Saudi shoura rejects proposals to build more virtue centers


The Council struck down a proposal to build more centers and to raise commission members’ wages by 20 percent. The Council approved a proposal to provide field operatives of the commission with radio communication equipment and to give them priority in government training programs.

Amid a healthy debate, 93 of the Council’s 150 members voted against endorsing a proposal to build more Virtue Commission centers in the Kingdom, currently numbered at 476, in order to reach outlying communities. Only 18 members voted to support the plan. For a measure to pass, 76 votes are needed. While the Council’s decision cannot override royal decrees, its decisions play a significant consultative role that can influence policy decisions.

The Shoura also rejected a proposal to raise wages of field officers of the commission. The commission is estimated to employ a total of about 10,000 Saudis, though not all of them work in the field as officers. Sixty-five members of the Council voted for the wage increase while 50 voted against it. This is second year that the Shoura has rejected the wage increase proposal submitted by the Islamic Affairs, Judicial, and Human Rights Committee.

The Council voted for a proposal to provide walkie-talkies to commission field officers and to establish a chain of communication directly with the commission’s centers so that officers may receive instructions. Ninety-three Council members voted for the decision while 18 voted against it.

A fourth proposal to give precedence to commission members in government-training programs was supported by 92 Council members. Twenty-three members voted against it.

A new proposal was also raised to expedite the study of allowing women commission officers. “Virtue men sometimes face difficulty entering women-only areas, such as tailor shops, areas in malls, and female sections in wedding halls,” Council member Talal Bakri said to his fellow Shoura members. “By hiring women, they would assist the Virtue Commission’s mission. It would also provide job opportunities for unemployed women.”

He went on to say: “Promoting of virtue is not confined to men only. It is also a responsibility of women as well.”

The Council agreed by a majority of votes to discuss the proposal.

However, Shoura member Ahmed Al-Turki said that it was not the right time to bring the matter up for discussion. “There are violations from the side of the Virtue Commission. These violations need to be corrected before we agree to this proposal,” he said, referring to recent controversies that have been widely reported regarding alleged abuse incidences by members of the commission.

Al-Turki said that the Virtue Commission needed to correct its public image first before adding women to their force. “I am afraid that if women are hired, violations will increase,” he said. “I urge that we be patient and that this matter is not approved at the time being.”

Another Shoura member, Ibrahim Al-Eissa, disagreed with his colleague. He said that they could assist male colleagues in their field jobs in areas related to women only.

Shoura member Abdul Rahman Al-Dawood said he opposes the idea because of the law requiring women of any age to be escorted by a legal guardian who is a relative by blood or marriage. “By hiring women in the virtue body, a mahram (male guardian) would be necessary as their work sometimes takes them to other far away areas,” he said.

Khalil Al-Khalil, agreed with his colleague. He said the time was not right for raising this discussion. “We do not want the Shoura Council to give a message that we are content with the Virtue Commission’s shortcomings,” he said. “The commission is already in an embarrassing situation. I urge them to first hire qualified people.”

The proposal to further study allowing women to join the commission was dropped because it did not receive the majority of votes. Fifty-seven members voted for it while 56 voted against it.

Al-Khalil submitted a new proposal for commission members to wear uniforms clearly identifying them as officials, addressing the problem of people impersonating officers of the commission.

“By doing so, they would be distinguished among other pious people,” he said. “It will also break all doubts as people could no longer impersonate them in malls and in public areas.”

Shoura members voted equally on the proposal to provide a standard uniform for commission members: Fifty-nine voted for it while the same number voted against it. The Shoura president breaks ties when they occur. In this case he voted against a standard uniform and the proposal was dropped.


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