by Rosie Alfatlawi
As US Islamophobe - sorry Commander - in-Chief Donald Trump arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday much was made of his wife’s appearance sans hijab.
Hair covering is compulsory for women in the ultra-conservative kingdom which imposes a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
In fact, Trump himself had previously criticized then-First Lady Michelle Obama for going bare-headed during a visit to Riyadh with her husband in 2015, causing many to accuse the current President of hypocrisy.
Many people are saying it was wonderful that Mrs. Obama refused to wear a scarf in Saudi Arabia, but they were insulted.We have enuf enemies— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2015
In 2015, Trump ripped Michelle Obama for insulting Saudi Arabia by not wearing a headscarf. So today.... https://t.co/Gfs9rDecSj pic.twitter.com/PD0tOlq9xs— Jim Roberts (@nycjim) May 20, 2017
While I am not one to miss out on a Trump-bashing opportunity, Melania's slight of local convention is hardly newsworthy. In fact, visiting female dignitaries have long been seen as above Saudi law.
@akhbar Pffff. Hardly any Western female personality wears a scarf during visit to Saudi Arabia. May, Merkel, Michelle. Such a non-story. @akhbar pic.twitter.com/IghtzMCGO7— Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) May 20, 2017
It's standard for women in Western delegations to not cover their heads in Saudi Arabia. Including Theresa May, Merkel earlier this year 2/— Julie Pace (@jpaceDC) May 20, 2017
Before Melania Trump there was Michelle Obama and Hilary Clinton and before them there was Laura Bush and Condoleeza Rice. None of them wore the black abaya and hijab combination ubiquitous in Saudi Arabia. Rather they donned business suits and showed off their "take me seriously" hair-dos.
On her most recent visit to the Gulf, as on prior visits, German Chancellor Merkel displayed her characteristic bob for all to see. This, despite rumors - which were soon disproved - that her hair was censored on state television.
Not a joke: The UN's newest member of the Women Rights Commission censored the German chancellor's hair when she appeared today on Saudi TV. pic.twitter.com/0QwDEArL5l— Sarah Abdallah (@sahouraxo) May 4, 2017
British PM, Theresa May, also chose to risk the wrath of the ‘Commission of the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice’ (religious police to you and me) on a recent visit.
Theresa May says Labour can't be trusted on defence.— James Melville (@JamesMelville) May 20, 2017
But, the question that needs to be asked is, can she?#WeaponsSales #SaudiArabia pic.twitter.com/jh4mxuYWP7
In fact, the real scandal here is not that Melania and her stepdaughter have disregarded Trump’s previous zeal for respecting Saudi custom. Rather, it is the fact that foreign female dignitaries show so little concern for the lives of ordinary Saudi women.
It is all well and good asserting that " the [right] to choose one’s attire is a right shared by men and women equally," as the German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen did during her December 2016 visit. But do visiting women ever raise a question about their fellow women being arrested for daring to go out hijabless in the capital?
Saudi woman Malak Al Shahri was arrested today by the moral police for not wearing a Hijab while walking in public.#SolidarityWithMalak pic.twitter.com/wUE40wS3dj— Faisal Saeed AlMutar (@faisalalmutar) December 12, 2016
May or Merkel might enjoy the freedom to travel without restriction to talk with their Saudi allies but have you ever heard them call out Saudi Arabia for being the only country in the world to ban women from driving?
And when Ivanka Trump says she is a feminist, does she then engage with campaigns such as the “Saudi women demand the end of male guardianship” Twitter movement which galvanized the authorities into action earlier this year?
300 days of fighting for our rights finally paid off. Proud of everyone who never gave up. #تمكين_المراه_بلا_ولي— Sara. (@arabtoremember) May 4, 2017
The answer is no, no and no.
This is peak white feminism, concerned only with the issues that affect rich, western, white women like Ivanka, Melania, Merkel and May.
And meanwhile no one bats an eyelid while Saudi Arabia - a nation placed 141 out of 144 in the 2016 Gender Gap report - is elected to a UN body for promoting women's rights.
So, when you see pictures of bare-headed Melania Trump surrounded by Saudi officials ask not “why isn’t she wearing hijab” but “why don’t Saudi women have the choice not to wear the hijab?”