RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Saudi Arabia's highest religious authority has
issued an edict barring the use of cell phones with built-in cameras,
blaming them for "spreading obscenity" - a final resort after a ban on
their sale and import to the kingdom failed to dent their popularity.
Camera cell phones have caught on fast throughout Asia, Europe and
the Middle East, particularly in oil-rich Persian Gulf countries,
prompting concerns about privacy in places where people undress, "theft"
of reading materials at book stores and newsstands, and corporate
espionage by employees.
As a result, the devices have been banned by gyms, retailers and
companies in many nations. Even in the United States, where camera
phones have taken longer to gain popularity, there is a bill in Congress
that would make the taking of illicit photos on federal property a crime
punishable by up to a year in prison and fines. The concern goes even
further in conservative Muslim societies, where religious authorities
complain camera phones are misused to photograph women without their
Recently, a wedding in Saudi Arabia ended in a brawl over the
photographing of women. and young men in the glitzy malls of the United
Arab Emirates have been warned by police not to surreptitiously
photograph female shoppers.
In Egypt, a women-only beach on the northern Mediterranean coast bars
cameras and all cell phones are checked on entry to make sure they don't
So far, however, only Saudi Arabia has taken the drastic step of
banning the import or sale of camera cell phones and declaring them
religiously forbidden. Cellular shutterbugs risk having their phones
confiscated, being fined or even spending up to a year in jail.
Sheik Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Al al-Sheik, Saudi Arabia's highest
religious authority, announced the religious edict. The devices, he
said, were "spreading obscenity in Muslim society. All citizens should
renounce this (the use of cell phones with cameras) ... for it can harm
everybody without discrimination." Violators "should be strictly
confronted and punished."