Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Erbakan Funeral Recalls an Earlier Era

AA Photo from Hurriyet Daily News

Former prime minister Necmettin Erbakan was buried today. Though they have significantly changed their views since, many AKP figures were students of the former Islamist leader, who was removed in power in Turkey's 1997 postmodern coup. A bit of background from my first post:
Shortly after Turkey’s last coup in 1997 (the 'post-modern' coup), Turkey’s Constitutional Court closed Erbakan's Refah Party (RP)and banned from politics its prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan, along with other Refah politicians (including Erdoğan who was then the mayor of İstanbul). RP was widely feared when it came to power in 1994's municipal elections and then entered parliament with a plurality of the vote in the next parliamentary elections. The party's ideology was an amalgam of political Islam and anti-imperialism and never did it espouse liberal democratic ideals. It was authoritarian to its core, anti-EU, and paid little heed to the concept of personal liberty.
Although the party moderated its radicalism once in parliament, it did so because it had to in order to maintain the coalition it had formed with the center-right. Despite this moderation, Erbakan was subject to a deluge of criticism when he made state visits to Iran and Libya, seeking to influence foreign policy, traditionally the domain of the president. Further, he urged children to attend religious schools, proposed the construction of mosques in secular centers, and most importantly, failed to control RP municipal authorities who began to pass very restrictive laws, shutting down cinemas, lingerie stores, and restaurants that refused to close their door during Ramazan.
Following the dissolution of RP, many of its members re-organized and established the Virtue Party (Fazilet Partisi—FP) in 1998. FP was in many ways a continuation of RP and although posting a strong showing following elections in 1999, faced problems soon after resulting from internal divisions among more Islamist sectors in the party and those who began to identify themselves as reformers. Erdoğan and Gül are members of the reform group and it is this group which formed AKP in 2001 just after the Constitutional Court’s closure of FP. Although some of the more radical actors within RP and FP entered AKP, Erdoğan dismissed with many of them upon coming to power.

Following the collapse of a divided parliament in early 2002, AKP swept to power in elections held in November that year. The party won a surprising 34 percent of the vote—enough to capture an absolute majority in Parliament. AKP's victory seems to have had more to do with reform than Islam. This is indicated by the losses of truly Islamist parties in 2002 and the years that followed. In contrast to AKP, the Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi—SP) was formed by the faction of more Islamist FP members and did quite poorly in the 2002 elections.
The SP is still a minor player in Turkish politics, and received a lot of attention last summer when the party sought to capitalize off of the Gaza flotilla incident. Erbakan lost control of the party soon after when the party's leadership chose not to elect his family members to the party congress. Though most of the AKP leadership has long ago drifted from Erbakan's National Outlook ideology, a synthesis of old-school Turkish nationalism and Islam, Erbakan's ideas remain part of AKP's history. His prime ministership will certainly be remembered as an important time for Turkish politics.

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