Turkey’s High Court Overturns Headscarf Rule

June 6, 2008

Author: Sabrina Tavernise and Sebnem Arsu

Source: The New York Times


Turkey’s highest court dealt a stinging slap to the governing party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday, ruling that a legal change allowing women attending universities to wear head scarves was unconstitutional.

The Constitutional Court said in a brief statement that the change, proposed by Mr. Erdogan’s party and passed by Parliament in February, violated principles of secularism set in Turkey’s Constitution.

The ruling sets the stage for a showdown between Turkey’s secular elite — its military, judiciary and secular political party — and Mr. Erdogan, an observant Muslim with an Islamist past.

The court is one of Turkey’s most important secular institutions, and liberals see the ruling as largely political. It bodes ominously for Mr. Erdogan: The same court is considering a case that would ban him and 70 members of his party from politics. A decision is expected in the summer.

Turkey’s political system has been controlled for generations by a powerful secular elite that has stepped in with coups and judicial decisions against elected governments. Mr. Erdogan and his party, Justice and Development, or AKP, have come the closest of any political party in Turkey’s history to breaking its hold on power.

In the head-scarf case, the elite establishment contended that allowing veiled women onto campuses threatened Turkish secularism, one of the founding principles of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s secular revolution in the 1920s. Head scarves were banned from campuses in the 1990s.