Not long after German Chancellor Angela Merkel made her first visit to Saudi Arabia since 2010 on Sunday, social media was abuzz over her decision to forgo the traditional hardscarf that has become such a hot button topic in her own country. Did Merkel use her visit with King Salman and the oil-rich country’s leaders as a political statement against the legal code that requires its women to don the traditional headscarf and full-length robe?
While we can’t travel deep into the mind of Germany’s leader, the chance that Merkel’s decision had a deeper motive is highly unlikely. Sure, the timing of the visit matches nicely with Germany Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere’s ten-point plan on fostering a dominant Germany culture in the country’s daily Bild paper on the same day, but a quick look at Merkel’s previous visit and the visits of other prominent woman world leaders shows that there’s nothing to see here.
British Prime Minister Theresa May made her recent visit in April, sans headscarf, as did First Lady Michelle Obama in 2015 — though she did face criticism for shaking hands with several leaders… not something women are supposed to do in the Saudi culture. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met in 2012, Merkel herself in 2010 and First Lady Laura Bush in 2007, all without headscarf. The tradition, if you want to call it that, can go as far back as British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, as she met with then King Fahd back in 1985, opting for a dress and hat.
So while it may be fun to speculate the scandal behind the wardrobe, there’s nothing really new to see here.