Erbakan: The Islamist political icon

March 3, 2011 - 0:0

One of the most colorful personalities in Turkish politics, Necmettin Erbakan will be remembered as the person who established political Islam in Turkey under the name “National View” and mentored key figures who later came to power.

Erbakan, who died Sunday at the age of 84, was a key figure in a 50-year political period that saw three military coups. During that era, he served a term in prison, was banned from politics in the 1980s and returned as prime minister in 1996 before being forced to step down with the Feb. 28, 1997, “post-modern coup.”
Though his time as prime minister was short, the rule of Erbakan’s Islamist-led coalition government paved the way for the current ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, to come to power five years later.
“Despite the obstacles created by the system, they finally came to power through
[Erbakan’s] stubborn and combatant political understanding. His political method was to surround the system he was fighting against and take over. Even if he could not do it, his students achieved it using the path he created,” political analyst Rucen Çakir told the private channel NTV on Sunday.
“He introduced political Islam to Turkey,” Sedat Bozkurt, a journalist who has closely followed Erbakan and other Islamic politicians, told NTV. “However, the political Islam applied in Turkey differed from the others. One of its elements was Turkish nationalism.”
Engineering politics
Born in Sinop in 1926, Erbakan graduated from the all-male Istanbul High School, and received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Istanbul Technical University. His academic success led him to Germany, where he won attention in scientific circles for his work on diesel motors. Upon returning to Turkey, he was selected as the head of the Turkish Union of Chambers. His political career started in 1969, when he became the independent Konya deputy in Parliament. He formed the National View’s first party, the National Order Party, in January 1970. The party was closed in 1971 for being “against secularism.”
Erbakan then formed the National Salvation Party, or MSP, in 1972, and got 48 deputies in Parliament with 12 votes during the 1973 elections. The party took third place in consecutive elections in 1973 and in 1977 to join coalition governments. Erbakan was deputy prime minister in 1974, when the Turkish military intervened in Cyprus. But his party was shut down by the same army in 1980 after the Sept. 12 coup and Erbakan was imprisoned in Zincirbozan Prison along with other politicians.
He was banned from politics in 1987 and then elected as the leader of the Welfare Party, or RP, which was established by his aides in 1983. In the 1991 elections, the party entered Parliament with 40 deputies after forming an alliance with the People’s Party, or MP.
Trouble for the Welfare Party
In the elections of 1995, the RP became the first party to get 21 percent of votes and Erbakan formed a coalition government with Tansu Çiller, leader of the True Path Party, or DYP. Among his Cabinet members were Abdullah Gül, Abdüllatif Sener and Bülent Arinç, all of whom are still on the political scene.
One of the first moves Erbakan initiated was the formation of an international organization with major Muslim countries, known as D-8. Damaging statements on secularism made by party officials at a dinner hosted at the Prime Ministry drew negative reactions from the military, which culminated in its ouster of Erbakan’s government in 1997.
The decisions made by the National Security Council, or MGK, were also signed by Erbakan, who had to step down from the government. His party was closed in 1998 and he was banned from politics for five years.
“His death just a day before Feb. 28 is very meaningful. Feb. 28 was a coup d’état. Where are those who plotted this coup, and what are they thinking now? His students were born out of his ashes,” Çakir said.
Nazli Ilacak, a journalist who was very close to Erbakan, said he was subjected to many unfair attitudes during his political life. “But the cadres he instructed have now become the power,” she said.
For journalist Taha Akyol, the significance of Erbakan was his success in turning the political Islamic movements into an element of parliamentary politics.
Felicity follows Virtue
The Virtue Party was formed in December 1997, before the decision regarding the disassociation of the Welfare Party was announced. Erbakan had the party set up, and left it to his closest friend Recai Kutan, who got the party in Parliament during the 1999 elections, with the first female deputy in the history of Turkish politics to wear a headscarf. That caused major debate and ended with the Virtue Party being shut down as well.
In 2001, the National View that he built was divided. In a move to re-organize and modernize the political Islamic movement in Turkey, Erdogan, Gül and other associates went their own way and set up the AKP. After the division Erbakan instructed Kutan to set up the Felicity Party, with Erbakan becoming party leader in 2003. He was banned from politics later on and had to step down, but continued as leader from behind the scenes. On Oct. 17, Erbakan returned as the leader of the Felicity Party.
The “lost trillion case”
Another important development that made Erbakan hit the headlines was a case known as the “lost trillion case,” in which he was sentenced March 6, 2002, to two years and four months in prison for “forgery of personal documents.” He was pardoned by President Gül from his house arrest, but resigned as leader of the Felicity Party in 2004.
Erbakan was a well-dressed leader, with his expensive Versace ties and five-star Ramadan dinners during his coalition government period a target for criticism at one time.
(Source: Hurriyetdailynews