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Erdoğan pushed for arrest of political mentor Erbakan in 2006: Islamist opposition leader

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Temel Karamollaoğlu, leader of the Islamist Felicity Party (SP), has accused President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of trying to imprison his political mentor, Necmettin Erbakan, in 2006.

Karamollaoğlu claims that Erdoğan, the prime minister at the time, tried to take advantage of a court ruling to imprison Erbakan.

This allegation sheds light on the relationship between two key figures in Turkish political Islam and raises questions about Erdoğan’s loyalty, political maneuvering and the legacy of Erbakan’s Milli Görüş (National Outlook) movement.

From mentor to rival

To fully understand the scope of these claims, it is important to know the historical context of the relationship between Erbakan and Erdoğan. Erbakan, a charismatic engineer-turned-politician, founded a number of explicitly Islamist political parties from the 1970s onwards. These parties, often viewed with suspicion by Turkey’s secular establishment, were frequently banned by the courts or pressured by the military to disband.

Erdoğan, a young and ambitious politician, rose in the ranks of Erbakan’s parties. However, a rift began to emerge between the traditionalist Erbakan and the pragmatic Erdoğan. This rift culminated in a split within Erbakan’s Virtue Party (FP) in 2001.

Erdoğan and his allies founded the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and moderated their Islamist rhetoric to project a broader conservative image more appealing to the Turkish public and the secular establishment.

The AKP received 34 percent of the vote nationwide in the 2002 parliamentary elections, and Erdoğan became prime minister in 2003 after a political ban was lifted in parliament.

Despite their differences of opinion going back to the late ’70s, Erdoğan maintained a degree of visible respect for his former mentor. Notably, he named his son Necmettin Bilal Erdoğan, born in 1981, after Erbakan, a gesture seen as symbolic of enduring loyalty.

However, Karamollaoğlu’s allegation shows another side of the story.

A court ruling in 2006 opened the way for Erbakan’s imprisonment.

Karamollaoğlu claims that Erdoğan used this opportunity to sideline his former mentor and ordered the police to surround Erbakan’s house. Hasan Kalyoncu, a prominent businessman and former Erbakan loyalist, apparently stopped this action by threatening Erdoğan with his political downfall if he went further with his course of action.

Erdoğan is said to have arranged for Erbakan to be placed under house arrest instead. An eventual pardon by then-president Abdullah Gül allowed Erbakan to return to politics as leader of the Felicity Party, which he led until he died in 2011.

Although this could be dismissed as mere hearsay, it is worth noting that it comes from a person very close to Erbakan and who governs the party he founded, an organization that would not cross the boundaries drawn by the party elders.

Erdoğan might have been driven by a desire for political revenge or pursuing a broader strategy to consolidate his power within the Islamist voter base. It is plausible that he saw Erbakan as a continuing threat to his authority despite his waning influence.

During Erdoğan’s time as prime minister, although he was already frail at the time, Erbakan condemned the pro-Western policies of his former protégés and accused them of “serving Zionism.”

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