Michelle Obama highlights harsh restrictions faced by Saudi women after meeting King Salman without wearing a headscarf

The US First Lady drew criticism in Saudi Arabia for not covering her hair

Michelle Obama highlighted the restrictions placed on women in Saudi Arabia as she paid her respects to the late King Abdullah without wearing a headscarf.

Her divisive decision not to cover her hair as she met King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud drew both criticism and praise across social media.

The move also illustrated the severe restraints placed on women living in the ultra-conservative Kingdom, who must cover their hair and wear loose black robes in public at all times. Most Saudi women wear full face veils known as niqabs.

In addition to this, women are banned from driving, must be accompanied by a male chaperone when they leave the house and are not allowed to vote – although voting rules will change in 2015.

In contrast, Western women visiting from foreign countries do not have to follow the same sartorial rules - although the US First Lady did wear long clothes covering her arms and legs.

Saudi state television also broadcast footage showing Mrs Obama with President Barack Obama and King Salman, where she could clearly be seen without a headscarf. Footage showing her head blurred out was dismissed as fake by the Saudi Embassy after reports suggested her image had been obscured by officials.

Other female guests were also visible with their heads uncovered. 

michellobama.jpgHer decision not to cover her hair caused a stir among some on Twitter, where over 2,500 tweets with a hashtag that translates roughly as ‘#MichelleObamanotveiled' were sent on the day of her visit. Ahram Online reports that many criticised her for not covering her hair as a mark of respect to King Abdullah’s death.

However, it reports others defended her, arguing her trip was only a brief visit.