Headscarf Politics Erdogan Too Religious for Turkey?

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to run for the powerful post of president next year in a changing, secular country caught between eastern and western traditions -- and his headscarved wife may be an image problem.

The debate about the political future of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan heated up after he fainted last week during Ramadan. Erdogan, 52, may run for president next year in a secular nation; he's also devoutly religious, and fasts during the Muslim holy month. On the way to parliament last Tuesday, suffering from acute hypoglycemia, he fainted in his car.

"He should think first about Turkey, the country he governs, before he follows the commandments of his religion," wrote the secular newspaper Cumhuriyet.

Erdogan had already been under fire by old-guard secular opponents who said Turkey had no room for a leader whose wife wears a headscarf. Erdogan's devout spouse, Emine, never appears in public unveiled. "Does a religious person not have the right to be in politics?" Erdogan countered. In the last election, he said, citizens voted for his mildly Islamist "Party for Justice and Development" (AKP), "despite the fact that we appeared with our wives who were wearing headscarves."

Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics since his party swept to power in 2002. Some observers think AKP could win the separately-elected top post of president in 2007, which might give the religious party power to change Turkey's constitution.

Erdogan is expected to win, for now. But there will be no lack of candidates from within his party if he's not available for the job. Among the top AKP politicians considered to have presidential aspirations are Parliamentary Speaker Bülent Arinç, as well as Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül. But Arinç also has a serious handicap: His wife wears a headscarf.


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