In an unusual move, Queen Beatrix has responded to the political commotion sparked when Freedom Party (PVV) MPs asked questions in parliament because she wore a headscarf during a visit to a mosque in Abu Dhabi.
Her reaction to the commotion in The Hague, which hadn’t surprised her, is described as diplomatic but resolute. Speaking at a brief press conference following a reception for Dutch expats, she called claims by the Freedom Party that her wearing a headscarf legitimised the oppression of women “utter nonsense”. The Dutch Government Information Service said the queen, who had worn a blue scarf over her hat to the Sheik Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, usually complies with local traditions when on state visits.
The queen said that she had no problem complying with Islamic dress and had done so as a mark of respect. She also wore a red scarf over her hat in Oman today during a visit to the Sultan Qaboos mosque. According to the Queen, there is no question of oppression for many women in the region. Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Máxima backed up her comments.
Women in the United Arab Emirates and Oman play a prominent role in society. Princess Máxima said it is the boys in Abu Dhabi they are concerned about. Three quarters of university students are women, and a majority of new entrepreneurs are female too.
The Queen praised Oman and the UAE for the changes they have brought about in such a short time. She was glad that her postponed state visit to Oman could be rescheduled so quickly. Last year’s state visit was turned into a private one because of political unrest in the country.
She called sultan Qaboos an exceptional man with a special vision with whom thoughts could be exchanged freely. She said last year’s protests had been seen as a 'wake-up-call' and led to more powers being devolved to parliament.
The Queen was accompanied by a large delegation which included union leaders and business delegates. According to Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, the Omanis even asked for advice on the Dutch ‘polder model’ – avoiding social conflict and industrial action through negotiated agreements between the government, trade unions, employers organisations and other parties. Nevertheless, criticism was also voiced during the visit. Generally the queen felt she had learnt a lot from the trip.
It is not totally unprecedented for royals to respond directly to criticism. Although in general, Queen Beatrix and Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and his wife Princess Máxima fall under the responsibility of the Prime Minister. One of the last times the royals felt it necessary to speak out was after extensive criticism about the Crown Prince’s purchase of a holiday home in Mozambique. Then he reacted by deciding to sell the property and said the whole affair had caused him “sleepless nights”.
The Labour Party has called on Prime Minister Mark Rutte to protect the queen. Labour MP Jeroen Recourt said the monarch in her reaction implied that wearing a headscarve is not tantamount to oppression, which could be taken to contradict the government's hard line on burkas and integration policies.
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