Time for a freedoms test for Turkish government

Time for a freedoms test for Turkish government

Parliament’s welcoming for the use of headscarves for women deputies due to their Islamic beliefs puts the Turkish government before a new test - a critical one for more freedoms in Turkey.

It is now possible to say that there is no obstacle left in front of pious Muslims getting employed in government positions, becoming Cabinet ministers, and getting elected to Parliament. Yes, there is an exception for those public jobs that need special outfits such as military and police officers, prosecutors and judges, but with the current tendencies in government and Parliament one can easily say that those details are likely to be ironed out in a matter of weeks or months. We could see Turkish women with headscarves as military officers or judges soon.

It is also possible to see mayors with headscarves following the March 30, 2014 local elections and it is possible that there will be more headscarved deputies in Parliament, especially on the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) list. There are already whispers in the corridors of Parliament that those four vanguards of the headscarf would stand higher chances than their uncovered colleagues at the AK Parti in the next general elections, expected to take place in 2015. There are speculations in the Turkish media that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan is mentoring his daughter Sümeyye Erdoğan - a well-educated, sharp and young lady - to continue as his political heir.

It is good that Turkish politics has gotten rid of this problem, not only because it was against the principles of equal opportunity and freedom, but also it has been used to divert public attention from other fields of freedoms and rights by some members of the AK Parti since 2002. For example, positive discrimination for women in politics by providing minimum quota requirements was never possible, with the excuse that the competition would only be open for women with no headscarves. Now it is time to test that, but not only that.

In her address to Parliament in the session when headscarf wearing was liberated on Oct. 31, Şafak Pavey, a deputy for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), reminded the ruling party that it was their duty to protect the rights of women wearing mini-skirt as well. She was trying to make the point that secular, uncovered women of Turkey would not be discriminated negatively from now on and would not be subjected to social pressure, tolerated by the government. Having lost an arm and a leg in an accident, she was refused the right to wear trousers in the general assembly by the AK Parti group on the basis that it was against the dress code of Parliament for women. The headscarf is now free for women MPs now, but trousers are not.

Pavey also pointed out in her speech the issue of equal rights for religious beliefs. There are many citizens of the Alevi faith, millions of them, who want their worship places, called Cemevi, to be recognized as being as legitimate as a mosque, church, or a synagogue. But the Religious Affairs Directorate, run by the government and with taxes paid by Alevis too, denies that it is a faith of its own. For the Directorate, Alevism is a subculture of Islam and Alevis should go to mosques.

From the freedom of press to the criminal code, which has led to dozens of writers and journalists ending up in jail on terrorism charges, to European Union standard labor rights, there are many test items waiting in front of the government now. It is up to Erdoğan and his government to prove to their own citizens and international allies that they are not only “Muslim for themselves,” as a Turkish proverb goes. It is now time to prove that they are sincere in their act for freedoms for all sectors of society.