Saudi Arabia’s religious police, commonly known as Mutaween, have started tapping social internet networks like Facebook, Twitter, and chat rooms, Saudi officials said. The move aims to widen the purview of intelligence activities.
The head of Prince Sultan department for youth research at King Abdul Aziz University, Nouh al-Shahry, said the department has kicked off training of Facebook and chat room use for 300 Mutaween.
Al-Shary on Thursday told Okaz, a Saudi paper, that the 300 trainees from the Mecca administration represent the first phase of the training program. Later stages will see the program applied throughout the rest of the kindgom, he added.
Al-Shary said the use of modern technology in giving advice on good behavior and forbidding wrongdoing through Facebook, chatting rooms, and SMSs is among the most important issues that will be discussed in the course.
Al-Shary did not mention if police will punish social networkers who violate stringent Saudi law such as failure to wear the veil or perform prayers.
Saudi Arabia is widely known for its embrace of Wahhabism, a hard-line brand of Islam founded by Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab, an influential 18th century Arabian preacher who exhorted strict adherence to Islamic law.
On 14 September, a liberal Saudi columnist, Abdul Rahman al-Rashid, was obliged to submit his resignation from his position as manager of the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite news network after he made anti-Wahhabi remarks.
Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz has promoted cautious reforms after the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington in 2001 focused international attention on the influence of hard-line Wahhabi Islam in the kingdom. But analysts say these reform efforts have been strenuously resisted by the religious establishment, which is backed by influential Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz.
In March 2009, a group of hard-line Saudi religious figures called on the Saudi minister of information to remove Saudi women from state television in an effort to halt efforts to "liberalize" the media. One year earlier, an ultra-conservative cleric said the owners of Arab entertainment channels could face the death penalty for allowing what he saw as excessively liberal programming.