I have to tell you what I was up to last night. My very dear friend Tine has finished her time here in Saudi and is leaving soon. Unfortunately, being cooped up in expat compounds; she has never had a chance to see muttawas in action. These lions of Saudi morality are a staple mark of life here so I couldn’t let her leave without the experience. That’s why we went on a muttawa safari. We headed to their natural habitat, shopping malls. And we weren’t disappointed. At Riyadh Gallery, a mall that opened about a couple of years ago, they had the World Cup match on this humongous TV screen that you can watch a mile away. I’m not exaggerating; people on all three floors were watching the same screen. There were about three hundred people there.. Halfway through the match the muttawa came in and ordered the TV off. There were two muttawas and one police officer escorting them. They strolled around this crowd searching for men without women. Because it is illegal for single men to go to a shopping mall. They have to be accompanying a wife, mother or sister. Every once in a while they would stop young Saudi men and ask them where their women were. One guy they didn’t believe had to drag a little girl over to the muttawas so she could verify that he was related to the group of women he pointed at.
Before the muttawas came in it was noisy and men and women stood next to each other looking up at the screen. At every highlighted moment in the match there was either a collective roar or groan. The atmosphere was electric. Then the muttawas came and everyone knew that these three men had come in long before seeing them stroll by. Even Tine remarked on how these muttawas must be feeling this power they had over the people. No one objected to having the match turned off. Women went scurrying off to find seats in segregated areas. Teenagers headed the opposite direction that the muttawas were coming from for fear that they would be stopped because of their hairstyles and low worn jeans. Everyone was silently glancing around, looking for the muttawas and guessing who their victims might be.
Stupefying. Read the full account here.