Friday, March 18, 2011

Saudi king expands Islamic religious police; Reuters refers to country as "conservative"

As the Arab world burns, the House of Saud is increasingly feeling the heat.  In an effort to stave off insurrection in Saudi Arabia of the kind being seen in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Bahrain, Saudi King Abdullah has appeared on television to offer billions of dollars in additional handouts to his people and, predictably, to expand the size and funding of the Islamic religious police.

The Saudi religious police or Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, (Mutaween in Arabic) is tasked with enforcing medieval sharia law in the country.  They have the power to:
arrest unrelated males and females caught socializing, anyone engaged in homosexual behavior or prostitution; to enforce Islamic dress-codes, and store closures during the prayer time. They enforce Muslim dietary laws, prohibit the consumption or sale of alcoholic beverages and pork, and seize banned consumer products and media regarded as un-Islamic (such as CDs/DVDs of various Western musical groups, television shows and film). Additionally, they actively prevent the practice or proselytizing of other religions within Saudi Arabia, where they are banned.  Among the things the Mutaween have been criticized or ridiculed for include, use of flogging to punish violators, banning Valentines Day gifts, arresting priests for saying Mass, and being staffed by "ex-convicts whose only job qualification was that they had memorized the Qur'an in order to reduce their sentences."
Here's how Reuters correspondent Crispian Balmer, who is never short of the most hyperbolic and hysterical language when characterizing Israeli security policy, describes this most oppressive and primitive Saudi religious and cultural institution:
In a rare televised address to the nation, the aging king made a brief statement congratulating Saudis for their loyalty and national unity before a battery of decrees were read out suggesting he was embracing increasingly conservative policies [...]
The kingdom has been slow to carry out reform promises in the conservative state since Abdullah came to power in 2005. Diplomats say the king faces opposition to political openings from some senior princes and clerics.
No bias here.

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