Sana’a:  An alliance of Yemeni religious scholars and tribal leaders has decided to monitor and safeguard the morals and values of the society through annual meetings rather than permanent committees, proposals for which were strongly criticised.

Under the slogan “It’s the guards of virtue who will protect the ship from drowning”, the clerics and tribesmen have decided to hold a yearly conference, called the ‘Meeting to promote virtue and combat vice’, to discuss their role in protecting virtue.

They backed down from a proposal submitted to President Ali Abdullah Saleh in May to establish virtue committees or religious police to monitor activities of individuals and institutions by banning any vice-related activity such as sale of alcohol, as well as night clubs, hotels, restaurants, or massage centres. The clerics and tribesmen retracted the proposal after strong criticism from journalists, writers and politicians who said the job is the responsibility of the state.

The day-long meeting on July 15 was not attended by any woman. The meeting was chaired by Sadeq Abdullah Al Ahmer, shaikh of Yemen’s influential tribe Hashed, and cleric Abdul Majeed Al Zandani, who is accused by the United States of supporting terrorism.

Most of the nearly 2,000 attendees were students of Al Eyman University, a religious university owned by Al Zandani, and the others were Salafi clerics and tribesmen.

Political presence

No politician from Islamist party Islah attended the meeting except Shaikh Al Zandani, who has his own Salafi group in the party.

The politicians of Islah turned down the demand for committees for virtue, saying it was a trick of President Saleh to divide Islah party, the largest Opposition party, as well as the Opposition alliance, which includes the Islamists, Socialists and Nasserites.

“Talking about committees for virtue has political reasons behind it aiming to mix the cards and confuse the political life, in an attempt to divert the attention from … corruption of the government,” said the alliance of the three Opposition parties in a statement.