by Tulay Cetingulec
As Turkey grapples with terrorism and myriad social and economic problems, an unexpected controversy has moved on to the country’s crowded agenda. A Jan. 6 directive issued by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu allows public employees to take time off for Friday prayers: “In line with freedom of religious faith, guaranteed by the constitution and related laws, employees of public institutions and establishments who so desire will be given time off for Friday prayer if its time overlaps with working hours without causing a loss in working hours.”
Twitter users were quick to react. Some saw the circular as an affront to the secular system. “Bye bye secularism, bye bye republic, hello Afghanistan!” one user wrote. Another remarked, “Today schools and teachers off for Friday prayer, tomorrow students and soon Friday a full holiday.” Some saw the directive as an attempt by the government to distract from other controversies and problems. “This time they must be trying to distract attention from the Hitler issue and the price hikes,” wrote one person. Others saw the move as putting pressure on less religious employees. “There was already permission for Friday prayer, especially in public offices. Now, those who don’t go will be fingered. Let them not go now if they dare,” one man commented.
Omer Faruk Eminagaoglu, a prominent lawyer petitioned the Council of State, Turkey’s top administrative court, to quash the directive. He argued that the authority to determine working hours belonged not to the prime minister but to the Cabinet. “The purpose here is to flout the secular legal system under the pretext of freedom of faith. Rearranging daily working hours during Ramadan will be brought up next,” asserted Eminagaoglu.
In remarks to Al-Monitor, Eminagaoglu said he was in favor of freedom of religions, but argued that the circular had effectively suspended the unalterable constitutional provision on the Turkish republic’s secular character. He recalled that a similar effort had been turned back in the past by a court ruling later backed by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
“In 1997, the Cabinet issued a decision adjusting working hours during Ramadan to the fast-breaking hours. The arrangement was annulled by the Council of State, and the Constitutional Court deemed it an act contravening the secular system. Objections were then brought before the ECHR, but the ECHR found no irregularity in the [annulment] ruling,” explained Eminagaoglu.
“Not long ago, [female] attorneys were allowed to attend court hearings wearing headscarves. Now, judges have come to wear the headscarf, too. Tomorrow, working hours during Ramadan will be adjusted to the fast-breaking hours despite legal rulings to the contrary. A political and judicial transformation is under way. The latest directive could lead to the blacklisting of those who do not go to prayers,” Eminagaoglu further asserted.
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