*PVPV stands for Commission for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue
These past few weeks it seems like a day doesn’t pass without a new muttawa blooper coming out. I call them bloopers because the muttawas always have an excuse even if it’s only an oops. These bloopers are becoming more and more frequent. It might be because of more press freedom or because average people are not putting up with it anymore. Whatever it is, muttawa bloopers are definitely not a new concept. An online Saudi newspaper recently published photos of 84 year old documents pertaining to citizens complaining about false arrests and harassment by PVPV members!
You don’t need to go back in time to witness how bad the PVPV can behave. One man in Madina has threatened that he will sue the PVPV for stopping him for two hours on a main street. He had his wife and his mother-in-law in the car with him. A few members of the PVPV were cruising around and apparently decided that the guy looked suspicious so they stopped him even though it is illegal for them to stop people without having an accompanying police officer. The guy refused to neither open his door nor give them evidence as to how the two women are related to him until the police arrived. And so he says that he will sue them for 2 million riyals for stopping him on baseless grounds for two hours and tainting his reputation.
Another man, Mohammed Sultan, also had his wife and mother-in-law in the car with him. He had stopped at a restaurant to pick up some breakfast when a couple of PVPV members demanded that he provide them with his identification papers. He says that he insisted that the police be present and when he started to call the police on his cell phone, they beat him up. Half an hour later the police arrived after the PVPV members called them themselves. They had made such a big deal in their call that five police cars arrived at the scene. The poor guy was taken in and the PVPV pair claimed that they stopped him because he was wearing his pants low (rapper style), even though witnesses at the scene say that Sultan acted and was dressed respectfully.
But the craziest and scariest bloopers are those that happen when a woman is unlucky enough to collide with the PVPV. A couple of days ago, an unrelated young Saudi couple were caught during their rendezvous. The PVPV member directed the police officer to take the young man into custody while he took the girl in his personal car! He disappeared with her in his custudy for an hour and a half and when finally the PVPV member brought the girl in, she informed the officials he had taken her to an isolated area to lecture and advise her. What’s funny is that the PVPV member committed the exact same “crime” of khilwa (spending time alone with an unrelated woman) that he was accusing the couple of.
On a more serious note, last week a young woman was caught by PVPV members in Tabuk because she was trying to get to Jeddah without her guardian’s approval. They illegally took her to the PVPV center without reporting the issue to the police and then locked the doors to the building. The young woman claims that they beat her and were insisting that she had something hidden in her clothes. She also says that they were trying to tie her up when help came. Luckily it was prayer time in a mosque nearby and men there heard her screams and called the police when they found the building locked. The PVPV spokesperson, Mohammed al Zobaidi, gives a completely different account of the events. He claims the woman’s injuries were self-inflected because she probably thought that that was a way out and that it was the PVPV who called the police and not the people at the mosque.
I’m not the only one noticing the increasing frequency of muttawa blooper coverage, at a recent PVPV conference which last few papers I attended, most of the speakers commented on this bad publicity. Unfortunately they did not think of it as an opportunity to reflect on their practices but rather faulted the media. Some even thought the ministry of information should punish editors who allow negative PVPV articles. And this might be why an unidentified someone took it upon himself to shoot at the liberal Watan newspaper building in Abha. Some people never change.