RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – A senior Saudi official urged French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday to respect Saudi Arabia's conservative Islamic culture by visiting the country without his girlfriend, former supermodel Carla Bruni.
Sarkozy, who divorced his wife Cecilia in October, has flaunted his relationship with Bruni on recent holidays in Egypt and Jordan, drawing criticism that he is being too loose with the presidential image.
The Saudi diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Sarkozy should leave Bruni behind for "religious reasons" when he visits the kingdom on Sunday.
Under the strict interpretation of Islamic law enforced in Saudi Arabia, unmarried or unrelated couples are not permitted to be alone together. Westerners are expected to abide by the rules in public, and many hotels will not check unmarried Western couples into a single room.
Sarkozy's office said the composition of the delegation has not yet been finalized. However, several officials in France, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said Bruni was not planning to go to Saudi Arabia.
The French president was criticized by several Egyptian officials in December for sharing a room with Bruni while in Egypt on vacation, local media reported. Saudi Arabia is more conservative than Egypt, where unmarried Western couples are allowed to share hotel rooms.
The French newspaper Le Journal Du Dimanche, citing unidentified sources, said Sunday that Sarkozy proposed to Bruni last month, and the two would wed in early February.
The presidential palace declined to comment on the report.
French political analyst Dominique Moisi said that a Sarkozy proposal to Bruni could be an effort to head off any future controversies.