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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Not-so-happy in Saudi Arabia? First Lady Michelle Obama didn’t look too thrilled to visit Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, a country with virtually no women’s rights
Supporting her husband: Mrs Obama pursed her lips and wore a tired expression as she greeted Saudi dignitaries at the airport and Egra Palace
Friends? Oil-rich Saudi Arabia is considered America’s closest Arab ally, but the relationship has been criticized at home over the Saudi’s repression of women
Outfit change: When the president and Mrs Obama left India on Tuesday, she was dressed in a floral dress. Though her husband wore the same suit and polka-dot tie when they landed in Saudi Arabia, Mrs Obama had changed into a long-sleeve coat and slacks to cover up in the conservative Muslim country
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.
Dreaming of the Taj Mahal: Mrs Obama and her husband cut short their India trip – including a planned visit to the Taj Mahal – to lead a delegation of American dignitaties to pay respects to the Saudi royal family on the death of King Abdullah
Letting her hair down: Mrs Obama did not wear a headscarf on Tuesday, though Saudi women are required not to let any of their hair show in public. Western women who visit the country do not need to cover their hair, but conservative dress like the outfit sported by the First Lady is necessary
Life as a woman in Saudi Arabia: Other restrictions placed on women include not being able to go out in public without a male escort, open a bank account without their husband’s permission or try on clothes while shopping. Mrs Obama stands between her husband and King Salman on Tuesday
Revolutionary? Following King Abdullah’s death, President Obama and other Western leaders praised him for leading ‘reform efforts’
Women’s rights record: Just last year, King Abdullah was publicly criticized by one of his own daughters who said she and her female relatives were practically held ‘hostage’ in their palace for a decade due to strict restrictions for women. Mrs Obama with her husband and King Salman (right)
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.
Sidelined: Mrs Obama appears left out of the conversation in this picture of the First Lady and president visiting Saudi Arabia on Tuesday
All by her lonesome: The First Lady sat silently while King Salman’s entourage courted her husband
Contact: Mrs Obama got a taste for the Saudi Arabian patriarchy when local dignitaries lined up to greet her husband. While some Saudis (like the one above) shook the First Lady’s hand, others simply nodded and moved on
On their terms: Reporters who traveled with the president and First Lady said she purposely stood back from her husband and waiting for the Saudi men to approach her first for a handshake. She mostly just stood and smiled as they passed though
Passed over: Mrs Obama glared as a Saudi delegate passed her by and refused to shake her hand after greeting her husband
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.
Some in the Muslim world criticized Mrs Obama for not wearing a headscarf in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, when she had previously covered her hair on trips to other Muslim-majority countries like Indonesia. The First Lady pictured above visiting a mosque in Jakarta in 2010
The First Lady also donned a sheer black veil to meet former Pope Benedict in Vatican City in July 2009
Tagging along: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (left) and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (right) were two other women in the American delegation visiting Saudi Arabia, but attracted little attention in their neutral all-black outfits even though they too decided to forgo head scarfs
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.
Above, a still of a video posted online by a YouTube user who appears to have blurred Mrs Obama out of a broadcast from Tuesday’s visit to Saudi Arabia
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.
Other videos posted online of the same TV station’s broadcast show Mrs Obama 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.
Legacy: Some Saudi women are leading a movement to gain more rights, but the passing of King Abdullah brings little hope of change with his brother King Salman (pictured right with President Obama). In a recent address, King Salman promised to continuing enforcing the country’s ‘correct policies’
The palace guards stood at attention for the American guests during the brief Tuesday visit
Top members of the Saudi military – from all branches – were on hand to greet the American delegation at the airport
The Obamas were greeted by an armed Saudi honor guard and a military band playing the national anthems for both the US and Saudi Arabia
Secretary of State John Kerry (right) was also on hand to pay his respects to King Salman and offer condolences about his half-brother
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.
But others say that’s not good enough. In an opinion piece for the Montreal Gazette, stand-up comic Eman El-Husseini wrote.
‘As a Middle Eastern Westerner, I grew up knowing all too well that life isn’t meant to be fair, but that shouldn’t be acceptable. It is not right that members of half the world’s population are not equals. It doesn’t matter that we have it a lot better in the West as women than we would in the developing world. A lot better is still not equal, not just, not fair.’
Grey area: Ahead of his trip to Saudi Arabia, President Obama gave an interview in which he explained the complicated relationship and how the U.S. must balance our human rights missions with the ability to work with Saudi Arabia to bring stability in the region