As anyone familiar with Middle Eastern politics is aware, standing up to the so-called “religious police” is not recommended.
Called the “mutaween,” one of their main priorities is essentially to harass and accost people who are not behaving in a sufficiently religious manner– though in places like Afghanistan under the Taliban, they were known to dish out violent beatings, instead.
In Saudi Arabia, the mutaween are granted their authority by King Abdullah, and their ranks include thousands of members and volunteers. In 2002, the group drew fierce international criticism after they would not let school girls escape a burning building because they were not properly covered, and fourteen perished as a result.
Now, it seems, at least one woman in Saudi Arabia has had enough.
Angry that a “vice preventor” would not stop accosting her about her new manicure, the unnamed woman flipped on her camera phone and gave him a thorough berating:
“Get out of the mall?” she says. “I’ll show you who’s getting out of the mall!”
“This is none of your business!” she continues.
As the religious police follow the woman and tell her that no other women are acting in such an impertinent manner (“You don’t see other women here showing their hair”), she reiterates: “None of your business!”
The woman proceeds to inform two security guards at the mall about the religious police’s behavior, saying: “I don’t trust them…They may hit me with their car. You are two security men and you got a report from a citizen who is being harassed.” Apparently, they responded that the religious police are good men, and she should listen to them.
Now, the mutaween may seem relatively mild-mannered compared to the woman’s incensed Arabic, but keep in mind their relative positions of authority, and how little power women still possess even in Saudi Arabia.
“For your information, this video is on its way to Twitter and YouTube as we speak,” she warns.
And indeed, according to the Saudi Gazzette, even this token protest went viral in the kingdom, prompting an official inquiry into the commission and the mall’s security guards.
What remains to be seen, is whether it makes any difference.