And say to the believing women that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts, and that they disclose not their natural and artificial beauty except that which is apparent thereof, and that they draw their head-coverings over their bosoms, and that they disclose not their beauty save to their husbands, or to their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands or their sons or the sons of their husbands or their brothers … (Al Quran 24:32)
By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
updated 7:19 AM EST, Fri January 10, 2014
(CNN) — Saudi Arabia is often touted as among the most conservative places in the world, with women forbidden even to drive.
But in terms of attitude toward women’s freedom of choice in clothing, it’s significantly more freethinking than some of its neighbors, a survey of seven Muslim-majority countries suggests.
Nearly two out of three people in Saudi Arabia believe women should keep everything but their eyes covered when they are in a public place — but at the same time, nearly half say it is up to a woman to dress however she wants.
That puts it on a level with socially liberal Lebanon, and ranks it as far less conservative than Iraq, Pakistan or Egypt.
“Saudi Arabia is not as conservative as it appears. Definitely on some level there is a considerable liberal leaning,” said Mansoor Moaddel, the lead author of the study.
That could be partly a reaction to the conservative leadership, he said.
“Saudi has had a religious government for a long time. People tend to develop an oppositional attitude,” he argued.
The findings come from a report published by the Middle Eastern Values Study of the University of Michigan’s Population Studies Center.
It suggests Egypt is, in terms of gender relations, the most conservative country in the study by some distance.
Only 14% of Egyptians believe women should be allowed to choose how they dress, the lowest level in the survey. Egyptians are also the most likely to say that a woman should be required to obey her husband — only one Egyptian in 20 disagreed.
Moaddel does not link Egyptian conservatism to religion.