Turkey: Secularists' lament

economist sept 07

Time to pray? Or to despair?

Yet even liberal intellectuals now sound nervous. Yesim Arat, a political scientist at Bosporus University who dislikes the headscarf ban, laments the use of the new constitution to repeal it. The headscarf is worn in keeping with Islam. “By inserting it into the constitution you are forming law based on religious dictates,” Ms Arat says. “This is very problematic.”

Some women are similarly spooked by the removal of a clause saying that the state is responsible for ensuring equality between the sexes. There is only one woman in Mr Erdogan's cabinet. AK women, who played a big role in wooing voters, are now being sidelined: one of them, Ayse Bohurler, who opposed Mr Gul's presidency, complained of being labelled “a bitch” by male colleagues. And instead of trying to allay secular fears, Mr Erdogan has told critics to “shut up and mind your own business.”

Mr Erdogan says he has no immediate plans to get rid of article 301 of the penal code, which was used to prosecute various writers, including Orhan Pamuk, for “insulting Turkishness”. But keeping article 301, say opponents, just confirms that AK is interested only in promoting Islam and defanging the army. The government remains “selective about democracy”, claims Umit Kardas, a former army prosecutor and critic of the generals.