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Wednesday, July 21, 1999



By Levent Basturk

Historical Background

Until 1946, the Republic of Turkey, established in 1923 under the leadership of the Western oriented elite, was being ruled under an authoritarian regime, in which one political party, the People’s Republican Party (RPP) was dominating the politics. From 1946 to the late 1960s, religious segments in Turkey preferred to vote for central right political parties rather than having their own party. As early as 1966, some Islamic oriented members of parliament from the ruling Justice Party (JP) and the New Turkey Party began to advocate the formation of a new political party. They were thinking that central right parties looked at religious segments as an element to gain more votes. On the other side, religious segments could not get a fair representation within these parties. Necmettin Erbakan, a professor of mechanical engineering became the leader of this group of parliamentarians although he was not a member of the Parliament.

Erbakan and his team initially planned to gain more power within the ruling JP and the Union of Chambers, instead of starting a political party. In 1968, Erbakan was elected to the leadership of the Union of Chambers with the support of small merchants and middle income businessmen. During his chairmanship, he became a target of big businessmen and industrialists whom he labeled as "comprador-mason minority that try to make the Union of Chambers work as their tool." As a result, with the pressure of the Istanbul and Izmir Chambers of Commerce, the Ministry of Commerce removed Erbakan from his position.

Erbakan and some of his friends wanted to participate into the elections of 1969 from the JP list. Nevertheless, Suleyman Demirel, the JP leader and the present President of Turkey, vetoed Erbakan’s candidacy. Because it was too late to establish a new party to participate into elections of 1969, Erbakan and his friends organized a movement called the "Movement of Independents" and run in the elections as independent candidates. Among them, Erbakan was the only one elected as the member of the Parliament.

After failed attempts to be organized within the Union of Chambers and the JP, Erbakan and his friends established the National Order Party (NOP) on January 26, 1970. Then two members of the parliament resigned from the JP and participated to the NOP. Thus, the NOP had three seats in the new parliament. Among the 18 founding members, lawyers and engineers constituted the majority.

The NOP was the first serious attempt of Islamic oriented segments to establish their own party through their educated elite who thought that Islamic identity should be represented in the Parliament as independent from other interests. The NOP took its place in the Turkish party politics as a movement that transformed religious identity into a political identity in a multi-party political environment. The NOP never had a chance to participate into elections. It was banned on May 20, 1971 by the Constitutional Court, following the military intervention of March 12, 1971, on the grounds that the Party’s program and goals violated some provisions of the Law of Political Parties forbidding the use of religion for political purposes, defending of secular character of the state and refusing establishment of any political party based upon religious principles.

In the NOP’s place, the National Salvation Party (NSP) was founded on October 11, 1972 under the leadership of Suleyman Arif Emre. On May 16, 1973, Erbakan officially became the leader of the NSP and led the Party’s election campaign for the 1973 elections.

The NSP participated in two general elections. In 1973, it gained 11.8 percent of total valid votes casted and forty-eight seats out of 450 in the National Assembly. In 1977, it received only 8.6 percent of votes and twenty-four seats. In both elections, the NSP emerged as the third largest party in terms of the size of parliamentary delegation and took part in three coalition governments between 1973 and 1980. The NSP was suppressed following the military takeover of September 12, 1980 by a decree of the National Security Council.

Although the NSP (and NOP) appealed all religious segments of all different social groups, its image in the beginning was that of a movement that brought together peripheral middle class (Anatolian small merchants and industrialists) and middle class professionals who had secular educational background and small town origin. The NOP and NSP also emerged as a political organization that had support of the Naqshibandi brotherhood and the Risale-Nur movement founded by Said Nursi.

After military junta allowed the establishment of political parties, the Welfare Party (WP) was established on July 19, 1983 as a continuation of the NOP-NSP line of politics. The WP was not able to participate into the general elections of 1983 because of vetoes on the names given to the Ministry of Interior as the founding members of the party. Ahmet Tekdal led the WP from 1983 to 1987. During this period, the WP participated into the local elections of 1984 and partial parliamentary elections of 1986. In these elections, the WP could only get 4.4 percent and 5.0 percent respectively.

After the referendum that removed the ban over political leaders of the pre-1980 period, Necmettin Erbakan took over the WP’s leadership. Erbakan led his party in the 1987 early elections. In these elections, the WP gained 7.16 percent of votes, but could not get any seats because of the 10 percent national threshold.

The local elections of 26 March 1989 were the starting point in the rise of the WP during the 1990s. The WP gained 9.0 percent of votes and the WP candidates became mayors in some city centers. The WP participated into October 20, 1991 general elections by making an alliance with two small parties and gained 16.2 percent of total votes. From 1991 to 1995, the WP was represented into parliament with forty parliamentarians. The WP’s good election performance continued in the 1994 local elections and 1995 general elections. In March 1994 local elections, the WP gained 19 percent of votes and more mayoral positions than other parties in city centers. In the December 1995 elections, the WP emerged as the strongest party with 21.3 percent of total votes and 158 seats in the parliament. On June 28,1996, the WP was able to form a coalition government with the True Path Party (TPP). For the first time in its history, an Islamist Prime Minister began to lead the most secularist country of the Muslim World, the Republic of Turkey. However, yielding to the pressures by the military, the WP-led coalition government resigned on June 18, 1997. Moreover, the WP, accused of being a focal point of anti-secular activities, and its leader Necmettin Erbakan was banned from the politics with the decision of the Court of Constitution on January 16, 1998.

The Virtue Party (VP) was established to take the place of the WP on December 17, 1997. Under the leadership of Recai Kutan, The VP participated into the local and general elections of April 18, 1999 and showed a decrease of 5.9 percent in votes over the WP vote in 1995 by gaining 14.4 percent of total votes. Its performance in local elections was slightly better than the parliamentary elections. Despite the decline in its votes, the VP is the third biggest party in the Turkish parliament.

The Vision, Goal, and Strategy of the National Outlook Movement

The most important accomplishment of the movement was its ability to become a mechanism that carried demands of religious segments into the public realm in a country where religion and religious segments were suppressed since the 1920s.

The political vision of the NOP-NSP-WP line of politics was called National Outlook (Milli Gorus) which was built upon a particular reading of Muslim history and Western influence in the world. According to the National Outlook, the Muslim World has experienced a moral and material decline for several centuries although it used to be more advanced than the West in administrative, military, scientific, and technical fields. The basic source of this greatness was the moral and spiritual strength derived from the nation’s faith (iman). The present backwardness of Turkey in every realm was caused by the blind imitation of Western values and inappropriate Western technology by the Western oriented elite who made the country a satellite to the West. In order to create a glorious future again, Turkey must realize the right and consistent blending and synthesis of moral-spiritual and material development. In order to realize that, the Turks must embrace moral and spiritual (Islamic) consciousness with a distinguished historical mission in order to be a great power again like what the Ottoman Empire used to be. In other words, the National Outlook, which represents truth (haqq), provided an outline in order to return to origins of the nation and to build a new civilization as an alternative to materialistic Western worldviews, which have always represented false (batil).

The National Outlook promised the realization of moral-spiritual and material development based upon these principles:

1) brotherhood of all citizens of the country;

2) the fusion of the nation and the state;

3) the freedom of thought and belief to provide supremacy of the morality and spirituality;

4) planned process of moral and material progress;

5) the establishment of the Just Order (Adil Duzen) as an economic and political model;

6) fast and steady national development;

7) prosperity for everyone and the abolition of interest;

8) realization of heavy industrialization;

9) development with internal sources rather than with foreign borrowing;

10) National Defense Industry and foreign policy with honor;cooperation among Muslim nations;

11) not a satellite Turkey, but a morally and materially developed greater Turkey again.

Relationship with Muslim nations occupies an important part of the National Outlook. Erbakan emphasized on five great steps toward realizing cooperation between Muslim countries:

1) establishment of the Organization of Muslim United Nations to end the Zionist conspiracy against the Muslims;

2) establishment of the Muslim Defense Organization;

3) Formation of a Muslim Common Market;

4) common currency among Muslim nations;

5) establishment of Muslim countries’ Organization of Cultural Cooperation.

When these five steps are realized, Muslim countries will achieve the capacity to resist against imperialism and Zionism. In contrast to the Westerners, founded on an order of oppression, which regards the power superior, Muslims must achieve mentioned goals above to establish the Just Order, or the Order of happiness (saadet), which regards the Truth superior. Under these circunstances, the task for Turkey in a changing world is to have the leadership of the Just Order against imperialism and Zionism.

It is obvious that an Ottomanist approach prevails in Erbakan’s foreign policy outlook. To him, Turkey will be the leader of this mission because geographical, historical, and developmental level between Muslim nations requires this leadership. In this context, Erbakan’s view can be interpreted as the creation of the Pax-Ottomana. In addition to the Ottomanism, as noticed in the brief summary above, Third Worldism (economic and political nationalism), developmentalism (modernism), and religious revivalism (Islamism) are three major elements of the National Outlook.

Although the NOP, NSP, and WP presented continuity, the VP’s vision differs from its predecessors. The VP tries to present an image of a liberal, democratic, and conservative party that wants to reform political system by expanding the realm of political freedoms. Anti-imperialist and Pan-Islamist rhetoric of the National Outlook was replaced with the one that supports cooperation with the West, encourages the membership into the European Union, and satisfies with the friendly relations with the Muslim World. There is no doubt that this stance of the VP was mostly affected by their fear of being closed down like its predecessors. On the other side, the recent influence of liberal democratic ideas on religious segments, especially among intellectuals, should not be ignored as a contributing factor in the political vision the VP presents.

In order to achieve its political goals, the National Outlook movement has always preferred to act within the boundaries of law and political system. Therefore, it developed a strategy formulated in terms of preparation for the coming elections. Its main goal has been to come to power through democratic elections and re-structure political system from within. Although the leadership of the National Outlook did not hide their admiration of the Iranian Revolution, they did not opt for a revolutionary change. Since their strategy was formulated on winning the elections, they emphasized on two things:

a) mobilization of all registered party members, and

b) gaining some more members. Since such a strategy required a dynamic organization, a nationwide grass-roots party organization was established to provide this dynamism.

Accomplishments and Shortcomings of the Movement

The most important accomplishment of the National Outlook Movement was its ability to become a mechanism that carried demands of religious segments into the public realm in a country where religion and religious segments were suppressed since the 1920s. With the emergence of the movement in the Turkish political arena, the Muslim identity also gained a political identity. Moreover, it became a connection and channel of information between Muslims in Turkey and other parts of the world. The ignorance among the Turkish Muslims about Muslims of other countries, caused by the Republican policies, largely disappeared as a result of the influence of the
National Outlook movement.

Second, within three decades, the movement has been transformed from being a small political party to a mass political party that became one of the major political force in the country.

Third, it was able to bring different social and cultural forces together with its emphasis on Muslim brotherhood. Despite all pressures, the VP, as the last political organization of the National Outlook Movement, is still the only political force capable of representing all suppressed and repressed social and cultural elements in the society if right decisions are made.

Fourth, the party gained the appreciation of the people with its honest, efficient, and productive services in local governments in many different areas.

Fifth, during its eleven months in the government, the party was successful to implement some economic policies which ended up reducing the level of inflation, increasing the income level of civil servants and workers, and creating alternative sources for revenue.

Sixth, with the D-8 project, which brought Turkey, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Egypt together, Erbakan had shown that alternative formations are possible for Muslim countries in the international political and economic affairs.

Like every political movement, the National Outlook movement is not exempted from any shortcomings.

The most major shortcoming of the National Outlook Movement was the gap between the puritanist-moralist rhetoric of the movement and its political realism in its actions. The leaders of the movement have always been subjects of criticism due to this gap. Especially, the establishment of the coalition government led by the WP with the TPP is one of the major examples the inconsistency of the moralist rhetoric and realist action.

Second major shortcoming of the National Outlook Movement was the unresolved tension between being a political movement with an agenda and being a political party that tries to attract large masses to come to the power. Being a political movement requires strict group solidarity and identity while being a political party requires a looser identification and more flexibility. This unresolved tension has always constituted an obstacle in front of the movement in terms of being more comprehensive.

Third, on some occasions, National Outlook Movement failed to compromise the conflicting interests of the different social groups it represented. As a result of this, the NSP lost its votes in 1973 and the VP in 1999 in the Eastern and Middle Anatolia and the WP and VP lost the Kurdish votes in 1991 and 1999.

Fourth, the National Outlook movement did not pay much attention to the political realities of the world when it developed its political discourse and, most of the time, it expressed its goals and vision in an exaggerated language. Its revolutionary discourse, its moderate strategy, and its political actions in governments constituted a lot of contradictions in many occasions.

Fifth, although the National Outlook Movement has shown great success in mobilizing its human resources in elections (except the elections of 1999), it failed in providing channels of participation within the party. An aged leadership cadre has controlled the party for three decades without any serious attempt to consult to party’s support base. Channels of upward mobility and criticism within the party were remained limited.

* This article was published aproximately six years ago. Therefore, it doesn't include recent developments. In order to bring all my previous writings together, I re-posted it here without revising and updating its content.

Previously published by The Message International