US First Lady Melania Trump skips headscarf in Saudi Arabia
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US First Lady Melania Trump on Saturday stepped off Air Force One conservatively dressed in long sleeves and pants to conform to the strict dress code that Saudi Arabia enforces for its female citizens. But one thing was missing: a headscarf.
Instead, Melania Trump’s below-the-shoulder brown hair blew freely in the breeze at King Khalid International Airport in the capital city of Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia is the first stop on a four-nation, five-stop tour that will also take Trump to Israel, Italy and Belgium before President Donald Trump returns to the White House at the end of next week. The first lady is joining the president for the entire trip.
Under the kingdom’s strict dress code for women, Saudi women and most female visitors are required to wear a loose, black roe, known as an abaya, in public. Most women in Saudi Arabia also 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.
When she emerged at Riyadh's King Khalid International Airport on Saturday morning, the first lady wore black patent stilettos and a black long-sleeved, wide-leg jumpsuit with a narrow slit down the neckline, cinched at the waist with a wide gold belt.
Earlier this year, British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also shunned head coverings, showing how common it is for high-level female visitors to skip wearing a headscarf or an abaya, the loose-fitting, black robe worn by Saudi women.
When Trump attacked Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama did not cover her head when she accompanied then-President Barack Obama on a condolence visit in January 2015 after the death of King Abdullah. And during her time as first lady, Laura Bush generally went without covering her head, though she once briefly donned a headscarf she received as a gift.
As Obama’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton also did not cover her head on visits to Saudi Arabia.
Nonetheless, Trump, whose long trail of Twitter messages often comes back to haunt him, tweeted his displeasure over Mrs. Obama’s decision to appear bare-headed in 2015.
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) 29 janvier 2015
Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, a senior White House adviser who is accompanying her father, also did not cover her head.
Saudi Arabia adheres to an ultraconservative interpretation of Islamic Sharia law where unrelated men and women are segregated in most public places. Women are banned from driving, although rights advocates have campaigned to lift that ban.
Guardianship laws also require a male relative’s consent before a woman can obtain a passport, travel or marry. Often that relative is a father or husband, but in the absence of both can be the woman’s own son.
Warmer welcome than predecessor
Trump and King Salman seemed at ease with each other, chatting through an interpreter. At the royal al-Yamama palace, the king decorated Trump with the King Abdulaziz medal, the country’s top civilian honor.
The two leaders exchanged tweets, Trump saying it was great to be in Riyadh and King Salman welcoming him.
“Mr. President, your visit will strengthen our strategic cooperation, lead to global security and stability,” King Salman said in a message on his official Twitter account in Arabic and English.
Trump’s decision to make his first official trip abroad to Saudi Arabia, followed by Israel, countries which both share his antagonism towards Iran, marks a contrast with Obama’s approach.
Trump’s criticism of the nuclear deal Iran reached with the US and five other world powers in 2015 pleases both Saudi Arabia and Israel, who accused Obama on “going soft” on Tehran.
Business on agenda
After a royal banquet, Trump and the king were to have private talks and participate in a signing ceremony for a number of US-Saudi agreements, including a $100 billion deal for Saudi Arabia to buy American arms.
National oil giant Saudi Aramco was expected to sign $50 billion of deals with US companies on Saturday, part of a drive to diversify the kingdom’s economy beyond oil exports, Aramco’s chief executive Amin Nasser said.
Trump is to deliver a speech in Riyadh on Sunday aimed at rallying Muslims in the fight against Islamist militants. He will also attend a summit of Gulf leaders of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council.
A senior Saudi official said a digital centre to monitor the activities of the Islamic State group and other militant groups online would be opened on Sunday, to coincide with the visit. Ahead of Trump’s trip, the White House said the president expected tangible results from Saudi Arabia in countering Islamic extremism.
Shortly after taking office, Trump sought to block people from several Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States, but the travel ban has been blocked by federal courts.
The 70-year-old president’s trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy and Belgium will be Trump’s longest time away from the White House since he took office four months ago.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)