The country's Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), tasked with enforcing Sharia law, believes men and women should not be allowed to mix on the streets of the Islam's second holiest place, where the Prophet Muhammad is buried.
The clerical police, or Mutaween, are authorized to arrest unrelated men and women caught socializing, anyone suspected of being homosexual or a prostitute, and to enforce Islamic dress codes.
The Mutaween enforce Islamic female dress codes, ordering women to wear headscarves and abayas, long black dresses covering the whole body except for face, hands and feet. Women are not allowed to leave their houses without their husbands or immediate male relatives.
Saudi women are also not allowed to ride a bicycle or drive a car, because if the vehicle breaks down, a woman might have to talk to an unknown male.
The police widely apply corporal punishment, including flogging, to punish suspected offenders.
One of the most widely criticized incidents, involving women rights abuse, occurred on March 11, 2002, when schoolgirls were prevented from escaping a burning school in Mecca, because they were not wearing headscarves and abayas. Fifteen girls died and 50 were injured as a result.
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The growing outright rivalry between the United States and China gives Russia more foreign policy weight, enabling it to assume the role of a balancer. So far it has been doing so rather skillfully. Today it may participate in a joint naval exercise with China that Beijing positions as outwardly anti-American. But tomorrow it can team up with the naval forces of the Old World.