Switzerland will follow France, Belgium and Austria after narrowly voting in a referendum to ban women from wearing the burqa or niqab in public spaces.
Just over 51% of Swiss voters cast their ballots in favour of the initiative to ban people from covering their face completely on the street, in shops and restaurants.
Full facial veils will still be allowed to be worn inside places of prayer and for “native customs”, such as carnival.
Face coverings worn for health and safety reasons are also exempt from the ban, meaning face masks worn because of the Covid-19 pandemic will not be affected by the new law.
Switzerland’s parliament and the seven-member executive council that constitutes the country’s federal government opposed the referendum proposal. They argued that full facial veils represented a “fringe phenomenon”, and instead proposed an initiative that would force people to lift their facial coverings when asked to confirm their identity to officials.
Muslim groups have criticised the ban. “This is clearly an attack against the Muslim community in Switzerland. What is aimed here is to stigmatise and marginalise Muslims even more,” said Ines Al Shikh, a member of Les Foulards Violets, a Muslim feminist collective.
“This symbolic policy is directed against female and male Muslims,” said the Swiss Federation of Islamic Umbrella Organisations in a statement. “But it also damages the whole of Switzerland, which has undermined its own values by accepting the initiative.”
An alliance of hoteliers and tourism professionals from the Berne and Geneva regions also opposed the ban on the basis that it would reduce the number of visitors from Arab countries.
“A burqa ban would damage our reputation as an open and tolerant tourism destination,” said Nicole Brändle Schlegel of the HotellerieSuisse umbrella organisation.
Supporters of the ban argue that it also intended to stop violent street protesters and football hooligans wearing masks, and that the referendum text does not explicitly mention Islam or the words “niqab” or “burqa”….[ ]