Lady Obama courts head scarf controversy in Saudi Arabia

Riyadh: Amid controversy, the Saudi Arabian embassy in the US denied media reports that the country’s state television had blurred out America’s First Lady Michelle Obama as her husband US president Barack Obama met new Saudi King Salman.

The Saudi embassy said in a tweet, “Report by Bloomberg View’s Josh Rogin that Saudi TV “blurred” image of First Lady Michelle Obama is FALSE. Should check facts, not Facebook.”

Video clips posted on YouTube purported to show that the Saudi Arabia state television had blurred out Mrs Obama. But those who had watched live broadcast of the Obama visit to Riyadh confirmed that there was no blurring. Among them, Wall Street Journal’s Saudi correspondent Ahmed Al Omran, who tweeted, “Contrary to what you might have read elsewhere, Michelle Obama was not blurred out on Saudi television”

The US First Lady joined President Barack Obama yesterday for a condolence visit to Riyadh after the death of Saudi King Abdullah, a detour that made them cut short their three-day India visit and a trip to the Taj Mahal in Agra.

The US first lady was dressed in a floral dress with a hemline just below the knees when she boarded Air Force One at the Delhi airport on Tuesday afternoon. She stepped off the plane in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a few hours later, wearing long pants and a long, brightly colored jacket, but no headscarf. 

Under the kingdom’s strict dress code for women, Saudi women 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.

A battle raged on Twitter. Tweets criticising Mrs Obama for not wearing a head scarf flooded the social networking site. Others were sharply critical of the comments against her.
 
Saudi Arabia imposes many restrictions on women on the strict interpretation of the 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.

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