Middle Eastern media is widely reporting on the call by the Al Islah Party, the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen, to establish a religious police to combat “vice and debauchery” in the country. In Saudi Arabia, such police work under the auspices of an organization known as The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV). According one report:
Civil society organisations have condemned calls by clerics for the establishment of a religious police, or “authority to promote virtue and curb vice”, as an attack on civil rights and freedom of expression. Around 50 representatives of a variety of organisations who gathered at the al Jawi Forum in Sana’a last week said establishing a “religious police” is unconstitutional and contravenes the state’s duty to protect individual rights. They subsequently pledged to organise campaigns against it. “Such an authority under the pretext of countering vice is only another façade for political oppression through the use of religion,” read a joint press release issued by nine of the organisations. “It is just an outcome of the coalition between the political and religious institutions and is meant to harass and intimidate political activists critical of government policies.” Religious hardliners including Sheikh Abdulmajeed al Zindani and Hamud al Tharehi, leading figures in the Islamist Islah Party, announced last week they had approached the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, with a proposal to set up a 25-member national committee for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice. The clerics, led by Mr Zindani, rector of the religious al Eman University, which is accused by the US of financing terrorism, said vice and debauchery are widespread in Yemen. According to Mr Tharehi, the committee would comprise prominent clerics and five government officials like the ministers of culture, tourism and information. Mr Tharehi said that after their meeting with Mr Saleh last May, the president ordered his press secretary to follow up with the prime minister to close down hotels and other places suspected of unethical practices.“The role of this national authority, which would have branches all over the country, would be to capture the unethical practices and their sources and report them to the relevant authorities who would take action,” Mr Tharehi said.
As of 2005, Sheikh Abdulmajeed al Zindani was the head of the Al Islah Shura (advisory) Council. As a previous profile of Zindanii has noted, he has both extensive ties to the global Muslim Brotherhood as well as being described as a “loyalist” and “spiritual advisor” to Osama Bin Laden.
The newspaper report goes on to cite a Yemeni journalist who suggests that the Zindani and Tharehi, who bath have good relations with the Yemeni President, may be attempting to help split the Yemeni opposition:
…analysts said there are political motives behind the establishment of the committee. “This a clear signal of the weakness of the state,” said Abdulbari Taher, a former chairman of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate. “Throughout Islamic history, heads of weak states have used religion as an instrument against their political rivals.” Mr Taher said the objective of creating the committee is to split the Joint Meeting Parties, a coalition of five opposition parties that included Islah, Yemen’s main Islamist party, and the Yemeni Socialist Party. Islah was once a strong ally of Mr Saleh’s regime, but in 2001 the party joined the opposition coalition and since then has been leading the Joint Meeting Parties in opposing Mr Saleh’s government policies. Some of its religious leaders, however, such as Mr Zindani and Mr Tharehi, still have good relations with Mr Saleh. “It is clear the regime would like to split the opposition coalition as most of the clerics behind the idea are from Islah. I believe the regime wants to bring Islah back under its control,” Mr Taher said.“The use of religion in political battles is of grave sequences, even to the ones using it.”
The Joint Meeting Party was discussed extensively in a previous post.