ANKARA, (Reuters) – Turkish President Abdullah Gul said on Friday he backed the Islamist-rooted government’s proposal to lift a ban on the wearing of the Islamic headscarf in universities, a move opposed by the secular elite.
“Universities should not be places of political controversy, beliefs should be practised freely at universities,” Gul, a former foreign minister in the ruling AK Party government, told a conference in his home town Kayseri.
As head of state, Gul is expected to be neutral in political disputes but his support for the government on the headscarf issue is no surprise, given his past in political Islam.
Last year the secular elite, which includes army generals and judges, tried to block Gul’s election as president because of his past and the fact his own wife wears the headscarf.
The crisis forced Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, a close ally of Gul, to call early parliamentary elections that their AK Party won resoundingly.
The popular pro-business, centre-right AK Party and a key opposition party agreed on Thursday to cooperate to lift the ban on women students wearing headscarves in universities.
The secular elite views the ban as vital for the separation of state and religion in the mainly Muslim but secular country.
The secularists accuse the AK Party of plotting to boost the role of Islam in Turkey, a claim Erdogan and his party deny.
The AK Party insists that wearing the headscarf is a matter of personal freedom in a country where two-thirds of women cover their heads. Opinion polls show strong public support for lifting the ban.