It's hard to tell which is the chicken and which is the egg, but conservative Saudi clerics are calling for a turnabout from progressive moves in a letter published yesterday:
The report highlighted violations by the powerful Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice which runs the religious police and accused it of "infringing individuals' rights."
People detained by the religious police have been "interrogated and sometimes assaulted and made to confess under duress to acts they did not commit," the report said, adding that in some cases this has led to deaths in custody.
"In commenting on the incidents, the commission leans toward denying them, belittling their importance or saying they are individual acts," said the report.
Currently there are efforts to retrain members of the religious police through workshops, but the report said these do not go far enough.
It remains difficult to tell who will prevail. King Abdullah can't afford the upheavel the clerics would bring - or can he? Slow progression would seem wise, except for one thing: At the current rate, women may be able to doff the chador in favor of the hejab sometime in the 25th century. Then we can talk about marriage choice, intermingling and other "privileges".
A group of Saudi clerics urged the kingdom's new information minister on Sunday to ban women from appearing on TV or in newspapers and magazines, making clear that the country's hardline religious establishment is skeptical of a new push toward moderation.
The clerics include several professors from the ultra-conservative Imam University, Islamic research scholars, a judge in a court in the resort of Taif and some government employees.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, in town for meetings with Saudi officials, told a news conference that during lunch he sat between a female Saudi surgeon and a female journalist. He said while one woman is allowed to perform surgery and another is allowed to teach, neither is permitted to drive.
"I find that bizarre," he said.