The Weekly Standard Blog October 9, 2012
In the seven years since King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz assumed the throne of Saudi Arabia, the absolute monarch, whose reformist aspirations are widely believed to be sincere, has attempted to curb some of the outrageous human rights violations for which the desert kingdom is known. Many of these have involved the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), the ubiquitous “moral guardians” that patrolled Saudi Arabian public space and occasionally raided private homes. But change has been obstructed by members of the royal family, state officials, and clerics representing the ultra-fundamentalist Wahhabi sect that is the official Islamic interpretation in the country and dominates it in a marriage-based alliance with the Al-Saud family.
At the beginning of October, Saudi Arabia announced reforms in the activities of the CPVPV that could mark a turn in the evolution of Saudi Arabia toward normality as a society.
Westerners call the CPVPV “the religious police,” although they have lacked law-enforcement training or other professional characteristics of public-order bodies. Saudi subjects and foreign Muslims who visit Saudi Arabia refer to them as the “hai’a” (commission), or the “mutawiyin“—the latter meaning “the pious,” “the devotees,” or “the volunteers” but with a strong implication of vigilantism. Dressed in white robes and red-checkered headscarves, they remain feared and hated by the Saudi populace.