We regularly discuss horrific reports from Saudi Arabia of beheadings and floggings under its medieval Islamic Sharia law system. Finally, there is a chance to report on a positive development out of the Kingdom. The Saudi cabinet has approved a major change related to the infamous religious police, or Mutawaa. The religious police will now longer have the power to arrest citizens and must report all alleged crimes to the police instead. Of course, the reform falls short of the obvious and most meaningful reform: getting rid of the roaming religious police entirely.
Formally known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the force has been regularly accused of thuggish and abusive actions. They were recently raiding birthday parties to arrest people dancing. religious police force that has been a constant presence in the Kingdom arresting woman having coffee with colleagues or forcing young girls to burn to death in fire rather than run out without their scarves. Then there was the time that the religious police in Dammam marched into a popular dinosaur exhibit and shut it down without any explanation of why the dinosaurs threatened the virtue of good Muslims. Then there was the flogging of a women who insulted them. Then there are the round ups of religious people for simply praying at home. Then there is the arrest of a man for standing in line with his wife at a grocery store. The list goes on and on.
The Cabinet this week added directions for the religious police to act “kindly and gently” in enforcing Islamic rules. I guess that means not forcing girls into burning buildings to die rather than run to safety without a veil.
The new regulations state that “Neither the heads nor members of the Haia are to stop or arrest or chase people or ask for their IDs or follow them – that is considered the jurisdiction of the police or the drug unit.”
That is clearly an advance forward. Now let’s work on such basic concepts of free speech, free exercise, and the separation of mosque and state.