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Though the power of the mutawwa'in has been curtailed recently, their presence still inspires fear. Though that penalty is seldom applied, just this February a man in the Mecca region was executed for having sex with a boy, among other crimes.
(For this reason, the names of most people in this story have been changed.) Ask many Saudis about homosexuality, and they’ll wince with repugnance.
“I used to have the feeling that I was the queerest in the country,” he recalled.
“But then I went to high school and discovered there are others like me.
Some mutawwa'in even bear marks of their devotion on their faces; they bow to God so adamantly that pressing their foreheads against the ground leaves a visible dent.
The mutawwa'in prod shoppers to say their devotions when the shops close for prayer, several times daily.
They meet in schools, in cafés, in the streets, and on the Internet.
Nor does it strip a man of his masculinity, as long as he is in the “top,” or active, role.
The rules are enforced by the mutawwa'in, religious authorities employed by the government’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
The kingdom is dominated by mosques and malls, which the mutawwa'in patrol in leather sandals and shortened versions of the thawb, the traditional ankle-length white robe that many Saudis wear.
Yasser looked behind him to see if he could reverse the car, but had no choice except to proceed. “It’s a lot easier to be gay than straight here,” he had said.
“If you go out with a girl, people will start to ask her questions.