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Saudi king replaces chief of religious police

By Nehal El-Sherif

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — The chief of Saudi Arabia’s religious police has been replaced, following a decree issued Friday by King Abdullah, which is seen as part of a series of minor reforms being introduced in the conservative kingdom.

The decree did not specify a reason for replacing Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Humain.

Members of the religious police, which is formally known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, patrol the streets looking for what they deem to be violations of Islamic law.

Sheikh Abdul Latif Al al-Sheikh, the new chief, who was earlier the secretary-general of the Senior Council of Clerics, was described as “more open” than his predecessor.

In a 2010 interview, al-Sheikh said the segregation of sexes was not forbidden by religion and encouraged allowing women to work in shops. He also said he was against child marriage.

Segregation between sexes is strictly imposed in Saudi Arabia, and the religious police detains men and women who are not related but found sitting together in public.

King Abdullah, who is seen as a political and social reformer, has been pushing for a gradual relaxation of the country’s strict moral codes.

But several of his decisions have been opposed by senior clerics, who are not keen on giving women a voice. Saudi Grand Mufti Abdulaziz AlSheikh said this month that employing women in shops was a crime and disrespectful.

Last year, Saudi women were granted the right to be appointed as members of the advisory parliament and to be allowed to run for municipal elections.

However, the oil-rich kingdom remains the only predominantly Muslim country that has yet to allow women the right to drive.

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