President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama visited Riyadh on Tuesday to pay their respects to the late Saudi King Abdullah.
Their trip was not without controversy.
According to the Associated Press, after the First Lady appeared on television while not wearing anything to cover her head, more than 1,500 tweets were sent out calling her “immodest.” The trending topic was a reference to the fact that, in Saudi Arabia, women are expected to cover their heads – as evidenced by the fact that the vast majority of the female population in the nation wears a niqab.
Further complicating matters is that in the past the First Lady has honored religious and cultural traditions regarding covering one’s head. As noted by the Washington Post, when President Obama and his wife visited Indonesia recently, she did in fact cover her head with a scarf.
It is worth pointing out that, by Saudi Arabia’s very own rules, Western women who visit are not required to cover their heads. However, as the Daily Mail points out, that didn’t stop Saudi dignitaries from refusing to shake her hand anyway.
While this incident and its subsequent backlash won’t have any long term ramifications either way, it does serve as a reminder of how women are treated in Saudi Arabia, and highlights just how much certain politicians turn a blind eye to it because it is politically advantageous for them to do so.