Confused by the Veil

On July 23 millions of Turks will wake up into a new, post-elections Turkey. What will happen is hard to foresee.

Turkish politics is full of surprises that only foreigners find surprising . Today, and this seems to surprise most people outside Turkey, it is women, not men, who are at the heart of political debate. Indeed, in these elections the number of women candidates from all parties has visibly increased and so has female political overall activism.

This election is taking place because when the AKP party, the conservative party now in power, designated Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul as its candidate for president, the country’s secular elite cringed. Gul was not the issue; the issue was his wife. Had Gul been chosen as president, Turkey would have had its first headscarf wearing First Lady.

Gul’s wife’s headscarf was interpreted as the symbol of darker changes to come. If the First Lady wears a headscarf, maintained the secular-minded elite, the whole secular system could be undermined.