Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared his intention Wednesday to change the country’s constitution to allow women wearing Muslim head scarves in public universities. The announcement, which came just weeks after Erdogan’s conservative Justice and Development Party oversaw the election of devout Muslim Abdullah Gul to the presidency, alarmed secularists. After the party’s landslide victory in July’s general elections, Erdogan’s commissioned a group of legislators and scholars to rewrite the constitution.
The head scarf has long stood at the center of the ongoing battle between Muslims and secularists over control of Turkish society and government. According to the BBC, secularist leaders, including those in both the military and the judiciary, oppose any measure that would erode the current secular system in Turkey. In April, over a million secular Turks rallied against Gul’s candidacy and anti-Islamist military, which has staged three coups in the past, threatened to intervene.
Turkish university rectors, who met Thursday to strategize on how to oppose the proposed change to the constitution, considered the possibility of taking the issue to the European Court of Human Rights, reports AsiaNews.
Aegean University Rector Mustafa Akaydin called Erdogan’s plans to change the constitution “a civilian coup against modern Turkish women,” and warned that “if the head scarf can be worn at universities, their will be serious pressure mounted against girls not wearing the head scarf.”