Did Erbakan fail? By Muhammad Ali Siddiqi - Sunday, March 13, 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/03/13/did-erbakan-fail.html

DID the engineer-politician-Islamist Necmettin Erbakan, who died in Ankara on Feb 27, fail in his mission? Yes — because he was a bad tactician and the philosophy he propounded was too radical for Turkey; no — because the ideas he stood for gained ground, though in a less radical form.
Erbakan had a political career that spanned half a century. He saw three military coups, formed five parties, four of which were banned by the military, had only a short stint as prime minister, and went to prison on a trumped-up charge of forging personal documents. But he remained true to his creed — ‘national view’.
Erbakan’s Islamist philosophy had a strong Turkish nationalist element to it — something Pakistan’s Islamist parties
totally lack. He brought Islamism into Turkey’s parliamentary politics and formed a new party each time it was banned.
Courageous and devoted to his mission, Erbakan spawned a new generation of Turks, among them President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who now run the country and have turned its economy into Europe’s sixth
biggest and the world’s 17th.
Superb in rhetoric and wit, Erbakan once said: “Love, determination and the national view will make even a male goat give milk!” Yet, in spite of these qualities, why did Erbakan slog through the mud of Turkish politics for no less than five decades and fail to tame the generals, the self-proclaimed guardians of Ataturk’s secular legacy? The answer perhaps lies in lack of pragmatism in his policies and the failure to realise that the military was so well-entrenched in the country’s politics since the founding of the republic in 1923 that it was politically suicidal to confront it head on.
His foreign policy orientation didn’t have the generals’ approval. He created D-8 — eight developing Muslim countries from Nigeria to Indonesia — was a little awkward in foreign policy matters, tried to give “cultural depth” to Turkish foreign policy by attempting to forge closer relations with the Arab world to the south, and failed to reply when during a visit to Libya, Muammar Qadhafi snubbed him on the Kurdish issue. He was ousted by the army in 1997, and never saw power again.
In 2001, matters came to a head, for those who regarded him as their mentor had realised the disastrous effects Erbakan’s lack
of restraint was having on his own mission. The generals, they argued, were not the only ones who stood in the way of civilian control of the state; secularism and pro-military traits had deep roots in the media, bureaucracy, judiciary and all state institutions, and they all could not be defeated in one go. What was required, they argued, was for the Islamists to accept the reality of Turkey’s secular moorings.
The man who wrested the Islamist leadership from Erbakan and formed the Justice and Development Party (AKP) publicly pledged loyalty to secularism. Even though he himself was in prison for a “seditious” poem he wrote, Erdogan’s AKP won a landslide in 2002, and for the first time in nearly two decades Turkey had a single-party government. Despite his Islamist roots, Erdogan didn’t abandon Turkey’s European orientation.
In fact, it was Erdogan who succeeded in having the European Union start membership negotiations. Erdogan also set about chipping away at the power of Turkey’s military-dominated National Security Council and had it turned into an advisory body — and that too on security matters.
His judicial reform like the abolition of the death penalty and political liberalism that led to the restoration of Kurdish cultural rights stemmed directly from his keenness to remove all hurdles in the way of Turkey’s EU membership by conforming to the Copenhagen criteria. This strong, pro-European orientation didn’t prevent the AKP from following a more
assertive foreign policy.
Ankara didn’t cooperate with America in the 2003 invasion of Iraq; at Davos Erdogan walked out of the economic forum after an argument with the Israeli president over the atrocities in Gaza, and relations with Tel Aviv hit a new low when the Israeli commandos attacked the peace flotilla in international waters. On Iran, Turkey opposed American sanctions, and, along with Brazil, clinched a deal with Tehran on uranium enrichment.
Unlike his protégé, Erbakan didn’t demonstrate patience and restraint and repeatedly provoked the generals. More
importantly, he failed to cash in on the strong anti-military sentiments in Turkish middle class voters on both left and right, and this denied him the kind of victory Erdogan won when his AKP secured a two-thirds majority in the very first election it fought after its formation in August 2001. Nevertheless, the rich tributes paid to him by Gul, Erdogan and other AKP members acknowledged his role as their teacher.
There is no indication yet that Turkey is moving away from its European orientation, and the subtle change in Ankara’s foreign policy has less to do with Erbakan’s legacy and more with the gradual shift in the focus of global economic power from the west to the east. Nevertheless, the course the AKP has adopted in policies ranging from Davos to hijab show unmistakably the impact of Erbakan’s Islamist philosophy with a strong nationalist tinge.
Key Istanbul roads were closed as his funeral was thronged with people, with the polarised media lavishing praise or keeping aloof. But all were united in recognising the unrelenting energy and courage of the khoja. Mourning that Turkey had lost “a statesman and a man of politics and science”, President Gul said Erbakan had “left his mark on history”.
The writer is a member of staff.

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