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Erdogan’s Latest “Morals Enforcement”

by Veli Sirin

…Regarding mixed-gender student housing at the universities, the main Turkish secular opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, called on Erdogan to specify in greater detail the intent of his admonition. As published in an unsigned news story by Agence France-Presse on November 4, and reposted by the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based Al-Arabiya broadcast network, with the heading, “Erdogan favoring single-sex dorms stirs debate in Turkey,” a CHP representative, Umut Oran, replied sharply to the Erdogan leak. Oran demanded to know, “Do you mean… that you also intend to monitor how students dress, like Iran’s morality police do? Isn’t this an attack on private life?” In parliament, Oran affirmed, “Students are grown-up enough to make decisions about their lives.”

Speaking before the CHP parliamentary group on November 5, the party’s leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu expressed concern that Erdogan’s “real intention is to abolish mixed-sex education.” Kilicdaroglu’s address to CHP deputies, as reported in Hurriyet in an unsigned article the same day, titled “Turkish PM aims to end mixed sex education: Main opposition leader,” dealt mainly with the status of women in Turkey. Kilicdaroglu warned that “violence against women increased 1,400 percent over the past 10 years” of AKP governance, and did not hesitate to call Erdogan “the dictator.”

Kilicdaroglu contended in the same discourse that Erdogan and the AKP seek to “decrease women’s participation in social life. They have revoked women’s rights step by step. Women should liberate themselves from a mentality that aims to lock them in the house.”

According to the Agence France-Presse article reposted in Arab News and noted above, CHP spokesman Haluk Koc said candidly on November 6, “In a democracy, the state cannot play the voyeur. Stick to your own business.”

In his survey of the uproar on Al-Monitor, Cengiz described “a special [AKP] effort recently to separate the dorms for male and female university students. The Youth and Sports Ministry has launched a drive to make sure that male and female dorms are not located on the same campus.”

Cengiz added that after Erdogan expressed disapproval of co-educational university living, the governor of Adana in southern Turkey announced that the prime minister’s opinion was equivalent to an order for him. In the western province of Isparta, a high school was reported in Hurriyet to have imposed gender segregation of boys and girls at lunch.

Erdogan’s posture might encourage discrimination against secular Turks, Cengiz cautioned, with self-appointed morals patrols in neighborhoods and apartment complexes encouraged to interfere with unmarried couples sharing a residence. Cengiz wrote that some building managers appeared to be acting as “religious police.” He cited a notice placed on a building in Istanbul after Erdogan’s exhortation, and reproduced in the daily Radikalon November 5: “Some people in this building are staying together, boys and girls. This is inappropriate for the building and the apartment block. When you see such people, report them to the police.”

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