Mrs. Gul: the lady in the eye of the storm

Hayrunnisa Gul, poised to become Turkey's first lady today, is a cheerful and elegant woman who avoids the spotlight, but the Islamic headscarf that covers her head has made her the bete noire of hardline secularists.

Mrs. Gul: the lady in the eye of the storm

Hayrunnisa Gul, poised to become Turkey's first lady today, is a cheerful and elegant woman who avoids the spotlight, but the Islamic headscarf that covers her head has made her the bete noire of hardline secularists.

A devout person who prays five times a day, the 42-year-old wife of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, virtually certain to be elected president Tuesday, says that her headscarf, hated by opponents as a symbol of defiance of the secular system, is a personal choice that should be respected.

Her headcover is one of the main objections opponents have raised to Gul's presidential bid, which sparked a severe political crisis earlier this year, pitting the Islamist-rooted government against the staunchly secularist military and polarised society.

With the headscarf banned in government offices and universities in Turkey, it is hard for secularists to swallow her ascent to the presidential palace, the highly symbolic home of Turkey secularist founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

As wife of the foreign minister, Mrs. Gul travelled to dozens of countries and says that the only place her headscarf has caused trouble is at home.

She insists her devotion to Islam does not keep her from being modern and she rejects the restrictions imposed on women in other Muslim countries.

"My scarf covers my head, not my brain," she once said.

"I used to drive Abdullah to work and the children to school," she said. "I cannot imagine living in a country where women cannot drive."

But for hardline secularists, Mrs. Gul remains a strong defender of the headscarf, which, they say, represents regression from the sweeping reforms Ataturk introduced.

In 2002, she filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after Ankara University refused to enroll her because of her dress.

She withdrew her complaint after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002 and her husband became a minister.

"Once the problem is solved, I do want to go to university," she said later. "I still think of it even at my age."

Gul's presidency would make Hayrunnisa the lady of a house from which she has so far been barred.

Despite protests that he was going too far, outgoing President Ahmet Necdet Sezer refused to invite women wearing the Islamic headscarf to receptions at the presidential palace, thus snubbing most AKP wives, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spouse, Emine.

Gul's daughter Kubra, 22, also covers up.

But unlike her mother, she went to university — though she wore a wig over her headscarf.


AFP

Last Mod: 28 Ağustos 2007, 19:32
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