The Swiss voted on Sunday by a narrow majority in favor of the ban on concealing the face, a signal against radical Islam according to its supporters, a xenophobic and sexist initiative for others.
The text, initially proposed by the right-wing populist party UDC, obtained 51.21% of the vote and a majority of the cantons, according to official results published by the federal government.
He was supported by feminists and part of the secular left voters.
“We are delighted. We do not want there to be radical Islam in our country, ”said SVP Switzerland President Marco Chiesa on the Blick.tv channel.
The text does not refer to the burqa – a large piece of fabric that covers from head to toe and fitted with a mesh slit at eye level – or the niqab, which completely covers the body and face with the exception of the eyes, but the campaign posters left no doubt about the purpose of the referendum.
By voting against the wearing of the full veil in the public sphere, Switzerland joins France, Austria, Bulgaria, Belgium and Denmark, after years of debate.
It will therefore now be prohibited to completely cover the face in public – which also applies to hooded demonstrators – but exceptions are provided for places of worship, for example.
The Swiss also voted in favor of a trade agreement with Indonesia (51.65%) but largely rejected the introduction of a federal electronic identity managed by the private sector (64.36% for no) .
The yes risks “trivializing the xenophobic and racist atmosphere” against Muslim women, declared Myriam Mastour, member of the Les Foulards Violets collective and of the feminist strike on the public channel RTS. On the other hand, she is delighted with the small difference between the yes and the no, while the first polls gave the initiative of the SVP largely favorite.
According to opponents, wearing the full veil is not a subject in Switzerland, where it is estimated that only a few dozen women dressed in this way, generally converts. It is above all rich tourists that we see dressed in this way frequenting the chic boutiques of Geneva or Zurich.
This result, “it is a huge relief”, said Mohamed Hamdaoui, member of the Bernese Grand Council and founder of the “A face discovered” campaign at the ATS agency. “This vote is indicative of an awareness,” according to this member of the PS, who claims to be a secular Muslim. It was “the opportunity to say stop to Islamism” and not “to Muslims, who obviously have their place in this country”, he stressed.
“The ban on the full-face veil is not a measure aimed at the liberation of women. On the contrary, it is a dangerous symbolic policy that violates freedom of expression and religion, ”accuses Cyrielle Huguenot, head of women’s rights at Amnesty International Switzerland, quoted in a press release.
According to figures from the 2019 Statistical Office, around 5.5% of the Swiss population is Muslim, mostly with roots in the former Yugoslavia, hence this sartorial tradition is absent.
The federal government and parliament opposed this measure.
In 2009, the Swiss had already voted to ban the construction of minarets on mosques, provoking anger in Muslim countries and the approval of European nationalist parties.
The initiative is popular with a large majority of the cantons. Only four cantons said no: Geneva, Graubünden, Basel-City and Appenzell Ausserrhoden.