Turkish PM challenges headscarf ban

Erdogan says ban can be lifted even before charter change, alarming secularists.

    Erdogan said lifting the ban was a matter
    of individual liberty [Reuters]
    The secular establishment including the military sees the attempt to lift the ban as a political statement aimed at undermining the secular principles which Turkey's military has staunchly upheld in the past.

    Turkey's generals have not hesitated in the past to stage coups to protect the nation's secular traditions.


    The military had even hinted at intervention when Erdogan first proposed Abdullah Gul, an observant Muslim, for the presidency in April last year.


    The ensuing crisis forced Erdogan to call an early general election.


    The ruling Justice and Development party's landslide victory resurrected Gul's presidential bid and parliament voted him into the post in August.


    Secularists unsuccessfully opposed Gul's candidacy partly because his wife wears an Islamic headscarf.


    She challenged Turkey's headscarf ban at the European Court of Human Rights - after being barred from university in 1998 - only to withdraw her complaint when her husband became foreign minister.


    Sensitive issue


    The secular elite also fears that lifting the headscarf ban could put pressure on women to wear ever more conservative attire, and open new avenues for the government to impose Islam on public and private life - a highly sensitive issue that often dominates the national agenda.


    Secularists are concerned that by removing the ban, the government is raising the profile of Islam in the Muslim but secular country.


    After the election win, Erdogan's party began preparing a new constitution that is supposed to replace the current one, written during military rule following a coup in 1980.


    A copy of the first draft published by Turkish media includes alternative

    wordings for a possible article that would allow the Islamic headscarf to be worn on campuses.


    The wearing of headscarves in universities was first banned shortly after the 1980 coup but the implementation of the rule varied during the law's early years.


    In 1997 the military pressed an Islamic government to step down for violating secular principles and after that entering a university campus wearing an Islamic headscarf was prohibited and another law prohibited "covered" women from working in government offices.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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