Religious police in Saudi Arabia announced the creation of a new council to monitor its activities after recent criticism that they had overstepped their authority, in a move that was greeted with mixed reactions.
The Commission for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice announced Monday that it was forming a Presidency Council charged with monitoring the activities of the religious police, president of the commission Sheikh Ibrahim Bin Abdullah al-Ghaith said in a press conference Monday.
The council, whose members will come from the top leadership, will review the policies and strategies of the commission's presidency as well as monitor its activities.
"The council will also develop the commission's financial, administrative, technical and field matters and will set the proper mechanisms to facilitate the work," the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) quoted Ghaith as saying.
The commission has fallen under harsh criticism recently in the wake of flagrant violations committed by its officers, including illegal detentions, beating and car chases.
Some viewed the formation of the watchdog council as a positive step intended to address criticism.
"This shows the Commission is a dynamic body that redresses its mistakes. We are happy about these decisions since they mean more accuracy and efficiency in the Commission's performance," Saudi journalist Khaled al-Moshawah told AlArabiya.net.
He added that this step will have a positive impact on the Saudi society, especially since the majority of Saudis support the commission’s goals and consider it as the community's "safety valve."
Saudi academic and author Dr. Ali Saad al-Moussa expressed concern that the council would expand the authority of the commission and overlook its mistakes.
He noted that the newly formed council’s expanded powers would effectively turn it into a legislative and executive authority that can arrest and try people.
"This means if the Commission finds out that a problem in one of the ministries requires its intervention, they will have the right to summon top officials," Moussa told AlArabiya.net, adding that he objected to the name "Presidency Council".
"The name reminds me of the authority of Arab revolutionary councils," he said.
In response to criticism of the religious police overextending their authority, the Saudi Ministry of Interior earlier this year banned commission officers from detaining offenders at their headquarters and confined their role to transferring them to police stations.
The head of the Commission for Investigation and General Prosecution circulated a copy of the new regulations and said that surprise visits to commission officers will be made to ensure there are no illegal detentions.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)
The name reminds me of the authority of Arab revolutionary councils
Dr. Ali Saad al-Moussa