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, a local daily reported on Monday.
"The world is manufacturing airplanes and we are still telling a woman 'leave the mall because you've got nail polish on your fingers'," local daily Al-Watan quoted Sheikh Abdullatiff Abdel Aziz al-Sheikh as saying.
The woman had defied the 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 after it went online.
"I was very disappointed by what I have seen. The matter has been exaggerated and negatively exploited," 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 situation, he said.
The three and a half minute video posted on May 23 shows members of the notorious 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.
"It's none of your business if I wear nail polish," the unidentified woman, who is not seen on tape, is heard shouting at bearded men from the feared religious force.
"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."
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.
The video has been viewed more than 1,664,000 times on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ULU0waNOU0.
It earned only about 2,775 "likes, while the number of "dislikes" reached almost 8,400.
Sheikh said that any member of the religious police "who abuses citizens or attacks them has no place in the commission."
In January, King Abdullah appointed Sheikh, a moderate, 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, 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."
The religious police prevent women from driving, require them to be covered from head to foot in black, ban public entertainment, and force all businesses, from supermarkets to petrol stations, to close at prayer times, five times a day.