Headscarf debate sparked in Belgium after civil servant’s resignation

The resignation of a government representative in Belgium has sparked fresh political debate about Islamic headscarves.

Ishane Haouach, a Belgian-Moroccan woman, stepped down on Friday from her role as a government commissioner at the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men (IEFH).

In justifying her resignation, Haouach said she wanted to “protect herself from cyber harassment” and sexist discrimination.

Haouach added that she had been the target of “incessant personal attacks” since she took up the role six weeks ago.

Opposition groups had questioned her appointment, as Belgium prohibits any civil servant “in contact with the public” from wearing any religious symbol.

But speaking in parliament on Monday, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo defended Haouac and said the university graduate had a “solid CV”.

The Flemish Liberal PM also stated that Haouach was not a public body civil servant and did not violate any federal state regulation.

The issue has divided partners in Belgium’s ruling coalition, including the French-speaking Mouvement Réformateur.

Haouach, the daughter of a Moroccan diplomat, had previously described the ban on wearing religious symbols in Belgium as “discriminatory”. She later said that her comments to the newspaper, Le Soir, were “clumsy”.

Haouach had been appointed to the IEFH by the Ecolo-Green party and its Secretary of State Sarah Schlitz.

On Monday, both PM De Croo and Schlitz had to explain themselves to a parliamentary about a state security memo, which claimed there were “suspicions” of links between Haouach and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Haouach has denied the claims, and the Belgian government has said the memo is “classified” and not linked to her resignation.

According to researchers, between 5% and 7% of the Belgian population are Muslim.

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