Saudi Arabia appointed Wednesday a new chief of the kingdom's religious police, which enforces a strict Islamic moral code.
Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, deputizing for King Fahd who is on vacation in Spain, issued a decree naming Sheikh Ibrahim al-Ghaith as "president" of the religious police, a position with the status of a minister, according to AFP.
With immediate effect, he replaces outgoing chief Abdul Aziz al-Saeed whose four-year term has expired. The religious police, a government authority that enjoys a wide-range of powers, has a force of over 3,500 men who patrol the streets, enforcing conservative Muslim dress and customs.
Moreover, the authority has 13 branches throughout the kingdom and is planning to open more to spread its operations. Usually accompanied by a police escort, the religious police or "mutawa", can order the arrest and detention of "violators" or those who resist their instructions.
The mutawa came in for criticism in March from the officially-guided Saudi media for preventing men from trying to rescue schoolgirls in a fire that claimed the lives of 15 female students for fear of "exposing females to male strangers." (Albawaba.com)
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