A YouTube video of a Saudi woman defying orders by the nation's oppressive religious police to leave a mall because she is wearing nail polish went viral, attracting more than a million hits in just five days.
The three-and-a-half minute video posted on May 23 shows members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice telling the women to "get out of here (the mall)."
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. "You are not in charge of me!"
"The government has banned you from coming after us," she told the men, adding "you are only supposed to provide advice, and nothing more."
She then called uniformed Saudi civil police to the scene to complain. The uniformed poilice can be seen interposing themselves around the religious police and speaking to him.
"Lipstick on my mouth? He comes to look at my mouth and calls himself God fearing? Shame on him!" she yells at them.
In January, Saudi King Abdullah replaced the head of the religious police with a moderate, raising hopes that a more lenient force will ease draconian social constraints in the Islamic country.
Two weeks into his post, Sheikh Abdullatif Abdel Aziz 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."
Additionally, King Abdullah – who has slowly sought to liberalize the ultra-conservative kingdom; and late last year backed women voting – sacked religious advisor Sheikh Obeikan.
Obeikan publicly opposed moves to relax gender segregation in Saudi Arabia, saying "influential people try to corrupt Muslim society by trying to change the natural status of women."
The royal palace did not elaborate on the reason for Obeikan's dismissal, but his comments were widely taken as open criticism of King Abdullah himself.
As of today, the video was viewed more than 1,142,000 times, with over 12,000 people posting comments online, most of them denouncing the woman's behavior.
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.
While Saudi Arabian law does not prohibit women from driving, the religious police prevent women from obtaining driver's licenses or driving, require them to be covered from head to foot in black, ban public entertainment, and force all commerce, from supermarkets to petrol stations, to come to a halt at prayer times, five times a day.
Saudi Princess Ameerah al-Taweel – who pointedly does not wear traditional Islamic dress outside Saudi Arabia – has gone on record that she wants to be the first woman to drive legally in the kingdom. She frequently operates motor vehicles outside Saudi Arabia.
Earlier this year, al-Taweel said the issue was much bigger than driving and revolved around “basic rights” for women. “You will see a whole movement,” she warned.