After my last post on the Saudi religious police aka muttawa, a friend of mine suggested I make a poll to see what people really thought them. Many it seems are afraid to express their disapproving thoughts on the moral cops publicly, even anonymously on blogs. Judging by the comments to the posts, I often get the impression that most people are very supportive of the concept of Hai’a in Saudi-Arabia and wish they will continue terrorizing advising people.
That’s why I was very surprised to see the result of the poll I kept running for a few days on the blog. Here are the results:
Do you think the Saudi religious police should:
Continue operating as they are now: 11 votes (7%)
Continue but with complete reform: 36 votes (25%)
Be abolished altogether: 84 (58%)
Be granted more power and authority: 12 votes (8%)
Over half says good riddens to the muttawa. I was expecting the second option of complete reform to have the most votes and only a few to say they saw no need for the religious police whatsoever. That said anyone could have answered this poll. If asked from Saudis only I bet the result would be different. But still it’s interesting to see. Most hilarious I thought was how many said Hai’a should be granted more power, I mean seriously? Someone must have clicked on that just as a joke, right?
More on Hai’a matters, the new boss Al-Sheikh commented on the “nail polish girl” incident which happened a few weeks ago in Hayat Mall. Again, we can see from the comments to my post and all other forums how the public opinion was mostly condemning this woman, as usual the mindset in KSA, blame the woman. Surprisingly and sadly, many of those negative judgmental comments were coming in from women, fellow Muslims calling her the worst of names.
In the past when there’s been incidents in the news (and there has been MANY) of Hai’a officers harassing women, the official response has been either completely lacking or then supportive of the officers. This time around was different though, and you can read what Al Sheikh had to say in full here: http://arabnews.com/haia-chief-asks-staff-be-lenient.
“The way the commission member behaved was not right, even if the girl had gone too far. He should have offered her advice and left instead of arguing with her and causing the situation to escalate.”
I wonder what all those evil tongues have to say now? Al Sheikh is clearly condemning the actions of his field officer. This was not the first time the Haia boss said the field officers should be lenient toward citizens and “kindly remind or give advice, then leave”. He was even moved to tears when talking about the issue.
This might be a good indication that change would really be around the corner for the religious cops. Ahmed at Saudi Jeans had this to say about it: http://saudijeans.org/2012/06/14/commission-makeover/
Despite their leader’s appeals and demands for a more lenient, friendly approach, it seems the field officers are either not listening, not registering or blatantly disobeying the orders.
I wrote about how one of my friends had an incident at the Riyadh IKEA with two Hai’a officers, ending in a shopping cart tug-of-war between her and one of the muttawa. Just after I wrote that post I saw this very same lady two times. On both occasions we went out for some shopping and she was again harassed. Unbelievable. Can you imagine how she must feel?
For this woman and many others this is an almost every-time occurrence when they go out shopping, to be attacked by vicious muttawa. The seem to be muttawa-magnets for some reason.
The first incident happened at Diira souq in the old area of Riyadh, close by to the infamous chop-chop square (and coincidentally the Haia headquarters too). My friends were walking ahead of me pushing the stroller and a muttawa approached them aggressively, loudly shouting “cover your head, you are in Saudi-Arabia”, as if they had not noticed that little detail. He did not just say it once, but three times and aggressively, without an ounce of kindness or leniency in his tone of voice. The officer pointed his finger at them and I snapped an epic pic of this very moment because I happened to have my camera at hand, one reason for us being there was to take photos at the nearby souk.
This Hai’a guy was in a hurry to go check that all the shops were closed for prayer and so he moved along.
A few days after that we were in Riyadh Gallery and spotted a pair of muttawa patrolling the mall. My friend and I separated from each other for a while and when I called her, she had been forced to leave the mall because those very same “religious men” had actually harassed her so badly she was compelled to leave. This made me so upset, not only because of how terrible it feels as a woman to be harassed publicly by men like that, but because every time such incidents occur they consequently give the wrong impression about Muslims to the people who fall victim of this abuse.
Later I saw them at H&M checking that the newly appointed female cashiers were not working anymore. Funny how religious police are demanding something to end, but the new law actually states that female sales personnel need to be present where women’s lingerie, make-up etc is being sold. Just because the muttawa officers have come to the conclusion women shouldn’t be working there (or anywhere in public), they think they have the right to actually go AGAINST the law and ban the women from working. Doesn’t make any sense. is this “politely advising people”, or robbing them of their jobs and incomes?
At another H&M in Granada mall I was glad to see the Saudi women and men working side by side in harmony, at least on that day. And guess what? The world didn’t come to an end. In fact, it continued like it normally does all over the world where women work in such positions. Here’s a quick snapshot of this historical moment:
So is there really a need for a commission whose members seem to enforce the law quite randomly, according to how they’ve interpreted religion in their own minds, not necessarily by what’s been mandated or requested by their chief? Why is there seemingly no change to the rude behavior of the field officers despite the constant pleads from Haia chief?
Some food for thought from Saudi Jeans article: “the Commission employs 4389 men, 60% of these employees do not have a college degree, and half of those did not even finish high school. It’s safe to assume that most of them are field officers, the ones you see in malls and patrolling the streets”