Michelle Obama visits Saudi Arabia forgoes headscarf

By Efrosini Costa

Michelle Obama visits Saudi Arabia forgoes headscarf
The United States first lady has caused a media frenzy after choosing not to adhere to the strict dress code for women whilst visiting Saudi Arabia.

Michelle Obama joined her husband President Barack Obama for a customary condolence visit following the death of King Abdullah and to meet his successor King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud

Obama stepped off Air Force One wearing a conservative outfit of long black pants and a long brightly coloured jacket but no headscarf.

Under the kingdom’s strict dress code for women, Saudi females are required to cover their heads and wear loose, black robes in public. Most Saudi women opt to cover their hair and face with a niqab veil. However covering the head is not required for foreigners, with many Western women choosing to forgo the headscarf while visiting the country.

The decision sparked a media frenzy with hundreds tweeting their disapproval, sighting that the first lady donned a headscarf for her visit to Indonesia. More than 1,500 tweets using the hashtag #ميشيل_أوباما_سفور (roughly, #Michelle_Obama_unveiled) many of which criticised the first lady.

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But there were many positive responses to Obamas dress decision on social media as well.

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The Obamas were greeted in Riyadh by a delegation of dozens of Saudi officials – all men – some shook hands with the first lady, others simply acknowledged her with a nod as they passed by.

Saudi Arabia is infamous for imposing many restrictions on its female citizens, through the strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law known as Wahabism.

Genders are strictly segregated and women are banned from driving. Travelling, marrying, enrolling in higher education and even undergoing surgical procedures are all subject to permission from a male relative, under guardianship laws.

The country’s state television did broadcast images of the visit including Michelle Obama and her uncovered head, despite some claims that they had digitally obscured her .

Yet, the Obamas’ trip to Saudi Arabia comes at a time of remarkable international criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, prompted largely by the flogging of blogger Raif Badawi for insulting Islam.

Barack Obama said the the trip was designed to be apolitical and that he was “unlikely” to discuss Badawi’s case with the new Saudi king.


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