Riyadh: Saudi King Abdullah dismissed on Friday
the head of the powerful religious police, Sheikh Abdulaziz
al-Humain, state news agency SPA reported without giving
Humain was replaced by Sheikh Abdullatif Abdel Aziz
al-Sheikh as head of the Commission for the Promotion of
Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
King Abdullah, a cautious reformer, appointed Humain in
2009 to head the organisation that ensures the strict
application of the country`s ultra-conservative version of
Islam, as a step towards reforming it.
Humain hired consultants to restructure the organisation,
met local human rights groups and consulted professional
image-builders in a broad public relations campaign.
The commission also investigated and punished some
out-of-control officers for misbehaviour.
It launched regular training sessions as well, including
five-day courses on "skills to deal with witches and
sorcerers" and the three-day "skills to deal with tourists".
This came after a number of cases in recent years outraged
even Saudis and embarrassed the government.
In 2002, they reportedly prevented firemen from entering
an all-girls school that was ablaze because of the
segregation-of-sexes policy, and blocked the girls from
escaping because they were not wearing the obligatory veil.
Fourteen girls were trampled to death and 50 hurt in a
stampede after the fire broke out.
And the arrest a few years ago of an American business
woman meeting a man in a Saudi Starbucks sparked a US
The religious police prevent women from driving; require
them to shroud their faces and bodies in all-black, shapeless
abayas; block public entertainment and force all commerce,
from supermarkets to petrol stations, to come to a halt at
prayer times, five times a day.
They are the reason Saudis do not have cinemas, that
unrelated men and women cannot work in the same office and
that young men fear their cellphones will be searched for
"illicit" photos and messages from unrelated girls.
Although they fall under the interior ministry, they
operate with great autonomy. They maintain a close alliance
with both the courts -- where all the judges are Islamic
clerics -- and the powerful Grand Ulema, the supreme council
of religious scholars who define the Islamic rules governing