Michelle Obama did not look happy on Tuesday when she had to cut short her visit to India to accompany her husband on a trip to a country where women aren’t even allowed to drive cars.
The First Lady bowed and beamed as she boarded Air Force One in New Dehli on Tuesday, but by the time she landed in Saudi Arabia a few hours later, she had traded her floral dress for a more conservative long-sleeved jacket and slacks – as well as a new scorned expression.
In pictures at the airport and Egra Palace, Mrs Obama pursed her lips and glared as she stood her husband who cancelled their trip to the Taj Mahal in order to pay respects to the Saudi royal family on the death of King Abdullah.
While the oil-rich Saudis are America’s biggest Arab ally, the relationship has come under increased scrutiny over the conservative Muslim country’s questionable human rights record – including their treatment of women.
In addition to not being able to drive, Saudi women must always have a male chaperone when going out in public, they can’t try on clothes while shopping or open a bank account without their husband’s permission.
And despite most Saudi women being educated, they make up just a sliver of the work force.
Mrs Obama got a taste of the patriarchy when she stepped out of Air Force One in Riyadh on Tuesday and was greeted by the new King Salman and an all-male group of delegates.
When the group lined up to greet the president and his wife, some of the Saudis shook the First Lady’s hand while others just nodded their head.
Reporters who were travelling with the president and First Lady told ABC News that Mrs Obama bowed to cultural differences and stood slightly behind her husband during the greeting line.
If one of the men would offer to shake her hand, the First Lady would oblige but mostly stood back and smiled while they passed.
She was also criticized by Saudis and the Muslim world at large on Twitter for not covering her hair.
According to tweets gathered by Al-Ahram, Egypt’s largest daily newspaper, many Saudis expressed outrage that Mrs Obama wore a veil to visit a mosque in Indonesia, but went without one on this condolence trip to their country. Mrs Obama also donned a sheer black veil when she met the Catholic Pope in Vatican City.
While Western women aren’t required to cover their hair in Saudi Arabia some argued that wearing a headscarf wouldn’t have been a way to show respect for the late King Abdullah.
But the head scarf wasn’t the only aspect of the First Lady’s wardrobe to raise an alarm in Saudi Arabia. Mrs Obama’s bright blue jacket was a bit too bold compared to the more common all black head-to-toe dresses Saudi women wear in accordance with strict customs to conceal their bodies.
Mrs Obama wasn’t the only American woman to visit King Salman on Tuesday, but dignitaries like former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Minority House Leader Nancy Pelosi received less attention in their monotone black outfits.
A video even started circling on YouTube, showing a Saudi state television station broadcast of the Obama trip with the First Lady blurred out. However, the video is believed to have been edited by a third party, according to several Saudi users online who say the First Lady was not erased from the original broadcast.
Source: Daily Mail