RIYADH // The head of the Saudi religious police has come out strongly against one of his men who ordered a woman to leave a mall because she was wearing nail polish, media reported today.
"The world is manufacturing aeroplanes and we are still telling a woman 'leave the mall because you've got nail polish on your fingers'," Al Watan quoted Sheikh Abdullatif Abdel Aziz Al Sheikh as saying.
The woman had defied orders as she filmed her argument with the policeman and posted it on YouTube, in a video that attracted more than a million hits in the first few days since it went online.
"I was very disappointed by what I have seen. The matter has been exaggerated and negatively exploited," Mr Al Sheikh, head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, said.
"The way the member of the commission behaved was not right, even if the girl had gone too far. He should have offered her advice and left instead of arguing with her and escalating."
The three and a half minute video posted on May 23 shows a members of the commission telling the woman to "get out of here [the mall]."
But she refuses to comply, saying: "I'm staying and I want to know what you're going to do about.
"It's none of your business if I wear nail polish.
"You are not in charge of me," she defiantly shouts back, referring to new constraints imposed earlier this year on the religious police banning them from harassing Saudi women over their behaviour and attire.
"The government has banned you from coming after us," she told the men, adding "you are only supposed to provide advice, and nothing more."
The woman filmed the incident herself and posted it on YouTube. At one point during the video, she cautions the religious police that she has already posted the exchange online.
It is not clear if the woman was eventually forced to leave the mall.
Mr Al Sheikh said that any member of the religious police "who abuses citizens or attacks them has no place in the commission."
In January, Saudi King Abdullah appointed Mr Al Sheikh to head the religious police raising hopes that a more lenient force will ease draconian social constraints in the Islamic country.
Two weeks into his post, Mr Al Sheikh banned volunteers from serving in the commission which enforces the kingdom's strict Islamic rules.
And in April he went further prohibiting the religious police from "harassing people" and threatening "decisive measures against violators".