Thursday, November 8, 2012

Recruiting Female Religious Police: Progress or Regression?

CDHR’s Commentary: The head of the notorious Saudi religious police (Mutaween, or domesticators), Mr. Abdul Latif Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, a descendant of the founder of Wahhabism, Abdul Wahhab, feels a need to recruit female religious police to join his agency. It is assumed that he wants to recruit women because they will be more empathetic than the stick-touting bearded men who comb all public places to make sure that women are covered, shops are closed five times a day, and people are herded to mosques to pray whether they like it or not. Another assumption is that by hiring women, religious police will be in accordance with King Abdullah’s measured reform initiative. While there might be some merits to these assumptions, the system’s agenda is always different from its stated pronouncements. 

One has to understand that the religious police have only one assignment, to spy on and terrorize people. The ruthlessness of the religious police intensified after King Faisal ascended to the Saudi throne in 1964 after he collaborated with the Ulama, the religious clerics, to overthrow his brother, King Saud, in a palace coup. In addition to enforcing the dress code, forcing people to pray five times a day, and making sure that women are invisible (covered in black), the religious police concentrate on surveillance of pro-reform and social justice activists whom they can easily accuse of religious failings or other social stigmas.

Recruitment of female religious police will not be based on kindness, open-mindedness, empathy, or better education than their male counterparts. Having female religious police spying on and controlling women’s activities and movements will make it more acceptable to the Saudi male population and make the system look more sensitive to local norms and as an equal opportunity employer. It is unlikely that female women religious police will be any gentler or kinder than men because they will be appointed from ultraconservative families and religious extremist backgrounds. Female religious police are more likely have internalized and accepted their status as inferior and subservient to men.

The idea of recruiting female religious police is to expand the system’s surveillance and hunt women who are known for their advocacy of change in society.  Additionally, having women harassing women will create another layer of division among the already severely divided and segregated society along religious, tribal, gender and regional lines.  

What the ruling elites fail to understand or acknowledge is that the Saudi people, like their counterparts in the region and the world, are becoming more aware of their regime’s duplicitous maneuvers and of their usurped rights. What the people want and deserve is emancipation from the yoke of religious, social, and political totalitarianism as opposed to handouts and the use of religion as a tool to control, silence and exploit the population.

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