Sunday, February 14, 2010

Our friends the Saudis: vicious crackdown on Valentine's Day by religious police who despise the celebration of love, friendship and camaraderie

Earlier today the Saudi religious police successfully disrupted Valentine's Day celebrations throughout the Middle Eastern country.

...The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, also known as Haia, has been warning shops not to sell such items in the run-up to the annual holiday, deemed by the police as un-Islamic...

Florists, pastry shops, cosmetic stores and gift shops have all been under increased scrutiny in the week leading up to Valentine’s Day, celebrated around the world by giving gifts to loved ones.

“The presence of Haia officials near places where Valentine’s Day is likely to be celebrated is quite natural and it occurs every year,” Turki al-Shelail, spokesman for the Haia in Riyadh, was quoted as saying... "Our aim is to enlighten people so that they will not take part in such un-Islamic activities."

The crackdown has become a well-publicised annual game of cat and mouse between shops and the religious police as gift items that are available throughout the year become illegal for a few days... Many shops resort to hiding Valentine’s Day gifts to avoid drawing unwanted attention from the religious police.

“If they (the Haia) see one heart-shaped item or red rose they will take the stuff and close the shop,” Marth Sanluis, a Filipino worker at a flower shop in Jeddah, was quoted as saying.

Each February 14, romantics attempt to defy the religious police while avoiding punishment.

With a waist-high, lipstick-red teddy bear poised outside his shop, it was hard for Mohammed to hide his Valentine's Day black market goods inside a mall in the Saudi port city of Jeddah.

It was Saturday, the eve of Valentine's, and he was worried that the Saudi religious police, who call the holiday a heretical practice in Islamic society, would confiscate his red, pink and white stuffed bears and other gifts.

...Red cakes, red-dyed chocolates, the ever-popular stuffed bears and even red roses were strictly off-limits... But shops and clients still schemed to make the best of the day, with telephone orders being made for bouquets and sweets for delivery from stock hidden in back rooms.

Couples looking for a romantic night out tried to skirt the kingdom's conservative Islamic laws, which ban unrelated men and women from socialising, and hunted for restaurants shielded from the watchful gaze of the Muttawa.

...Asked what would happen if he was caught dealing in red roses under the counter, another florist crossed his wrists in the universal sign of being handcuffed... In the eastern city of Dammam, nothing red was in sight in any flower shops on Thursday...

Mohammed, who had the metre (three feet) high teddy bear on display outside his shop, said he also had a system worked out... "I am afraid of being arrested, and I want to lock the door before they come," he said, explaining that if the Muttawa invaded he would be tipped off by the mall watchmen and pretend to be closed.


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