GLOBALIZATION AND POLITICAL ISLAM: THE SOCIAL BASES OF TURKEY’S WELFARE PARTY

Haldun Gulalp

Political Islam has gained heightened visibility in recent decades in Turkey. Large numbers of female students have begun to demonstrate their commitment by wearing the banned Islamic headdress on university campuses, and influential pro-Islamist TV
channels have proliferated. This paper focuses on the Welfare (Refah) Party as the foremost institutional representative of political Islam in Turkey.
The Welfare Party’s brief tenure in power as the leading coalition partner from mid-1996 to mid-1997 was the culmination of a decade of steady growth that was aided by other Islamist organizations and institutions. These organizations and institutions
included newspapers and publishing houses that attracted Islamist writers, numerous Islamic foundations, an Islamist labor-union confederation, and an Islamist businessmen’s association. These institutions worked in tandem with, and in support of, Welfare as the undisputed leader and representative of political Islam in Turkey, even though they had their own particularistic goals and ideals, which often diverged from Welfare’s political projects. Focusing on the Welfare Party, then, allows for an analysis of the wider social base upon which the Islamist political movement rose in Turkey. Since Welfare’s ouster from power and its eventual closure, the Islamist movement has been in disarray. This paper will, therefore, be confined to the Welfare Party period.
Welfare’s predecessor, the National Salvation Party, was active in the 1970s but was closed down by the military regime in 1980. Welfare was founded in 1983 and gained great popularity in the 1990s. Starting with a 4.4 percent vote in the municipal elections of 1984, the Welfare Party steadily increased its showing and multiplied its vote nearly five times in twelve years. It alarmed Turkey’s secular establishment first in the municipal elections of 1994, with 19 percent of all votes nationwide and the mayor’s seats in both Istanbul and Ankara, then in the general elections of 1995 when it won a plurality with 21.4 percent of the national vote. Nevertheless, the Welfare Party was only briefly able to lead a coalition government in partnership with the right-wing True Path Party of Tansu C¸ iller.

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