At the end of last week Turkey’s highest court, the Constitutional Court, handed down a judgment which will annul the Justice and Development Party (AKP) led governments ‘headscarf law,’ which was passed in February of this year; and would have enabled young women to wear headscarfs when attending university. I find this very worrying as it may be the first step on a slippery slope leading to a military/judicial coup. The Constitutional Court claimed that it made its judgment because the ‘headscarf law’ violated the Turkish constitution, which stipulates that Turkey must be a secular State. Although I see no evidence of this and the Courts judgment has been controversial; and has been challenged by leading authorities in Turkish jurisprudence.
An AK Party representative Bekir Bozdağ slammed the ruling, saying the top court had violated the Constitution and overstepped its legitimate authority. “The court overstepped the limits set out in Article 148 of the Constitution and violated the constitutional principle that no state institution can use powers not derived from the Constitution,”
Whilst I believe a State, whether Turkey or the UK should be secular, I personally do not believe the secular nature of the Turkish Republic is threatened by young women attending university wearing a head scarf. As a regular visitor to Turkey, it seems to me the wearing of a headscarf is as much a cultural tradition as it is a religious statement, the more so when one takes into account that some two-thirds of Turkish women cover their heads.
I fear this judgment may also embolden the Constitutional Court when later in the year it issues its judgement on whether to ban the AK Party, along with 71 leading party members. These include the current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the democratically elected President of the Republic of Turkey Abdullah Gul, who signed into law the constitutional amendments which would have allowed women to wear headscarves at universities. It is impossible to overlook the fact that the passing of the headscarf law formed an important part of the courts case against the AK Party.
The AK Party gathered just over 47% of the total vote at the last Turkish general election and the ‘headscarf law’ passed through the Turkish parliament with 411 deputies voting in favor and only 103 against. The law was then passed into law by a democratically elected President, Abdullah Gül, thus most democrats, like it or not believe it should become law. However Turkey is still far from a normal democracy and the Turkish General Staff and their creature the main opposition party the Republican People’s Party, (CHP) clearly think otherwise, hence they have allegedly called upon the Constitutional Court to over turn the will of the people as demonstrated at the last general election.
What the Constitutional Court has done by restricting Parliament’s authority, is to act as the arbitrator of all laws that Turkey’s parliamentarians pass. By doing so the Court cannot but undermine the principles of democracy and national sovereignty. As Bekir Bozdağ said, “This decision means any parliamentary activity concerning constitutional changes will be subject to review by the Constitutional Court.”
As always with these things the core of this problem is political and is about crude things like who holds the reigns of power within Turkey, both within Parliament and within the four corners of the Turkish State machine. The newly emerging Anatolian middle classes, who before the rise of the AKP had mainly been excluded from a share of real political power. Or the old Turkish establishment whose power is based on their linage back to Ataturk and who have run the Turkish Republic since its foundation by Mustafa Kemal. Either directly though the CHP or via coalitions with the political representatives of big business and financial conglomerates, many of which were founded by close associates of Ataturk.
As to the working class and the economically poor in the countryside, they are mainly excluded from this debate as indeed they have been from the levers of power within the Turkish Republic. Many Trade Unions and their members are against the constitutional courts judgement, however there are others who feel uneasy about the rise of the AK Party, seeing it as yet another political organization which has no interest in representing their best interest.