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Saudi Officials Oppose U.S. Army Stance on Veil

January 25, 2002|From Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi officials warned Thursday that they would not allow U.S. servicewomen to appear in public without a head-to-toe robe, and they criticized Washington for lifting the requirement that its female military personnel wear the garment when off base.

A member of the Committee for the Preservation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, a government agency for enforcing Islamic law, said all women must wear the robe, or abaya, irrespective of religion, nationality or profession.

Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, issued an order last week saying the abaya is no longer required for U.S. servicewomen in Saudi Arabia "but is strongly encouraged." The requirement dates from the 1990-91 Gulf War, when U.S. forces were first stationed in Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi military official on Thursday criticized Franks' move, saying the United States should have consulted the kingdom beforehand.

The U.S. decision is a violation of Saudi sovereignty and of Islamic law, the official said on condition of anonymity.

A U.S. Embassy official in Riyadh declined to comment. A U.S. Army spokesman in Saudi Arabia referred calls to Central Command headquarters in Florida.

Saudi women appear in public fully veiled, showing only their eyes, hands and feet. Foreign women in the kingdom usually wear abayas at malls, markets and other public places in accordance with religious custom.

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