Division Among Turkey's Islamists Inevitable

Category: World Affairs Topics: Government And Politics, Necmettin Erbakan, Turkiye Views: 1080

A ban on Turkey's pro-Islamic Virtue Party last week will speed up its dissolution, widely expected due to a long-standing rift between its "traditionalist" and pro-reform "modernist" factions, analysts said.

Division is likely to weaken political Islam in the mainly Muslim but strictly secular Turkey, which has managed to stay on its feet since the 1970s despite clampdowns by the pro-Western elite, led by the powerful military.


Some call the reformists "the Muslim democrats," while others say their party will not have a religious flavor and will instead seek a broad electoral base in the center-right.


"With or without a ban, the modernists will establish a new party. This is for sure. They had separated their ways a long time ago," Rusen Cakir, a journalist specializing in Islamist movements, said.

And Abdullah Gul, a leading Virtue reformist, confirmed in a newspaper interview published last Friday that "we have completed all preparations" to set up a new party.

"It will not be long before we come out," he told Milliyet.

The cracks in Virtue's ranks emerged over the influence Necmettin Erbakan, the banned mentor of political Islam in Turkey, wields over the party behind the scene and culminated in a "modernist" challenge to the chairmanship of Recai Kutan, an Erbakan loyal, at a party convention last year.

The "modernists" have stressed the need to address a broader electorate instead of appealing only to pious voters with Erbakan-style Islamic rhetoric that have often attracted the ire of the generals.

They have criticized Virtue's failure as the main opposition party to put forward alternative solutions to Turkey's problems and advocated an overhaul to the country's ailing political system, seen at the core of recent economic woes.

The new movement should promote transparency, honesty and pluralism, says Gul, a pro-Western moderate.

The "modernist" rebellion is a blow to Erbakan, Turkey's first Islamist prime minister, who has been widely seen as Virtue's shadow leader.

A military-led campaign forced Erbakan to step down in 1997 after just a year in power. Erbakan's Welfare Party was subsequently outlawed and Erbakan banned from politics.

Virtue's split will mark the breakup of Turkey's Islamist political movement, which has remained influential in the past several decades under Erbakan's leadership despite bans and coups, said Ali Bayramoglu from the daily Sabah.

Some call the reformists "the Muslim democrats," while others say their party will not have a religious flavor and will instead seek a broad electoral base in the center-right.

Istanbul's popular former mayor, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is widely seen as the driving force behind the splinter movement even though he was banned from politics in 1998 for inciting religious hatred by publicly reciting a poem with pro-Islamic messages.

A former Erbakan aide, Erdogan has recently drawn attention with frequent public appearances, but his legal status remains controversial.

Erdogan's lawyers were examining the books to prove he can make a political comeback, and according to media reports are arguing that his ban was actually abolished within the scope of an amnesty law passed in December.

About 50 of Virtue's 102 MPs are likely to join the planned new party.

The remaining deputies are expected to form a religion-based party of their own or move to the existing parties in parliament.


Sibel Utku writes for AFP from Ankara, Turkey.

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: Government And Politics, Necmettin Erbakan, Turkiye
Views: 1080

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