New guidelines has been released by the government of Saudi Arabia intend to reduce the power of the country’s religious police force. The religious police, known as the Mutawas, are notorious for being intrusive and sometimes violent against those they perceive to be breaking the country’s ultraconservative religious codes.
The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, another name for the Mutawas, has a force of roughly 5,000 officers who will patrol public spaces and the internet in order to ensure that religious rules are followed. They ensure, among other things, that stores are closed during prayer times in the day, women are ‘appropriately’ dressed in public, and that only married or related men and women interact with each other.
The new guidelines are essentially the first official guidelines that the Mutawas will be required to abide by, previously having no official rules, and require that they are overseen by the monarch exclusively. They limit the recruitment of officers to men who have been jailed for less than a year and prohibits those who have been convicted of “crimes of dishonesty”.
They also require that they treat members of the public gently and humanely and they they wear clear identification that includes their name, hours on duty and location of work. Additionally, they can no longer demand peoples documents as well as arrest or entrap people.