Why Angela Merkel Didn't Wear A Hijab To Visit Saudi Arabia's King

Photo: Bandar Algaloud/Saudi Kingdom Council/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.
Fashion can be used as a powerful tool to express a political stance, as we've seen time and time again. The latest example of this: German chancellor Angela Merkel declined to adhere to the Saudi Arabian dress code for her visit with King Salman and top officials. Following the lead of British prime minister Theresa May, former National Front president Marine Le Pen, Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton, the politician arrived sans hijab or floor-length robe, in opposition to the country's traditional dress code for women visitors and citizens.
When female politicians have opted out of the country's dress code for women in the past, it's been inferred that these hijab-free visits are intended to inspire oppressed women in the Middle East. In addition to being banned from driving or traveling without a legal (male) guardian, women in Saudi Arabia are prohibited from wearing anything other than a floor-length robe and covering their hair. The decision to forego the traditional head scarf is considered particularly deviant in Saudi Arabian culture. As for Merkel's stance on the traditional garments, she has called for the burqa to be banned in Germany and "wherever legally possible" in the past. Merkel's visit included a push for human rights, which Merkel acknowledged the Middle Eastern country isn't championing (although she didn't directly address women's issues or rights). When Merkel visited Saudi Arabia in 2010, she eschewed a head covering for that appearance as well.
Last week, the German parliament voted to draft a law that bans women working in civil service, judiciary, and military jobs from wearing full-face veils. As for how the proposed legislation could impact millions of asylum seekers, "Integration also means that we should make clear and impart our values and where the boundaries of our tolerance towards other cultures lie,” Germany's interior minister Thomas de Maiziere told The Independent. Merkel is in support of the proposed law, which follows the European Justice Court, the E.U.'s highest courts, call for a ban on hijabs in the workplace back in March.
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