Saudi king sacks adviser critical of gender mixing

AFP , Friday 11 May 2012

Advisor to Royal Saudi court is sacked over vocal comments against gender mixing in ultra-conservative Gulf kingdom

Saudi King Abdullah on Friday sacked one of his advisers, an outspoken critic of the sexes mingling outside the home, something banned in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

The state news agency SPA published the decree announcing the dismissal of Sheikh Abdelmohsen al-Obeikan, an adviser to the royal cabinet, without providing further details.

The move comes several days after Obeikan, speaking on local radio, lashed out at the interaction of men and women in court, accusing the judges of seeking to "Westernise society."

"Women suffer from gender mingling and harassment in the courts," said the sheikh, a former judge, while demanding the segregation of the sexes in court.

"Some influential people have plans to corrupt Muslim society by seeking to change the natural status of women," he said, accusing judges he did not name of "wanting to replace justice based on (Islamic) Sharia law with secular laws."

His comments provoked an outcry in the Saudi press, with the daily Al-Jazeera newspaper asking in an editorial: "What is the point in having an adviser... who behaves with such recklessness?"

The Saudi monarch, a cautious reformer, in January sacked the head of the kingdom's powerful religious police, who ensure the application of the strict Saudi version of Islam, replacing him with a more moderate cleric.

The religious police, or "mutaween," prevent women from driving, require them to shroud their faces and bodies in all-black, shapeless abayas, and enforce gender segregation in public.

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