Monday, December 29, 2003

No Happy New Year in Saudi 

The religious police in Saudi Arabia have banned New Year's gifts.

RIYADH (Reuters) - Morality police in southern Saudi Arabia plan to conduct raids to ensure that shops do not sell flowers, candles and gifts to those planning to celebrate New Year, a local newspaper reported on Monday.

The Arabic-language al-Watan said the Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (APVPV) in Aseer province was determined to uphold a ban by the conservative Muslim kingdom on non-Muslim celebrations.

Sell flowers and the religious police will shut you down. You have to be pretty insecure about the strength of your message when you feel threatened by a New Year bouquet.

Al-Watan is a strongly pro-reform newspaper in the kingdom. Maybe if the paper publishes enough stories like this one, people will start to realize how... bizarre their society is. Maybe not.

Minor quibble: The Reuters article says that the APVPV answers only to King Fahd. A) King Fahd is only the king because he survived his 1995 stroke; he pretty much lacks any capacity to rule. B) The APVPV does indirectly answer to Prince Nayef, the interior minister--a major thorn in the side of his more reform-minded half-brother Abdullah, the Crown Prince.

Here is a great article on the interplay of conservative and reformist forces in Saudi Arabia from the current Foreign Affairs, if you're interested.
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