[JURIST] Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party and the key opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) [party websites] agreed Thursday to lift a ban on women wearing headscarves [JURIST report] in universities and public offices. The agreement is in response to recent calls [JURIST report] from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [IHT backgrounder] for the government to lift the ban immediately and not wait for a proposed amendment to the constitution [text]. Erdogan has repeatedly called for an end to the ban, saying it effectively denies some Muslim women access to higher education [JURIST report], but Turkish secularists believe that his insistence on ending the ban is a political statement against secular principles. Opponents say the ban on headscarves is necessary to protect the separation of religion and state. The Turkish parliament must vote on lifting the ban, though a date for a vote has not yet been set.
Traditionally worn by Muslim women, headscarves and other forms of religious dress [JURIST news archive] are banned from many public places in modern Turkey, a majority Muslim country despite official secularism. In 2006, a Turkish court acquitted [JURIST report] retired archaeologist Muazzez Ilmiye Cig [personal website] of charges of insulting religion after postulating in her book that headscarves were originally worn before the founding of Islam by ancient Mesopotamian priestesses who initiated young men into sex. The case also drew criticism from the International Association for Assyriology (IAA) [group website; IAA appeal] and from the European Union, which had warned Turkey that its laws infringing freedom of expression may delay its entry into the union. Reuters has more.