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Wed 8 Jul 2009 03:37 PM

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Saudi religious police plan summer anti-vice drive

Cleric says patrols will be stepped up to enforce prayer-keeping and modesty.

Saudi Arabia's powerful religious police plan a summer anti-vice drive to enforce prayer-keeping and modesty in the conservative Gulf Arab state, its head said in remarks published on Wednesday.

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice applies an austere interpretation of Islam in the kingdom, where clerics control the justice system.

With more than 5,000 men, the force has wide powers to carry out raids in search of alcohol, ensure shops and restaurants are shut at prayer time, enforce the segregation of unrelated men and women in public and ban women from driving – an activity clerics say is un-Islamic.

Chief Abdul-Aziz Al-Humeen told Okaz newspaper that the religious police would step up patrols of outdoor gatherings for public entertainment, which are mainly held during the summer.

"The commission's men are called upon to orient people in what serves best the public interest, treat them with kindness and tolerance, to keep good intentions and prevent vice from happening," Okaz newspaper quoted Humeen as saying.

The religious police have come under harsh criticism from some media and pro-reform advocates after incidents in which people have died in their custody.

But Interior Minister Prince Nayef, a key conservative member of the ruling family who was promoted earlier this year to become second deputy prime minister, backed the religious police last month, saying they were on par with security forces.

King Abdullah appointed Humeen in February after dismissing his hardline predecessor Ibrahim al-Ghaith as part of a wide reshuffle aimed at curbing the influence of the religious establishment which has held back social reforms.

Saudi authorities are trying to convince some of the 5 million Saudis who travel abroad each year to spend their summer holidays at home to help the state's efforts to diversify the oil-based economy and create jobs for Saudi youths. (Reuters)

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FM 11 years ago

Yeah right, we're gonna restrict your every move and chase you with sticks, but please stay here and spend your money rather than go on holiday to places where your women can breathe and you can play to your hearts content. This is so wrong on so many levels, I don't even have time to explain why...

AJ 11 years ago

Where else can one expect to see this? I dont see anything wrong in spending time in prayer, but to force people to do it? Wrong. I dont see anything wrong in having good traffic control, but to force women off the roads? Wrong. I dont see anything wrong in promoting welfare with healthy living habits, but to force restaurants to shut down? Wrong. It is surprising to see people use a religion of freedom & peace in the name of imposing narcissistic behaviour in social order.