A Saudi writer has urged his Twitter followers to sexually molest women  hired to work as cashiers in big grocery stores, the latest backlash from conservatives who want to roll back limited social and economic reforms launched in Saudi Arabia.
Abdullah Mohammad Al Dawood, who writes self-help books including one called The Joy of Talking, has stirred fierce debate this week via the internet microblogging service with the use of the hashtag harass_female_cashiers, to press for Saudi women to be forced to stay at home to protect their chastity.
His campaign against official moves to encourage women to work in mixed gender environments  has led some Twitter users to denounce him. Others however applauded him as a fighter against government efforts to westernise and corrupt the country.
More than half a million Saudi Arabian nationals, including unprecedented if still modest numbers of women, have surged into the country’s private sector since late 2011 under a government-driven programme aimed at turning the Gulf giant’s sclerotic non-oil economy into a regional powerhouse.
Khalid Ebrahim Al Saqabi, a conservative cleric, endorsed Al Dawood’s calls and said a law proposed by the government against sexual harassment in newly mixed workplaces  was “only meant to encourage consensual debauchery”.
He added: “Why is the labour minister concerned with finding jobs for women instead of men?”
Al Dawood, who has more than 97,000 followers on Twitter, justified his call to harass female workers by using an obscure story from the early days of Islam about a famous warrior, Al Zubair, who did not want his wife to leave home to pray in the mosque. Al Dawood claimed that Al Zubair hid in the dark one night and molested his wife in the street. The wife rushed home and decided against ever going out of her house again, saying that the “there is no safer place than home and the world out there is corrupt”.
Scores of Al Dawood’s followers supported his campaign and condemned the planned anti-harassment law , which comes as employers respond to government financial incentives to hire more Saudi workers, and in particular more women. One user wrote: “It is a man-made law and it can’t be accepted in a kingdom ruled by God’s law. They had better ban mingling of the sexes, not protect it.”
But Al Dawood’s hashtag drew condemnation from others, who said the writer was a disgrace to Islam. One, Waleed Al Khawaji, asked: “What kind of person urges the youth to commit debauchery?”
Another urged Al Dawood to follow his own example and harass his own wife and sisters.