Michelle Obama's missing headscarf creates controversy in Saudi Arabia

  • Agencies, Riyadh
  • Updated: Jan 28, 2015 11:00 IST

For US First Lady Michelle Obama, just a few hours in Saudi Arabia were enough to illustrate the stark limitations under which Saudi women live.

Joining President Barack Obama for a condolence visit after the death of the King Abdullah, Michelle stepped off of Air Force One wearing long pants and a long, brightly colored jacket - but no headscarf.

Under the kingdom's strict dress code for women, Saudi females are required to wear a headscarf and loose, black robes in public. Most women in Saudi Arabia cover their hair and face with a veil known as the niqab. But covering one's head is not required for foreigners, and some Western women choose to forego the headscarf while in Saudi Arabia.

As a delegation of dozens of Saudi officials - all men - greeted the Obamas in Riyadh, some shook hands with Mrs. Obama. Others avoided a handshake but acknowledged the first lady with a nod as they passed by.

Saudi Arabia imposes many restrictions on women on the strict interpretation of Islamic Shariah law known as Wahhabism. Genders are strictly segregated. Women are banned from driving, although there have been campaigns in recent years to lift that ban.

Guardianship laws also require women to get permission from a male relative to travel, get married, enroll in higher education or undergo certain surgical procedures.

The Arab news service Mashahead posted on YouTube a video allegedly taken from the Saudi government television broadcast showing the blurred spot.

But according to the observers of the live broadcast — including a Wall Street Journal reporter in the country — there was no blurring of Michelle, and that the broadcast showed her shaking hands with King Salman.

However, Nail al-Jubeir, information director at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, e-mailed Josh Rogin of Blooomber view that "Saudi TV has been showing the total arrival ceremony at the airport and at the Palace and nowhere is anything blurred."

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