When did the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia) launch their “Precrime Unit,” a la Stephen Spielberg’s Minority Report? I must have missed the announcement in the middle of this deafening debate over gender mixing.
In a decision that was justified by claiming it was doing the women a favor, the Haia’s branch in Al-Mujaradah has banned women from jogging and other physical exercise in certain areas of this Asir town, south of the country. The decision was based, according to an anonymous Haia source, on records from the commission that described one particular street in the town where women were banned as lonely, poorly lighted, and frequented by drug addicts and other anti-social people. However, this was disputed by one jogger, R.S Al-Shahri, who claimed that the street was safe and well-lit, while almost 30 women would walk there between sunset and Isha prayers.
You can say that this decision by Haia is part preemptive strike, part blaming the victim. Instead of watching these so-called unsafe areas and protect the women by arresting people who attempt to harass them, they go and prevent women from exercising there. Now of course this kind of behavior is not at all new or surprising on the part of Haia, but it happens that we are finally at a time when the Commission can get questioned over some of their actions. What used to be taboo in the past i.e. criticizing the CPVPV, is now a daily practice in the local media.
One of the latest examples comes from al-Madina daily, written by none other than a granddaughter of the Kingdom’s founder. Princess Basma bint Saud, who blogs here, wrote a scathing column calling the Haia to get their act together, telling them that fighting corruption starts from within, and that they should spend their time investigating the theft of public money instead of chasing women and men in barbaric fashion that was not ordered by God or his messenger. Interesting by her royal highness, so very interesting.