Will the scarf bring them together?

The answer to that question is, of course, no it will not. Prime Minister Erdogan and opposition leader Baykal will never ever become political friends, but they seemed to have found some common ground on an issue that has really divided the two men previously: women who cover themselves. Baykal publicly made a few totally covered women from the east of Turkey members of his party, the strictly secular CHP. They used to vote for the AKP, Erdogan’s party which has its roots in political Islam and attracts many devout Muslims, but, said Baykal, they were disappointed in the AKP and had now decided to join the CHP. Of course, he said, our party is open to women who wear the ‘carsaf’ (or chador, the black head-to-toe covering), because they wear it for traditional reasons and they don’t make it into a political issue. The real danger, Baykal added, comes from men in suits and ties. Meaning? Meaning Erdogan and his party, of course, the Muslims who don’t look like Muslims, but who want to turn Turkey into a non-secular state. He didn’t say as much, but the implication was definitely there. And with that, his critics made themselves heard once again, moving the subject from covered women round to defending the secular state. And what did Erdogan say? Did he attack Baykal? No, Erdogan is smarter than that, of course. He encouraged Baykal. Said he was pleased to see that even Baykal now recognizes that there are different groups in society with different needs. Baykal is criticised a lot for his ‘flirtation’ with the covered women, but, says his new ally Erdogan, he shouldn’t let himself get distracted by these critics and should continue on this wise path.
I revel in these sorts of political games, to be honest. And I wonder what the outcome will be. The outcome election-wise, because of course that is, in the end, what this is all really about. Local elections are due in March, and the campaigning promises to be intense and juicy.

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