prostitution, as alleged by Islamist protesters.
The tourism ministry ordered all massage and beauty treatment centres to close six days ago in response to public demonstrations in the capital against spas organised by the hardline Islamist opposition Adhaalath party.
"There was a huge demonstration in Male against spas, saying they were brothels," President Mohamed Nasheed said. "We had to respect the crowd so we ordered a quality control regarding their use.
"We found that they are perfectly healthy and places where families can obtain top class treatment. We feel comfortable that we can now open the spas."
The private tourism industry in the Maldives had also sought the intervention of the Supreme Court to lift the ban, saying it was unnecessary and would deprive them of business.
The tourism industry is a vital foreign exchange earner and employer in the Maldives, a popular high-end destination for well-heeled honeymooners and celebrities where luxury rooms can cost up to $US12,000 a day.
The Indian Ocean country last year received more than 850,000 tourists, drawn to its secluded islands known for turquoise blue lagoons, corals and reefs filled with multi-coloured fish.
The move to shut the spas was seen by some observers as being politically motivated, with the government keen to turn the tables on the Islamist opposition.
Key opposition figure Gasim Ibrahim, head of the Jumhoory Party, is also a major owner of resort hotels and his businesses were set to be affected by the ban.
Nasheed said the government move had jolted the country's "silent majority" which favours a moderate form of Islam practised in the nation of 330,000 Sunni Muslims.
Despite the Islamic republic's reputation as a laid-back holiday paradise, burnished by frequent international marketing campaigns, there is growing concern about the influence of a minority of religious fundamentalists.
There have been anti-Semitic protests recently about the transport ministry's decision to allow direct flights from Israel, while a restaurant that hung up Christmas decorations in 2010 was also targeted.
Also in 2010, a marriage celebrant was filmed abusing a Western couple as "swine" and "infidels" in a religious-tinged hate speech during a ceremony conducted in the local Dhivehi language.