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

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.

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“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 ObamaAngela 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.

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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.