Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's proposal to ban cohabitation for male and female students has garnered criticism nationwide. Now, as police reportedly raid women's apartments, even his own party is getting worked up.
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to keep unmarried male and female students from living together. "No one knows what is happening in these living spaces - all manner of dubious activities could be taking place," Erdogan said at a party meeting. "And then the parents complain and ask where the state was. As a conservative and democratic party, we have to intervene."
According to media reports, police raided a student apartment last Saturday (09.11.2013). The Turkish newspaper "Radikal" reported that six police officers searched the apartment of three female students in the Turkish city of Manisa after they'd had male visitors. Police apparently asked whether women and men were cohabiting there, and fined each woman about 32 euros ($43) for disturbing the peace.
Erdogan's statement sparked debate over whether the state should be allowed to intrude into citizens' private lives. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the country's largest opposition party, accused Erdogan of abusing democracy. Devlet Bahceli, head of the nationalist party MHP, also joined in the criticism, "The prime minister should definitely apologize to the innocent students and their families."
But not only the opposition has jumped on the incident - differences are also emerging between Erdogan and Vice Prime Minister Bülent Arinc. Arinc played down Erdogan's statement, saying it was a misunderstanding. In response, Erdogan refused to back down: "I said it and I meant it," he reiterated.
Arinc then publicly criticized Erdogan - something that rarely happens in Turkey. Arinc, a co-founder of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), went so far as to say he didn't want to run on the AKP ticket in the next election. Local elections will take place March 2014, with the presidential vote following; parliamentary elections should happen in 2015.
The context for the debate lies deeper than the current discussion. Arinc had taken a more lenient stance during the Gezi Park protests this summer, apologizing to the protesters for police violence. In contrast, Erdogan took a hard line against the protesters, calling them terrorists and lowlifes. Arinc's governing style has demonstrated itself to be far less authoritarian than that of Erdogan, who continues to try and consolidate his role in the party and state.
Interior Minister Muammer Güler has been a major backer of Erdogan's position on the student cohabitation. Güler said he considers it an opportunity to fight terrorism. "Our research shows that terrorist organizations utilize the relationship between male and female students to gain support from youth in schools and universities," Güler was quoted as saying in Turkish daily "Hürriyet." Güler claimed that such living arrangements allow terrorists to hide.
Aybüke Dündar, a 21-year-old student of education, called this as an excuse. "It's not the first time that a government head has been interested in our private lives," she told DW. But this time, they've gone too far, she added. "We should be able to decide for ourselves, with whom we want to live. In Erdogan's fantasy world, all young men and women are just throwing parties, having sex and getting drunk. Even if that were the case, it's still none of his business."
Keeping private lives private
More personal freedom was among the demands of the demonstrators over the summer, who accused Erdogan's Islamic-conservative government of violations of privacy.
Particularly criticized was the newly enacted alcohol law, which forbade the sale of alcohol after 10 p.m., or within 100 meters of schools and mosques. It was seen by secular Turks as religiously motivated.
Erdogan has also repeatedly expressed a particular conception of family for Turkey, saying each woman should have at least three children "in order to protect the nation."
"Citizens have already shown how they can react when the government curtails their freedoms," Özgür Samlioglu, a 23-year-old student who demonstrated over the summer told DW. "Erdogan shouldn't touch people's privacy. What will he come up with next?"
There are no legal grounds for the state to be examining who might be living together, according to political scientist Cengiz Aktar. "There's nothing on that in the Turkish constitution," Aktar said.
But that could change soon. According to "Hürriyet," Güler has proposed a new law to place student housing under police watch.