PR by Saudi Commission of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice

Saudi Arabia is infamous for it’s “religious police” who are actually not police but civil servants entrusted with policing society for moral wrongs. Affectionately called Hayya, infamously called Mutawwas, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice tends to have a love-hate relationship with the population.

The recent change of the Commission leadership by King Abdullah was noted by many. The new head has since then made several statements about the new role of the commission, and the need to tone down the tension.

A noteworthy attempt is the Commission PR booth at the Riyadh Book Fair (March 3-13, 2009 at the new Riyadh Exhibition Center). Amidst the religious books by Saudi publishers, the varied books by Lebanese and Egyptian publishers and the kids books by Syrian publishers is the Commission booth. Not to be confused with the Commission resting/tea area by the info counter, it features examples of items that they have confiscated, photos of items found in raids and also the reasons WHY they are banned. There were also several Commission members explaining things at this fairly popular booth!

If one did not know better, just by the items on display you would assume that they are the Saudi Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) equivalent with a special twist of having an Improper Use of Magic Office a la Harry Potter.

Judging by the number of people that thronged the booth, it was clearly a hit! Perhaps the Hayya need to further reach out through such toned down and educational means. It would certainly give them an opportunity to develop a friendlier relationship with the population.