Sunday, April 22, 2007

Attacks on Religious Police Increase

Al Watan newspaper is reporting (Arabic) a sharp increase in reported assaults on members of the "Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice" (AKA the religious police), ranging from verbal abuse to assault using sharp weapons. Last year 21 confirmed cases had been reported.

First of all I do not, and have never ever, condoned violence against anyone no matter how repulsive I find them (I'm a hippy pacifist).

Yet these sort of incidents are indicative that the Saudi populace is chafing under the iron tight control of the religious police. While many of its defenders liken it to the "Vice Police" units in other countries, what they don't tell you is that unlike those peace keepers the Saudi Vice Squad (Riyadh Vice! Queue in 80's TV theme music! Starring Don Johnson!) have almost unlimited power when dealing with the public. Stories of assaults by the religious police on the unsuspecting public based on a slight suspicion are all too common place. And more than that, corruption runs high amongst its members. It's not unheard of for a mutawee to abuse his powers for personal gain.

The religious police have been steadily losing popularity (not that they were in any way popular from the start), especially after the popular backlash on extremism following the string of compound bombings a few years ago. These incidents (and I'm sure there are many more being hushed up) are just the tip of the ice berg. The religious police need to learn that while they might still have a place in a modern Saudi society, it won't be one of an enforcer of a narrow minded ideology.

No comments: