Michelle Obama is not impressed: Grim-faced First Lady meets the Saudi king as members of his entourage refuse to shake her hand
- The president and Mrs Obama cut short their trip to India to pay their respects to the Saudi Arabian royal family on the death of King Abdullah
- But the First Lady did not look happy during the brief trip to Riyadh to meet the new King Salman
- During a meet and greet with Saudi dignitaries, many of the men refused to shake her hand
- Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are banned from driving cars, among other restrictions
- Many have criticized Mr Obama and former presidents for not pushing the oil-rich Saudis on their women’s rights record
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.
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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.
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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.
MICHELLE OBAMA BLURRED OUT OF BROADCAST?
Following the president and Mrs Obama’s brief four-hour visit to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, a video surfaced online showing the First Lady’s image blurred out from video broadcast aired on a state television station.
The video caused outrage from Westerners online, who thought Mrs Obama was edited out of the broadcast for wearing her hair uncovered and sporting a bright blue jacket.
However, it appears that the video was actually edited by a third party with extremist views.
The YouTube user who posted the video has blurred out women from videos before, and in one case did the same thing to one woman who was wearing conservative Muslim apparel and appeared to be the co-anchor of a TV show.
The video has also been widely disputed online by Saudis who saw the original broadcast and contend that Mrs Obama was not blurred out.
And in other videos posted online of the meeting taken from the same TV station, Mrs Obama is clearly visible.
However, some Saudis jumped to defend Mrs Obama online, saying it was only a brief visit and that the First Lady should not be too highly criticized as the wife of a strong ally.
One woman appealed to her fellow Saudis on Twitter not to ‘make Obama angry at us’.
Following the death of Abdullah, President Obama and other Western leaders praised the former king for his ‘reform efforts’.
While he did institute a royal decree that will finally give women the right to vote in local elections this year, Abdullah was criticized by his own daughters for being anti-feminist.
Last year, Abdullah’s daughter Princess Jawaher gave an interview to Channel 4 News saying she and her female relatives had been practically held ‘hostage’ in the palace of Jeddah for a decade due to the strict policies towards women in the country.
‘No one is allowed in or out. If he does that to his own children, how do you think the rest of the country is?’ Princess Jawaher said.
While Saudi women have become increasingly outspoken on fighting for more rights, the end of Abdullah’s reign does not exactly bring hope of change.
In a televised address shortly after his brother’s death, King Salman promised to continue enforcing ‘the correct policies which Saudi Arabia has followed since its establishment’.
Ahead of his visit, President Obama explained the complicated U.S.-Saudi Arabian relationship.
‘Sometimes we need to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns we have in terms of counterterrorism or dealing with regional stability,’ Obama said in a CNN interview.
Link to article: Daily Mail