Theresa May is visiting Saudi Arabia without abaya or hijab

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Theresa May arrived to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, sans hijab or abaya.

May defied official Foreign Office advice by shunning the kingdom’s conservative dress code during her visit to Riyadh, where she is scheduled to meet officials including Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef and Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud.

She has thus joined the list of female politicians who have taken a stand against the Islamic state’s strict dress code during their visits to the kingdom.

Speaking about her trip to the kingdom in Jordan earlier this week, May said that she hopes to inspire Saudi women and encourage their role in leadership.

According to The Telegraph, Saudi Foreign Office guidelines mandate that women wear “conservative, loose-fitting clothes as well as a full length cloak (abaya) and a headscarf”. Instead, May opted for a trouser suit that covered her entire body, including wrists and ankles.

Speaking in Jordan on Monday, May said that as a woman in power, she hopes to inspire women in the Saudi kingdom. “I hope also that people see me as a woman leader, will see what women can achieve and how women can be in significant positions,” she said, according to the Independent.

May is set to meet with Princess Reema, vice-president of women’s affairs at the country’s sporting authority and the first Saudi woman to hold a government position.

“I’ve talked to the Saudis on a number of occasions now and I raise issues of this sort. I think we have already seen some changes,” May said, referring to the several legal adjustments that have improved the status of Saudi women.

Saudi Arabia enforces a strict dress code that requires women to wear full-length robes and cover their hair in public spaces. Last December, a Saudi woman was arrested after tweeting a photo of herself in public without a hijab or abaya.

Meanwhile, foreign visitors do not always follow protocol, especially high-profileones.

Remember when Michelle Obama ditched the hijab during a 2015 visit to the kingdom?

May’s trips to Jordan and Saudi Arabia this week mark her first international visits since triggering Article 50 of Brexit on March 29, which guarantees her country’s withdrawal from the European Union. Speaking about her tour to the two Arab countries, the prime minister said that she hopes to “herald a further intensification” in relations between the UK and these countries.

May’s trip to Saudi Arabia has drawn controversy, in light of the kingdom’s involvement in bombings in Yemen.

May defended the UK’s ties with Saudi Arabia and Jordan by saying, “It’s important for me as a woman leader and as leader of the government of the United Kingdom to maintain the relationships that are important to us as a country, for our security, and our trade for the future.”

The British prime minister has previously emphasized the importance of the UK’s relations with the Gulf. “Gulf security is our security and Gulf prosperity is our prosperity,” she told the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit last December.


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