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This is the sort of story that warms my heart: A man and woman are enjoying their day together in Saudi Arabia when they are approached by a 'morality cop' who tries to interrogate them about who they are and if they are 'allowed' to fraternize: it's illegal for unmarried people of opposite sexes to socialize there.

The man apparently 'collapsed' - maybe fainted from the fear of these 'morality cops' who can be brutal sorts.

What happened next is over the jump.

Saudi woman beats up virtue cop

According to the Saudi daily Okaz, the woman then allegedly laid into the religious policeman, punching him repeatedly, and leaving him to be taken to the hospital with bruises across his body and face.

“To see resistance from a woman means a lot,” Wajiha Al-Huwaidar, a Saudi women’s rights activist, told The Media Line news agency. “People are fed up with these religious police, and now they have to pay the price for the humiliation they put people through for years and years. This is just the beginning and there will be more resistance.”

“The media and the Internet have given people a lot of power and the freedom to express their anger,” she said. “The Hai’a are like a militia, but now whenever they do something it’s all over the Internet. This gives them a horrible reputation and gives people power to react.”

Yes, the lady runs a serious risk of legal reprisal and possible jail time for standing up for herself and for "assailing' a member of a government agency.

But it seems this has occured in a context where Saudi women have apparently had more than enough and the times they might actually be a-changin'

"There is some sort of change taking place," Nadya Khalife, the Middle East women’s rights researcher for Human Rights Watch, told The Media Line. "There is clearly a shifting mentality regarding to the male guardianship law and similar issues. More women are speaking out, there are changes within the government, there is a mixed university, the king was photographed with women, they want to allow women to work in the courts and there are changes within the justice ministry. So you can witness some kind of change unfolding but it’s not quite clear what’s happening and it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight."

I know some folks frown on violence and perhaps that's usually a very good policy.

But can get more with a kind word and an elbow to the face than you get with a kind word, at least with prehistoric religious police.

Freedom isn't free.

UPDATE There is speculation and concern, in the comments, that the young lady in this story has opened herself up for reprisal in various forms.

I too am concerned about her well-being, but my speculation suggests she knows Saudi law better than we do and she probably knows what she is doing...

At the link is a paragraph about the opening of the first Co-Ed college campus, a reflection that changes are happening there. And there have been attempts to address the presence of the 'morality police'.

So we'll have to wait and see what happens next.

Originally posted to Toking Points Memo on Tue May 18, 2010 at 04:26 AM PDT.

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