By Stuart Williams
ISTANBUL, July 29, 2014 (AFP) – One of the most senior members of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government sparked an outcry on Tuesday after declaring that women should not laugh loudly in public.
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, one of the co-founders of the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), made the comment while lamenting the moral decline of modern society.
“A man should be moral but women should be moral as well, they should know what is decent and what is not decent,” Arinc said in a speech on Monday in the western Bursa region for the Bayram holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting for Muslims.
“She should not laugh loudly in front of all the world and should preserve her decency at all times,” he added.
Turkish women took to social media in droves to denounce Arinc’s comments, posting pictures of themselves deliriously laughing under the hashtags #kahkaha (#laughter) and #direnkahkaha (#resistlaughter) which have now gone viral.
The ruling AKP is accused by critics of seeking to erode Turkey‘s strict separation of religion and state, the basis of the secular republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Arinc went on to denounce a moral degradation that left society awash with drugs and prostitution, and lashed out at popular Turkish soap operas for encouraging lax lifestyles, in comments quoted throughout the Turkish media and online.
He pointed to the use of bonzai, a synthetic drug which has become a craze in some parts of low income Turkish society and is now a serious social problem.
“We have to rediscover the Koran. We have gone backwards, morally,” said Arinc. “We have become a very different society.”
Arinc also said a man should be strongly “tied to his wife and love his children” while a woman should “protect her husband’s honour”.
He denounced the excessive use of cars, saying that if even the “river Nile was filled with petrol”, there wouldn’t be enough to go around.
Arinc also slammed the excessive use of mobile phones in Turkish society, with women “spending hours on the phone to swap recipes”.
Imitating a Turkish woman on her mobile, he said, “‘Is there nothing else going on? What happened to Ayse’s daughter? When’s the wedding?'”
“People should say these things face to face,” he added.
His comments provoked a storm among AKP critics, with political tensions riding high as Erdogan prepares to stand in presidential elections on August 10.
Erdogan’s main rival in the polls, the mild-mannered former head of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, himself took to Twitter to poke fun at Arinc.
“We need to hear the happy laughter of women,” he wrote.
Anti-Erdogan bloggers responded with even greater anger.
“Stop giving us moral lessons and instead count all the money that you have stolen,” wrote one Twitter user, bturkmen, referring to corruption allegations against Erdogan and his circle that surfaced last year.
A pious Muslim who does not drink and whose wife wears the Muslim headscarf, Erdogan has always denied seeking to erode Turkey‘s secular principles.
Anger at the government’s attitudes towards secular Turks erupted into deadly protests that shook Erdogan last year sparked by plans to redevelop a park in Istanbul.