Saturday, February 14, 2009

Saudi Arabia sacks two important religious leaders

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has sacked two powerful religious officials in a wide ranging shake-up of the cabinet and other government posts, as can be read on the website of BBC. One of the dismissed men was the head of the controversial religious police force. The other was the country's most senior judge. The king also appointed the country's first-ever female minister and replaced the head of the central bank.

King Abdullah, who came to power in 2005, has for a long time had the reputation of a reformer - and the latest appointments have the makings of one of the biggest shake-ups in Saudi public life for many years. The sacked head judge, Sheikh Salih Ibn al-Luhaydan, caused controversy last September when he said it was permissible to kill the owners of satellite TV channels which broadcast immoral programmes. Sheikh Salih Ibn al-Luhaydan said some "evil" entertainment programmes aired by the channels promoted debauchery. Our correspondent says the sheikh may well be paying the price for airing his opinions.

Sheikh Ibrahim al-Ghaith has lost his job as head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which enforces Saudi Arabia's conservative brand of Islam, Wahhabism. The commission has wide powers to search for alcohol and drugs, to crack down on prostitution and ensure shops are closed during prayer times. The religious police have been widely criticised recently over allegations of brutality - the kind of comments that could never have been made publicly a few years ago.

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