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Last Updated: Monday, 30 July 2007, 12:04 GMT 13:04 UK
Religious police: Saudi readers' views
A woman eats an ice cream in Mecca, Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom's religious police enforce rules on sex segregation
Saudi Arabia has recently imposed curbs on its religious police, after rare public criticism of the force's conduct. The religious police enforce the country's strict moral codes.

BBCArabic.com contacted three readers in Saudi Arabia for their views.

AHMED AL MANAQESH, 23, TEACHER, RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA

My wife and I were eating at a restaurant in Riyadh when suddenly a man, who introduced himself as a member of the religious police, asked me accusingly whether my companion was my wife.

This took place six years ago when women did not have identity cards. At the time, they were only issued a family book which has no photos.

I responded so angrily, the man had no choice but to go away.

Such abuse of authority by the religious police - which affects nearly every Saudi citizen - made me believe that the religious police should be disbanded.

The religious police should be confined to religious guidance, with no powers of enforcement

Its duties and responsibilities interfere with the tasks of other governmental bodies, such as the police.

Moreover, it is mostly staffed by volunteers. So when something goes wrong, officials of the religious police find it easy to blame the volunteers.

I think the role of the religious police should be confined to religious guidance and orientation, with no powers of enforcement.

People interpret the police's role differently from region to region.

In the eastern and western regions of the Kingdom, the religious police play a positive role and perform their tasks peacefully and in a civilised manner.

While in the central region, the religious police adopt a stricter approach to their duties because the local community is zealously religious.

MOHAMED MOUSSA, 48, RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA

The religious police were established to preserve virtue, combat vice and to ensure that people attend prayers in mosques and close their businesses during prayer times.

Similarly, the religious police were entrusted with enforcing morals in markets and other public places.

Practices such as the free association of men and women, indecent dress and effeminate behaviour are not tolerated at all.

However, the question is: why have the Saudi religious police become the object of so much criticism in the past two years?

The answer, in my view, is that the media deliberately tarnishes the reputation of the religious police. Sometimes, they tend to exaggerate some of its mistakes.

The mistakes are only individual cases and not an official policy pursued by the religious police.

I would like to point out that the religious police are a government agency, just like any other.

Prince Naif, the Interior Minister, has clearly said the religious police are here to stay, like all the other governmental bodies.

IBRAHIM AL SAID, BUSINESSMAN, SAUDI ARABIA

Government measures against the religious police... are no more than a media stunt

The religious police have their benefits and drawbacks. On the positive side, they preserve the values of society and they combat drug use.

On the negative side, we hear of many cases where they detain suspects and beat them up.

I think government measures against the religious police - such as prosecuting people for the death of Saudi citizens in custody - are no more than a media stunt.

The real issues which cause resentment among Saudis are the widespread corruption and high unemployment.

In my opinion, two reasons lie behind this media stunt:

Firstly, the government hopes to deal a blow to the Islamists by trying to please the liberals in the Kingdom.

Secondly, it hopes it will distract people's attention away from more important issues such as constitutional reform, human rights and the economy.


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