Angela Merkel's defence minister refuses to wear Muslim dress in Saudi Arabia

Michelle Obama, Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, Condoleeza Rice and Laura Bush have all done the same

Peter Walker
Wednesday 14 December 2016 18:56 GMT
German defence minister went to Saudi Arabia and sparked controversy for not wearing a burka

Support truly
independent journalism

Our mission is to deliver unbiased, fact-based reporting that holds power to account and exposes the truth.

Whether $5 or $50, every contribution counts.

Support us to deliver journalism without an agenda.

Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Angela Merkel’s defence minister refused to wear traditional Muslim attire during her official visit in Saudi Arabia.

Ursula von der Leyen shunned the abaya, the black full length dress that covers the entire body but not the face, during her diplomatic engagement in Riyadh.

The Christian Democratic Union politician, the first woman in German history to hold the defence portfolio, was meeting Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman al Saud.

“Of course, I respect the customs and customs of a country,” said Ms Leyen, as quoted in German tabloid Bild.

“I strive to comply with such rules. But for me there are limits to the way I adapt to the country.

“I do not put on a headscarf and I wear trousers.

“No woman in my delegation has to wear the abaya. Being able to choose your own clothes is a right for both men and women alike.

“It annoys me, when women travelling with women are pressured into wearing the abaya.”

Ms Leyen is seen in pictures wearing a dark blue suit and her bright blonde hair combed back.

The German embassy in Riyadh reportedly distributed abayas after the 58-year-old and her entourage arrived on Wednesday last week.

Her move immediately followed Angela Merkel calling for a burqa ban.

Iraq pharmacist Hussam al-Mosawi tweeted that Ms Leyen’s decision was “an insult to Saudi Arabia".

But her decision has caused very little controversy. Female politicians are often excused from covering their hair.

First Lady Michelle Obama, Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, Condoleeza Rice and former First Lady Laura Bush have all done the same.

Ms Leyen and her 31-year-old Saudi counterpart, who has hit headlines worldwide for his extravagant personal spending and his austerity measures, discussed the training of Saudi officers in the European Union.

At a security conference on Saturday, the medicine graduate Ms Leyen said “we have to dominate the internet” and create economic opportunity to defeat Isis.

Under Saudi law, women cannot travel without permission from their male guardians and cannot swim in public pools.

The oil-rich country is frequently criticised for its human rights record, having executed more than 150 people last year according to Amnesty International.

Boris Johnson: Saudi Arabia is playing proxy wars

Boris Johnson branded Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen a “proxy war” last week.

The Independent has contacted Ms Leyen’s Federal Ministry of Defence for comment.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in