German minister sparks outrage after refusing to cover up on Saudi trip - reports

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen (left) speaking to Deputy Economy Minister Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri  in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Dec 8, 2016.
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen (left) speaking to Deputy Economy Minister Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Dec 8, 2016.PHOTO: EPA
Von der Leyen and IMCTC director-general Abdulilah bin Othman Al-Salek visit the headquarters of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) in Riyadh.
Von der Leyen and IMCTC director-general Abdulilah bin Othman Al-Salek visit the headquarters of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) in Riyadh.PHOTO: EPA

A German minister has sparked outrage after refusing to cover up during an official visit to Saudi Arabia.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen was in Riyadh to meet Saudi deputy crown prince  Salman Al-Saud, where she voiced her annoyance at the expectation that women cover up, according to media reports.

Instead of a full-length abaya, she opted instead for a dark blue trouser suit.

But her stance sparked anger in the deeply-conservative state, where social media users called for her to be arrested, said the Daily Mail.

It follows the arrest of a Saudi woman earlier this month (Dec 2016) for taking off her veil in public, and the backing by German Chancellor Angela Merkel for a ban on full-face veils - such as the burqa worn by some Muslim women - in Germany.

One Twitter user wrote: "Ok so why didn't they arrest her? The hypocrisy and double standards."

Another posted: "The German Defence Minister: Not wearing the hijab in Saudi was deliberate. This is an insult to Saudi Arabia!"

Speaking of her refusal to wear full-length robes, Das Bild reported von der Leyen as saying: "No woman in my delegation has to wear the abaya. 

"The right to choose your own clothing is a right shared by men and women alike. It annoys me when women are to pushed into wearing the abaya."

The newspaper reported that although servants looked "astonished" at the sight of the German minister not wearing traditional Saudi dress, it did not spark any protests.

Guidelines issued by the British Foreign Office state: "Women should observe the strict Saudi dress code and wear conservative and loose-fitting clothes, including a full-length cloak (abaya) and a keep a scarf with them in case they are asked to cover their head by the Hai'a, commonly known as Muttawa (Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice/Religious Police).

"Men should not wear shorts in public or go without a shirt. Visitors should always seek guidance concerning acceptable clothing."

Police in the Saudi capital said on Monday (Dec 12) they had arrested a woman for taking off her veil in public and posting pictures of her action on Twitter.

Police spokesman Fawaz al-Maiman did not name the woman, but several websites identified her as Malak al-Shehri, who triggered a huge backlash on social media after posing without the hijab in a Riyadh street last month.

Maiman said in a statement that the police in the ultra-conservative kingdom acted in line with their duty to monitor "violations of general morals", said the Daily Mail.

He said the woman posted a tweet of herself standing next to a popular Riyadh cafe but without wearing the Islamic headscarf that is required in Saudi society.

The woman, in her 20s, was taken to prison, he said, also accusing her of "speaking openly about prohibited relations with (non-related) men".

"Riyadh police stress that the action of this woman violates the laws applied in this country," Maiman said, according to the Mail, urging the public to "adhere to the teachings of Islam".

After her arrest, Saudis reacted with fury to her actions. One message of abuse reportedly read: "The least punishment for her is beheading her."

Another wrote: "Kill her and throw her body to the dogs", while one said "we want blood" after the picture went viral

Earlier this month (Dec), Angela Merkel called for a burqa ban, saying the "full veil is not appropriate" in Germany.

The German Chancellor told her conservative CDU party conference that wearing the burqa should be outlawed "wherever that is legally possible".

Merkel said she would back a nationwide ban just months after revealing that she believed the burqa was a barrier to Muslim women becoming integrated into German society.