The collapse of Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme’s five-month-old government coalition on Thursday meant that a ban on full Muslim facial veils expected to be passed in the afternoon has been put off for some time. Just how long is unknown right now — it could come back up for consideration again as early as next week if parliament is not dissolved and new elections called.
The bill due for a vote today received unanimous backing in parliament’s home affairs committee on March 31. The draft law proposed to criminalize wearing clothing that covers all or part of the face, including the facial veil known as the niqab and the full outer garment, or burqa, widely worn in Afghanistan.
It looked like that bill would make Belgium the the first country in Europe to enforce such a ban. If the Belgian parliament doesn’t take it up soon and the country’s political crisis drags on (as can happen there), that distinction could go to France. President Nicolas Sarkozy has spoken out in favour of a complete ban, rather than just one in public service buildings, despite warnings from constitutional experts that it could be illegal. The relevant bill will be presented to the cabinet in May, government spokesman Luc Chatel said on Wednesday.
It emerged on Thursday that the French ban would apply to visiting tourists as well as residents. Junior family minister Nadine Morano said visitors would have to “respect the law” and uncover their faces, prompting critics to speculate whether Saudi luxury shoppers would be forced to unveil themselves on the glitzy Champs-Elysees.