Moving Away from Secularism Turkish Lawmakers Vote to Scrap Head Scarf Ban

Turkish lawmakers on Thursday voted in favor of a constitutional amendment that will end a decades-old ban preventing women from wearing head scarves at the nation's universities. Critics warn it could mark the end of Turkey's secular identity.


A woman listened to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan address lawmakers in Ankara on the eve of the vote to end a ban on head scarves at Turkish universities.
AP

A woman listened to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan address lawmakers in Ankara on the eve of the vote to end a ban on head scarves at Turkish universities.

Turkey's parliament on Thursday voted in favor of a constitutional amendment that would allow women to wear head scarves at the nation's universities.

The lawmakers voted 401 to 110 in the first round and the amendment will have to also be approved in a second and final round of voting on Saturday. The proposal calls for the insertion of a paragraph in the constitution stating that "no one can by deprived of (his or her) right to higher education."

The head scarf debate cuts to the heart of a looming national identity crisis in Turkey, where members of a secular elite are increasingly at odds with a growing religious middle class. The elite, which includes university administrators as well as judges and military leaders, argues that lifting the head scarf ban moves Turkey one step closer to Islamic law, and away from the secular ideals on which Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the nation in 1923.

"The issue is not the head scarf; the issue is secularism," said Kemal Anadol, a parliament member from the secular Republican Party during a debate preceeding the vote. "You are indirectly trying to pierce through secularism in your usual deceiving way."

Middle class Muslims, on the other hand -- a majority of the country's population of 70 million -- see the head scarf ban as an attempt by the educated elite to maintain a monopoly on Turkey's institutions of power.

"If the proposed changes amount to what they say they amount to, I would be the first one to oppose them," said Burhan Kuzu, a legislator from the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The AKP, secured the two-thirds majority needed to make the constitutional change by forming an alliance with the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

On the eve of the parliamentary vote in Ankara, about 200 left-leaning Turks gathered outside the parliament building to protest the looming vote. "We won't allow the head scarf! Down with the AKP!" they chanted.

And over 125,000 people, mostly women, marched in the capital last weekend in protest of a potential lift on the ban.

The approved amendment makes clear that female students would be allowed to wear head scarves at universities as long as they tied them under the chin, leaving their faces more exposed.

pmm/ap

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