A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, April 30, 2010

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? A Liberal in the Saudi Hay'a?

Who guards the guardians? Saudi Arabia has been abuzz lately over remarks by the head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice for the Mecca region is under fire for suggesting that it's time to end gender segregation in the Kingdom. And now he's denying that he's been fired, though he notes he's out of the country and that indeed, his house has been attacked back home.

That's right. The fellow in charge of the religious police (the folks who patrol the streets to avoid gender mixing and other sinful behavior) in Islam's holiest city, has made liberalizing comments. The Commission — Saudis just call it that, the hay'a in Arabic — is usually seen as a particularly oppressive aspect of Saudi society, but Sheikh Ahmad al-Qasim al-Ghamdi has stirred up a hornet's nest by suggesting that the concept of absolute gender separation is not based on very sound hadith, that is, it isn't an absolute Islamic requirement.

While it's not quite up there with, oh, I don't know — the Pope announcing he's dating a Holywood starlet? The Dalai Lama joining the Communist Party of China? — it's the sort of thing that gets attention in Saudi Arabia.

This story's been slowly simmering and I haven't dealt with it yet. A Non-Saudi account here, Saudi ones here and here, all in English. Various accounts have said he was fired, not fired, or fired and reinstated. He's returning to the Kingdom today, so we may learn more.

One does wonder if he had some sort of green light from above to float a trial balloon. Or was he just interested in exploring another line of work?


LJ Marczak said...

Apropos your title, a very interesting picture from AlWatan newspaper. And perhaps interesting timing for its release as the conference was held several weeks ago.


LJ Marczak said...

Additional news item.