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Refâh Partisi

By:
Binnaz Toprak
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Refâh Partisi

The Turkish Islamist political organization known as the Refâh Partisi (Welfare Party, RP) was established in 1983. It is the heir to two former parties, Millî Nizam Partisi (National Order Party, MNP) and Millî Selamet Partisi (National Salvation Party, MSP), both of which were banned from political activity. All three parties have functioned under the leadership of Necmettin Erbakan.

The Short Life of the MNP.

Millî Nizam Partisi was founded in 1970. Its program emphasized the encouragement of technological innovation, rapid industrialization, and the construction of a moral society. The latter goal would involve the re-creation of a historical consciousness that the party saw as dormant in the national character, yet weakened by republican Westernization. Although the party was careful not to include an explicit Islamist element in its program because of existing legislation that outlawed the use of religion for political purposes, it was nevertheless clear that its ideology and its leadership were inspired by Islamist discourse. The MNP did not get a chance to compete in elections. It was closed down by a decision of the Constitutional Court in 1972, following its first congress, on the grounds that the slogans used by the delegates to the congress violated legal provisions forbidding the inclusion of religious themes in party propaganda.

The MSP Opposes the Republican Model.

The MNP was succeeded by the Millî Selamet Partisi, which was founded in 1972 by the MNP leadership. The MSP's program, like the MNP's, was critical of the republican road to development, which it saw as an asymmetrical course of imitating Western culture without succeeding in attaining the technological and industrial levels of the West. The MSP program pointed out that the re-creation of a powerful nation would require a reinterpretation of history to show that the greatness of the Ottoman Empire lay in its contributions to Muslim civilization, and that its decline started with the penetration of foreign cultural influences. In the MSP's view, the republican infatuation with Western civilization was at the root of the anomie facing family and social life, which were no longer based on morality and faith. Hence the MSP argued that rapid industrial development could not be achieved through the limited vision of the centrist parties that Erbakan colorfully called “members of the Western Club.” Rather, economic development depended on a return to indigenous cultural sources, which only the MSP was equipped to regenerate.

Millî Selamet Partisi competed in two general elections, in 1973 and 1977, and received 11.8 and 8.6 percent of the votes, respectively. It participated in three coalition governments between 1973 and 1978, with Erbakan as deputy prime minister in all three. The first coalition was between the MSP and Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (Republican People's Party, CHP), with the CHP leader Bülent Ecevit, as prime minister; it lasted from January 1974 until September 1974. It was a significant success for the MSP, given CHP's historical role in defending the militant secularism of the Turkish Republic. The second coalition (April 1975–June 1977) was between the MSP, Adalet Partisi (Justice Party, AP), Cumhuriyetçi Güven Partisi (Republican Reliance Party, CGP), and Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (Nationalist Action Party, MHP), under the name “Nationalist Front,” with the AP leader Süleyman Demirel as prime minister. The third coalition (July 1977–January 1978) was between the MSP, AP, and MHP, under the name “Second Nationalist Front,” with Demirel again as prime minister. This experience in governing bolstered the image of the MSP and legitimized Islamist politics, even though the MSP leadership acted less as power-holders and more as spokesmen for the opposition. Even though the leadership repeatedly emphasized that the party held the “key to government,” the MSP was unable to make much of an impression on the electorate.

All existing parties, including MSP, were closed down after the 1980 coup d’état. Its leader, Necmettin Erbakan, shared the fate of other party leaders as they were arrested and banned from political activity for ten years under a provisional article of the 1982 constitution, which later was deleted by a referendum. Unlike the others, the MSP leaders were also tried in military courts, though they were acquitted.

The RP Resists Westernization and Zionist Capitalism.

The MSP was succeeded by the Refâh Partisi with the return to competitive politics in 1983. The RP's ideology has deviated significantly from that of its two predecessors, MNP and MSP, both of which had based their visions on rapid economic development based on a new Islamic ethics. With the socioeconomic changes of the 1980s, which opened the Turkish economy to world markets through the adoption of a free-market model and export-oriented growth, the RP leadership began to view industrial growth as inimical to the interests of its traditional supporters, who were drawn mostly from small-business circles geared to the internal market. Hence the previous emphasis on rapid economic development has been replaced by a critique of the capitalist system and the world economic order; this critique, however, verges on a paranoid interpretation of history and of economic models as shaped by Zionist aims. In the new RP perception, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the outbreaks of two world wars were part of a Zionist plot to establish the state of Israel with the aim of eventual world domination. Zionism is alleged presently to be seeking the means of establishing a federal Israeli state including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt; the final aim is to establish a new world order based on the victory of capitalism and therefore under the command of Zionist interests.

In line with this revisionist history, RP is critical of capitalist development in Turkey, which, in its view, integrates the Turkish economy with world markets and thus with Zionist economic and military aims. The party literature argues that as both producers and consumers, working people pay a large portion of their income to the Israeli war industry through the financial transactions of local capitalists and governmental payment of external debts, which end up in Zionist banks in New York. In the RP analysis, a complex network of economic relations between systems integrated with the world economy serves to strengthen Israel's power.

This interpretation of capitalism as the vehicle of Zionism includes the RP view that an important consequence of Turkish integration with the world economy has been the destruction of the ethical values of an Islamic society. Party propaganda reiterates the MNP/MSP criticism of modern life as decadent and dictated by the logic of the market, where everything is for sale. The name that the party gives to the new world order is köle düzeni (the slave order), which is contrasted with the RP's adil düzen (just order), whose outlines are given in general terms. Its major object is to disengage Turkey from world capitalism and its international organizations by instituting an economic system without bank interest and taxes, establishing a “United Muslim Nations” to replace the United Nations, founding a “Defense Organization of Muslim States” to replace NATO, and creating a “Common Market of Muslim Countries” with a common currency to replace the European Community. The political, economic, and military cooperation of Muslim countries is envisioned as a significant step toward the cultural unification of the Muslim world. The RP promises a leadership role for Turkey in the creation of this alternative Muslim order.

The Refâh Partisi has competed in two general elections since its founding, in 1987 and in 1991, receiving 7.2 and 17.1 percent of the votes, respectively. However, it entered the 1991 elections on a common ticket with two smaller parties on the right, an electoral coalition to ensure that it would be able to muster enough votes to pass the ten-percent barrier imposed by the Election Law of 1983, under which the RP was unable to qualify in 1987. It currently has forty deputies in the four-hundred-member Grand National Assembly. Since 1983 it has also competed in four municipal elections, polling 9.8 percent of the votes in March 1989, 10.3 percent in June 1990, 18.5 percent in August 1990, and 24.1 percent in November 1992; the percentages represent votes cast in the limited number of constituencies where elections were held.

See also ERBAKAN, NECMETTIN; and TURKEY.

Bibliography

  • Arat, Yesim. Rethinking Islam and Liberal Democracy: Islamist Women in Turkish Politics. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005.
  • Atasoy, Yildiz. Turkey, Islamists, and Democracy: Transition and Globalization in a Muslim State. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2005.
  • Rubin, Barry, and Metin Heper, eds.Political Parties in Turkey. London: Routledge; Portland, Ore.: Frank Cass, 2002.
  • Zürcher, Erik J.Turkey: A Modern History. 3d ed.London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2004.
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