Saudi Religious Police Crack Down on 'Evil' Circuses

Religious police in Saudi Arabia are cracking down on summer festivals and circuses intended by the government to boost domestic tourism, because they violate strict religious restrictions on singing, dancing, the mixing of unrelated men and women, and "evil" circus performances, Reuters reported.

Conservative clerics backed by powerful members of the Saudi royal family oppose the efforts to liberalize the world's biggest oil exporter. Circus acts such as fire-eating and lying on a bed of glass are seen as forms of magic outlawed by Sharia law.

"These acts contradict the faith and must not be done, taught, spread or encouraged," Reuters quoted religious police spokesman Abdullah al-Mashiti. "They must be fought and those performing them must be reported and punished so as to be deterred and their evil restricted."

Summer film and music festivals have been canceled due to lack of support from local officials.

Saudi religious police have the power to enforce Sharia law, segregating men and women in government and commercial buildings and searching for drugs, alcohol or other items seen as immoral, Reuters reported.

"Unfortunately such actions carried on by religious police do not adhere to the official political will and they sabotage the government efforts to improve and maintain the internal tourism industry," Reuters quoted Mahmoud Sabbagh, a Saudi newspaper columnist.

Click here to read the full Reuters report.