ABU DHABI Ñ Saudi Arabia has, for the first time, taken action to maintain discipline in the ranks of the kingdom's
controversial religious police.
The initiatiave was undertaken after complaints from Western defense contractors as
well as Saudi nationals who said the religious police have increased harassment
over the last year. The police force, meant to operate without weapons, is
under the authority of the Saudi Islamic Affairs Ministry.
Their main job is to enforce public observance of Islamic codes, such as
a ban on alcohol, women driving alone or dress deemed as improper. So far,
officials said, more than 200 officers have begun attending the course.
Officials said the religious police, known as the muta'waa, have been
ordered to undergo training to improve their relations with the public. They
said this was the first time the police and their officers have been ordered
to undergo courses meant to improve service and relations with pedestrians
and others in the kingdom.
The religious police force, formally known as the Commission for the
Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, comprises about 4,000 officers.
Virtually all of them are graduates of Islamic seminaries and many of them
to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet troops in the early 1990s, Middle East Newsline reported.
"We have signed an agreement with a specialized institute to provide
training to our field staff as they are the ones regularly in touch with the
public," Salah Ibn Nasser Al Saeed, acting director of the commission, said.
Al Saeed said the training would promote communication skills and
personnel management. He said senior officers would be taught how to plan
and implement missions.
"These topics are extremely important for the personal and job
development of the commission's officials," Al Saeed was quoted by the
Jedda-based Arab News as saying. "The program has had a positive impact on
our staff and we have seen good results."
In March 2002, the religious police were accused of preventing the
escape of school girls from their burning classes. Fifteen girls were killed
in a stampede when the police locked the gates and prevented firemen from
entering the building.
Afterwards, the police were said to have justified the action by saying
that the girls were not veiled. Officials later denied the report.