The Swiss government today urged voters to reject a proposal in a March 7 referendum to ban Muslim women from wearing face-covering headgear such as the burqa and niqab, arguing that this would deal a heavy blow to tourism.
Under the system of direct democracy in Switzerland, any proposal to change the Constitution is put to a referendum if its supporters collect more than 100,000 signatures. In 2009, Swiss voters voted in favor of banning the construction of new minarets.
The Cantons of St. Gallen and of Ticino have already banned full-face veils in local referendums but the Swiss government stated that a nationwide constitutional ban was not a good idea.
“Very few in Switzerland wear full face masks,” the government said in a statement.
“A nationwide ban would undermine cantonal sovereignty, affect negatively tourism and not help specific groups of women,” it said.
Most women who wear full-face veils are tourists and spend limited time in the country, according to the announcement.
Montreux and other destinations around Lake Geneva, such as Interlaken in central Switzerland, have traditionally attracted some Muslim tourists, mostly from the rich Arab Gulf states.