Saudi Arabia announced plans to cut the rights of its infamous religious police force.
Wahhabism ist the state religion. This Muslim sect is promoting a very narrow minded mis-interpretation of Islam. All over the world they fund extreme preachers with billions of oil-dollars.
There are reforms since year in the Kingdom – but slowly.
The infamous police force has been stripped of its authority to pursue and arrest individuals, Kingdom officials announced recently. This comes in response to growing dissatisfaction with the thuggish tactics of the religious police, or muttawa, in recent years.
Some of the more significant changes from this announcement about restrictions on the religious police are:
- They are no longer allowed to work outside of office hours;
- They can no longer pursue, detain, or arrest those accused of breaking the law;
- All cases of suspected violations of Islamic law are now to be directed and handled by the civil police force.
The changes have come as a response to recent public dissatisfaction with the muttawa.
Most recently, the religious police force has come under fire for a video released on social media in February. The short clip shows a woman cowering on the ground after being pursued and then pushed to the ground by the religious police for wearing exercise clothes and athletic shoes.
This is just one incident in a string of many over the past few years.
In recent years the religious police have been accused of:
- The deaths of 15 girls in Mecca after police refused to allow them to flee a burning building because they were inappropriately dressed;
- In 2012 a woman was pushed to leave a shopping mall after the religious police saw her wearing nail polish (similar incidents have happened with women wearing makeup, and once—for a woman whose hands were uncovered)
- In 2013, two young men died after their car drove off of a cliff as they were being pursued by police for having their music playing too loudly
- A man, accused of selling alcohol, was beaten to death in 2007;
- Bursting into the homes of expats to see if they’re consuming alcohol;
- A blanket ban on Muslim couples giving each other presents on Valentine’s Day in coffeehouses, restaurants, hotels, and other public spaces;
- Enforcement of the prohibition of non-Muslim religious services, including the 2006 arrest of a Catholic priest for celebrating mass in a private residence.
By Western standards, it isn’t really hard to see why these incidents come across as blatantly ridiculous.
The gross violations of women’s rights and the lack of religious freedom for religious minorities have been subjects of constant debate and ridicule in Western media sources for decades. Far be it for me to tell the Saudi’s how to run their government. However, beating a man to death for selling alcohol is a tough idea for many Westerns to wrap their heads around.
Cultural misunderstandings and reservations aside, many in the West are hailing this as notable development in the way that minorities are treated in Saudi Arabia.
This, of course, begs the question of just how seriously should we be viewing these changes?
Permanent Change for Saudi Arabia?
The religious police are officially known as the enforcement arm of The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, and are viewed as an archaic and unnecessarily invasive by many young Saudis.
They are known for the zeal and excessive energy that they bring to their job, which too often result in things like random stops of male and female pairs to demand proof that they are married or close relatives. Women have often been harassed for wearing makeup or for not properly having their hair covered in public spaces. It is no secret that the young women, mostly inhabitants of major metropolitan areas, are irritated by the religious police. The video below from MEMRITV shows a Saudi woman talking back to the religious police after they harass her for wearing nail polish.
And even though the government is taking clear steps to reign in some of the more exuberant parts of one of its government enforcement branches, many experts in the Middle East are calling for caution when viewing the latest move by the Saudi government.
According to the New York Times, Mawdawi al-Rasheed, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics and resident expert on Saudi Arabia, cautions that this move simply represents “a balancing act by King Salaman”. In his comments to the Times, he notes that the religious police “play an important role in controlling society in spreading fear, in making people worry about their behavior all the time in public places, and sometimes even in the privacy of their homes.”
It should be clear that Saudi Arabia is still a religious monarchy. The recent shift are unlikely to be permanent changes. The religious police are still a government institution and if King Salaman wanted to appear more religiously devout he could simply reverse course.