German Defense Minister refuses to wear hijab or abaya in Saudi Arabia

Published December 12th, 2016 - 10:11 GMT
Von der Leyen speaks at her party's conference last week (Tobias Schwarz/AFP)
Von der Leyen speaks at her party's conference last week (Tobias Schwarz/AFP)

A few days after the German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a ban on the burqa, her minister of defense has refused to wear the hijab or the abaya on an official visit to Saudi Arabia.

Ursula von der Leyen had said that while “of course [she] respect[s] the customs and traditions of the country”, she would not be wearing the conservative clothing usually required by all women in the Gulf state, conservative German newspaper Bild reported.

"No woman in my delegation will be required to wear the abaya, as the [right] to choose one’s attire is a right shared by men and women equally," she added, expressing anger at the pressure placed on visiting women to cover up.

The Minister was in Riyadh last Thursday for a meeting with her Saudi counterpart, Mohammad bin Salman al Saud, the Deputy Crown Prince. They discussed German support for the training of Saudi officers, some of whom will be travelling to study in the EU nation next year.

While the Prince was dressed in traditional Saudi attire including the long white “thobe” and the “ghutrah” head covering, Ms. von der Leyen wore a dark blue suit for the occasion.

After the minister's attire was reported in Arabic media, some Saudis have condemned her behavior on Twitter:

The German Defense Minister: Not wearing the hijab in Saudi was deliberate. This is an insult to Saudi Arabia!

Ok so why didn't they arrest her? The hypocrisy and double standards.

Von der Leyen is not the first Western woman to refuse to comply to the Kingdom’s strict dress code, as last year American First Lady Michelle Obama sparked outrage by going bare-headed on a visit with her husband. Her apparent indecency was condemned by Saudis using hashtags such as “#Michelle_Obama_Immodest” and "#Michelle_Obama_Not_Veiled”.

Foreign visitors, however, have it easy in comparison to the locals. Social conservatism is so rigid in the country that last week a Saudi woman was inundated with death threats for sharing a picture of herself out and about without the hijab to cover her hair or the black abaya to obscure her body.


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