Financial Times has this piece on how the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is tying to reassert its authority in Riyadh by going after the shopkeepers and merchants selling non-traditional abayas. Over the past few years, many Saudi women have shaken off uniformity of the black, all-encompassing abaya by choosing more fitted and decorated apparel. This has Commission members upset. As some powers have been taken away from the Commission, the religious police are trying to get some power back by hassling those who can’t or won’t fight back.
Saudi religious police get tough on fashion
Abeer Allam in Riyadh
In an attempt to reassert their power, Saudi Arabia’s religious police have ordered shopkeepers in downtown Riyadh to get rid of all adorned abayas, the black robes worn by women in the kingdom, as shopping picks up ahead of the Eid religious holidays next week.
Salesmen in Al-Maagaliah market, just across the block from the headquarters of the religious police, or mutawa’a, this week were turning away frustrated shoppers who wanted abayas with a hint of colour or decoration, telling them that shopowners could face fines or prison.
In recent years, the signature flowing robe that covers Saudi women from head to toe started to show some form with trimmed sleeves, beads or colour, a sign of relaxation of the strict social norms in the conservative kingdom.
Though the changes were subtle, abayas provoked a tug of war between the liberal voices lobbying to give women more choice and conservative religious institutions determined to impose their austere ways through the religious police.