Saudi Arabia’s Morality Police were reigned in this week, after they were stripped of their powers of arrest.
The officers, formally called the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, are responsible for enforcing codes preventing issues like alcohol consumption, the mingling of genders or drug dealing. In a move that was broadly unexpected in the Kingdom, they’ll now have to defer to regular authorities when they come across instances of “immorality”.
While still controversial, the decision was the result of steadily building criticism of these law-enforcers and their heavy-handed tactics. In their enthusiasm to oversee religious codes among ordinary people, the Virtue Police often made moral transgressions far more grave than a flash of ankle or sip of alcohol.
Some of the most serious outraged ordinary Saudis, and badly damaged the standing of the Mutaween in the eyes of the public.
1 – The Misgendered Puppet
The opening of a sweetshop in Riyadh ran into trouble this February, when its mascot was arrested for impersonating a woman. The mascot – a ribboned princess in a cute blue maxidress – apparently concealed a human male who was accused of making flirtatious and inappropriate moves. The arrest provoked mockery and criticism among the Saudi public, although the mascot herself retained the same delighted expression throughout her ordeal.
2 – The Tipsy Reporter
When television reporter Ali Al Aliany was arrested for drinking alcohol, the Virtue Police proceeded to post images of him all over social media – a move that raised some pretty serious questions about privacy. The fiasco caused a fuss over the police’s respect for rights, especially when the reporter was released and continued in his high-profile journalistic career.
3 – The Burning Building
The Virtue Police’s most horrifying transgression was in 2002, when they banned female students from evacuating their burning school because they were not covered. The enthusiasm for modesty was so extreme that they even prevented civil defence forces extinguishing the fire for fear they would see the uncovered girls. 14 students died in the flames and a further 50 were injured.
4 – Drugstore Cowboys
There are more than 500 female pharmacists in Saudi, and around 17 colleges that teach pharmacy to women. So when the Virtue Police announced that women would no longer be permitted to work in pharmacies – a move they said was necessitated by the prohibition on men and women working together – it created outrage in the Kingdom.
5 – The Car Wreck
The Police caused two deaths in one family in 2013, when they chased two brothers who were driving home after celebrating the KSA’s National Day. The boys’ car had a fatal accident and several police officers were put on trial to answer for the deaths.
6 – Brawl at the Mall
The Virtue Police ended up revealing more than illicit romance in February, when they tried to arrest a young woman they said was waiting for a date. The girl ran away, but they persisted in their attempts to enforce the law – by dragging her to the ground and injuring her before she finally managed to run away. When a video of the incident went viral it caused fury among Saudis.