Published in French in ReligioscopeMay 9, 2005
As Gilles Kepel underlined , the rise of political Islam from the 1970s was supported by the convergence of three socio-cultural groups: the urban and poor youth resulting from rural migration, the "bearded” engineers, and finally, a pious small-middle-class, frustrated in its rise ambition. This theoretical framework is especially relevant in the case of the emergence of an "Islamic" kind of businesses in Turkey in the 1990s, under the guidance of the Independent Association of Industrialists and Businessmen: MÜSİAD. First associated with the Refah party of Necmittin Erbakan, MÜSİAD knew how to renovate its speech with the challenge of the opening on the world and on Europe, very as the AK party of the current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, of whom it is rather close. From now on, MÜSİAD and the other representatives of Islamic business are integrated in corporate Turkey like the “second bourgeoisie”, and they do not have recourse to Islamic rhetoric so much anymore, preferring new universal topics: “democracy” and “ethics”. But is this opening to last?
What do we know about “Islamic business”? Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, we often assimilated it to the companies which financed the terrorist activities of Osama Ben Laden, either through a direct participation or through generous donations with alleged charity organizations whose funds were put in the purchase of weapons. In the past already, with the Resolution 1333 of December 19, 2000, United Nations had set up a list of terrorist individuals and organizations related to Al-Qaeda and its financing. The resolution 1390 of January 16, 2002 came to reinforce the sanctions by envisaging the freezing of the financial assets and economic resources of the persons listed by the Resolution 1267. The list indicated a hundred Islamic organizations, among which a tiny number of companies “windows”.
Actually, the Islamic entrepreneur cannot be confused with those few accomplices of violent Islamist movements, generally related to illegal, mafia networks that he eventually rejects. The concept of "Islamic entrepreneurship” underlines a startling contradiction between the social role, which requires an affiliation with the established system, and the religious identity, set up as a position of resistance and an economic, social, and cultural claim. Complex and polymorphic, the Islamic entrepreneur or businessman can be an immigrant shopkeeper in Europe, North America or Australia, as well as a businessman working for the economic development of his community in certain ethnic minorities of Russia or China, or the representative of an integrated bourgeoisie in the pro-Islamic States (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia or Malaysia) -but reticent to the Western economic model, or finally a “bourgeois aspirant” in the authoritative and secular republics of Maghreb and Machreck, where the clientelism of the State blocks its rise.
In this respect, Turkey presents a remarkable case. Initially in an identity resistance against the Kemalist ideology, Islamic business knew how to change in a context of opening. Moreover, the Turkish case gives a comprehensive idea of what Islamic business can cover (Islamic brotherhoods, holdings, banks and business associations) and how it can be integrated effectively within the democratic framework by adapting a “Muslim ethics” compatible with capitalism.
During the decade of President Turgut Özal, the religious communities, in particular that of the mosque of İskender Paşa and that of the leader Fethullah Gülen, started to encourage the economic growth of their members, and to support the pious businessmen. Then in the 1990s, new businessmen’s associations with strong moral and religious beliefs - MÜSİAD, İŞHAD and ASKON-, opened the way for a true revolution of the Turkish employers' space, which had been until then in the hands of TÜSİAD, the association of the 400 larger industrial conglomerates of the country. Over the decade, Islamic business perhaps have had a limited economic impact, but its victory is elsewhere: it has been the social strategy of a religious-conservative segment of the population to set up a new elite. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself has been a businessman before entering politics, and remains today a stalwart representative and defender of the Islamic movement, in his social as well as entrepreneurial demonstrations.
But long has been the way until the victory of the small and pious bourgeoisie. To succeed in earning a place in the democratization process of Turkey at the beginning of the 21st century, they have had to circumvent the institutional obstacles drawn up by the secular elites, to contradict the charges of complicity with political Islam, and to endure the lawsuits launched by the military authorities between 1997 and 1999 in what has been a true anti-Islamic “witch hunt”. That is the path we would like to briefly explain here in order to understand better the evolution of the Turkish “economic Islam".
The Kemalist ideology was constituted by a rejection of popular religiosity and of rural and conservative lower bourgeoisie
After the promulgation of a secular Turkey in 1923, Mustapha Kemal Atatürk ends with Sharia courts and Koranic schools (madrasas), and deprives the Sheikhs of the traditional Sufi brotherhoods (tarikat) of the power they have enjoyed in the province during all the Ottoman era. The tarikat are dissolved in 1925 by the new Head of State who regards them as a hearth of obscurantism contrary to his ambitions of secularization and modernization for Turkey. The religion is now runned by the State through the Office of the Religious Affairs (Diyanet), which decides about mosque construction and financing, and the contents of religious education, wishing to limit to the bare minimum the sources of nonofficial Islam. To survive, tarikat organized themselves as secret brotherhoods. With the 1961 constitution, tarikat and cemmat (modern communities) are gradually reestablished in the Turkish society in the form of foundations or evkaf.
From the 1950s-1960s, a class of landowners and religious-conservative shopkeepers starts to develop in Anatolia; they ask for growing politically and economically. In the context of the time, this class is considered as suspect by the secular elites of Istanbul and Ankara, and it is left apart from the center. If they want to have access to wealthy goods, businessmen must pass inevitably by the central government. This system, where the privileges are distributed to a minority bourgeoisie, supports clientelism. The political parties quickly get used to deal out the contracts to their faction instead of other entrepreneurs. Victims of discrimination, provincial merchants then become the principal support of political Islam which emerges in the 1970s under the leadership of Necmittin Erbakan. In 1970, the latter founds the first autonomous, Turkish Islamist party: the “National Order Party” (MNP - Milli Nizam Partisi), which becomes the “National Health Party” (MSP - Milli Salamet Partisi) in 1972. With the support of this Anatolian middle class, and the covered network of two powerful and informal religious brotherhoods, the Nakşibendi and the Nurcu, the MSP obtains a surprising electoral success in the 1973 general elections with 11.8% of the votes. It takes part then in several coalition governments, before the coup of General Kenan Evren on September 12, 1980.
The "Turgut Özal’s Years": Towards the Emergence of "Islamic Capital"
After the coup, a constitutive assembly of 160 members is indicated to restore political life. Two years later, the referendum of November 7, 1982 for the new constitution and the advent of the Third Republic obtain the consensus of 91.4% of the Turks. With a power concentration on the executive and the National Security Council (MGK), the constitution seems to avoid the question of civil and individual freedoms; the freedom of the press remains very limited, and strikes and trade unions are prohibited. Moreover, it is stipulated that the usual rights and freedoms could be constantly removed, suspended or limited if they call in question “the State’s interest”. Curiously, it is however in this new context that the Prime Minister who considerably will support the coming out of the new Islamic elite is elected: Turgut Özal.
All at once, Turgut Özal and his ANAP party (the “Party of the Motherland”) gain a very broad victory in the elections of November 6, 1983, with 45% of the suffrages. The ANAP does not have a clear ideological line; it gathers very different socio-economic groups, from the modern industrial bourgeoisie to the farmers, including the small Anatolian businessmen who could not vote for their leader, Necmittin Erbakan (excluded from political life for ten years like all the other political leaders from before the coup). The personality of Turgut Özal was crucial to make so different visions converge. Of provincial origin, self-made man, he has been able to create a friendly average-Turk image. His past enables him to earn the consideration of the secular people for his relative success in the 1970s as the manager of a private industrial company, and he kept good connections in the higher realms of business; but at the same time he is also able to conquer the religious-conservative groups as he belongs to the Nakşibendi order, and his brother, Korkut Özal, was one of the heads of Erbakan’s MSP. Moreover, very quickly, Özal liberalizes the political system authorizing the creation of new parties for the elections of March 1984, among which the “Welfare Party” (Refah Partisi or RP), the new Islamist party leaded behind the scenes by Erbakan.
The new chief of the government also was influenced morally and politically by the doctrine of the “Hearths of the Enlightened” (Aydınlar Ocağı), a movement founded in 1970 and joining together scholars, politicians and entrepreneurs. Centered on the figure of Ibrahim Kafesoğlu, this philosophic movement proposes a social and cultural alternative for the Turks around the "Turkish-Islamic synthesis" because, according to them, the pre-Islamic Turkish culture and Islamic civilization meet around certain values such as justice, morals, family and the belief in one immortal God. Since 1983, the government of Turgut Özal supports the creation of new mosques, grants to the pupils of the Muslim private schools (the controversial İmam-Hatip) the right to enter the university, and overhauls the religious contents of the textbooks. Galvanized by his actions, a new urban, young and Islamic class starts to develop. Proof of it: the young women are more and more wearing the türban (the head-cover), while Islamic publications and bookshops mushroom.
Even if he has been criticized often for his establishment in Turkey of an unregulated, unethical capitalism, Turgut Özal regards actually religion as a crucial point, deeply related with an American-style entrepreneurship and a worship of technological innovation – the only way to compete with the Western countries. He and his brothers lived in the United States and they were impacted by the link between capitalism and religions; Korkut Özal, the brother, is said to have become a strict Muslim after having lived in Utah in contact with the Mormons . Korkut Özal, an ex-head of the Islamic Bank of Development (IBD), is actually used as an intermediary between Ankara y Riyadh when his brother, eager to attract the Saudi capital in Turkey, decides to introduce there Islamic Finance.
From the very start of his first mandate, he deletes the article 163 of the new constitution repressing all those who, “exploiting religion (...) endangers the State’s safety”, and carry out on December 16, 1983 a Decree-Law 83/ 7506 relative to the “special financing institutions” (ÖFK/ Özel Finans Kurumları), in other words, the famous “Islamic banks”. This decree legitimates the right to have recourse to a interest-free financial system taking into account the Muslim riba-free (interest-free) principle. But Özal lays down a condition: on the national ground, these institutions must be managed jointly with the Nakşibendi under the forms of mixed companies. This explains the enrichment of this community, which, as we will see it, became a major actor in the world of today’s Turkish Islamic business. During the year 1984, the decree, which was elaborated in the Council of Ministers, is supplemented by declarations of the Treasury Secretary, and of the Central Bank. The first two ÖFK, Faysal Finans et Al Baraka Türk, have settled in Turkey since 1985; there are in fact subsidiary companies of two very powerful Saudian groups, Dar-al Mal-al İslami, founded in 1981 by the prince Mohammed Faysal, and al-Baraka Investment and Development Company, created in 1982 by the businessman Sheik Saleh Kamel, a close relation of Korkut Özal. In 1998, the prince Mohammed Faysal sells the bank to Kombassan Holding, which in its turn yields it to the Ülker Group, an agro-alimentary giant (two companies related to MÜSİAD). Sabri Ülker, the president of the Ülker group holds 97% of the market share of Faysal Finans, renamed Family Finans. Other banks will follow: Kuveyt Türk in 1989, Anadolu Finans in 1991, pertaining to the İstikbal Mobilya Group, and İlhas Finans in 1995, related to the community of the Işıkçılar. Finally, the Fethullahçı, a very influential community, found in 1996 their own financial institution, Asya Finans, intending to help the Turkic republics of Central Asia to develop economically.
From the economic stance, Turgut Özal has undertook a policy as capitalist and persistently liberal as those of US president Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, with whom he has excellent relations. Since 1980, he has taken part in the launching of a stabilization program to improve the balance of payments, fight inflation, and support the emergence of an export-directed market economy. For this last point, he offers assistance to small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) to make their products competitive on the external markets; he also simplifies the administrative export-aimed procedures and abolishes the customs taxation of the inputs necessary to Turkish exporting industries. The export value has grown from less than 3 billion dollars in 1980 to 10 billion in 1987. The export-geared factories of the companies with several shareholders know a rapid growth in the Anatolian areas like Konya, Yozgat, Denizli, Çorum, Aksaray or Gaziantep; their leaders are called the “Anatolian Tigers”, in reference to the East-Asian Tigers which knew how to combine economic liberalism and cultural tradition around the religious and family values.
Özal thus supported the emergence of a new class of rich entrepreneurs, affiliated mainly with TÜSİAD (the powerful association of big business), the TOBB (Union of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry), gathering SMEs especially, then, since 1990, with MÜSİAD for most religious-conservative of them. It is rather clear that the double direction taken by Turgut Özal, on one hand tolerance regarding the religious communities and the Islamist movement, on the other, the liberalization of the economic system and the support for the export-oriented SMEs, has been at the base of the creation of MÜSİAD because, political good-will being the precondition of any evolution in Turkey, that direction gave to the association the “opportunity space” necessary to position economically and socially, without worrying in excess the Kemalist circles which “had been prepared” in a certain way.
The rise of MÜSİAD or the Revenge of Islamic Bourgeoisie
The “Independent Association of Industrialists and Businessmen” (MÜSİAD – Müstakil Sanayiciler ve İşadamları Derneği) was created by five pro-Islamic businessmen – among whom Erol Yarar, Ali Bayramoğlu, Natık Akyol and Abdurrahman Esmerer - on May 5, 1990 in Istanbul. The principal objective of MÜSİAD is to help the small and medium-sized entrepreneurs of Anatolia to increase their business potential and to export. The association especially will make it possible to create networks between the provincial towns and the national level. It also will facilitate information and the training of its members as the majority never left its region and does not have even a national passport. The major sectors are construction, services, electricity, electronics, machinery, metals and food.
There is a certain “legend” about its creation. According to its founders, all would have started after a group of pro-Islamic businessmen was prevented from taking part in a meeting organized in ex Soviet Union by the Association of Foreign Relations (DEİK), an organization then including only TÜSİAD and the Turkish Chamber of Commerce. According to Aişe Buğra , professor of Economy at the Bosphorus University in Istanbul, the DEİK would have defended another version: the men in question would have been only registered to attend the event too late so that it would not have been possible anymore to include them. In spite of that, they would have appeared in the meetings, creating confusion. Truth or not, this episode is now part of the mythology of the association, which wanted to channel the feeling of discrimination of a whole class of small and middle-sized pro-Islamic entrepreneurs and managers. In general, this emerging elite, like the urban middle class from which it results, comes from Anatolia, where their parents could be small traders, shopkeepers or landowners. Others come from a lower middle class of the civilian servants. The sons and daughters grew in the cities and received a higher education. After their studies, many were initially employed in the modern economic sector promoted by Turgut Özal in the 1980s, before launching their own businesses and factories, either in Anatolia or in Istanbul - the new economic centre of the country.
First president of the association, Erol Yarar is a singular figure. Only 30 years old at the time of the MÜSİAD foundation, he is far from sharing the rather modest and provincial origins of the other members. Coming from the high bourgeoisie, his grandfather and his father (a TÜSİAD member) were industry tycoons, and his mother a professor at the very chic Robert College; in the 1960s, she was considered a modern and elegant woman, in line with the ultimate Western fashion criteria; then she started to wear a veil at the end of the 1970s. In 1991, Yarar inherits the conglomerate of his father, Atom Kimya; he owns also several companies, including 404, which produces adhesive, and Lazzo, specialized in aromatized teas. It seems that Erol Yarar, like Korkut Özal and certain great figures of Islamism, had a kind of spiritual awakening after studying in the United States, and became very religious, rejecting the paternal destiny. However his private life looks like the excesses of the Western jet-set rather than moral and religious austerity: father of two girls, he is said to have divorced five times, likes to play tennis and would be married today with a Bosnian model. Pro-Islamic, very close to Erbakan, it is not however affiliated with any political party. Very supportive of the trade with the Muslim countries and Central Asia, on the other hand he is opposed to the relationships with European Union, especially with the Customs Union Treaty. Yarar was from the very start the thinker of the role the association could occupy in the Turkish society and in the Islamic world as a whole. He knew how to influence the members by using a flattering speech in order to enhance their assisting each other and obtain a social status considered as deserved.
At that time, the MÜSİAD speech, such as it appears in the publications Çerçeve (“the framework”) and MÜSİAD Bülteni, or in the official speech, is new: it considers and claims to show that Islam and wealth accumulation are compatible, and even promoted by Koran and Sunna. In 1994, Mr. Özel publishes an article in Çerçeve, “Can a Proper Man be Rich?” , referring to the “good”, moral and straight-forward Muslim. The answer is clear: yes, it is completely possible, and even encouraged. As Erol Yarar claims, loudly and proudly: “We must become rich. We must work even more and try to be even richer to become stronger than the laics. The treasures of Allah must be taken from their hands. We must hold them.” The founder of the MÜSİAD branch in Konya affirms that Islam does not prohibit wealth, even suggesting that this idea has been brought up by the “enemies of Islam”.
Even if the organization always claimed not to have an own ideological thought, rather stressing its export-directed business initiatives, its leading heads support from the beginning standpoints betraying an ambitious Islamist purpose. Thus, Sabahaddin Zaim, a retired professor who was pioneer in the conceptualization of modern Islamic finance, wrote in the review Çerçeve on Islamic economy and the need for a co-operation between Muslim countries. Member of honor of MÜSİAD like Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, he also received in 1997 the Saudi prize Lariba for his radical vision of Islamic economy. However, the most important MÜSİAD thinker has been certainly Erol Yarar, author of a small book as well economic as political, A New Perspective for the World At the Threshold of the 21st Century . For Yarar, the research of professional and personal success must be coupled with a moral behavior of good Moslem. As he explains it in his book, world economy from now on is centered in East-Asia: “Now, at the threshold of the twenty-first century, once again the western side of the Pacific, that is the east of China, is becoming the dominating center of the world economy.” For him, this success results from the interconnection of three factors: initially, a significant increase in the economic importance of SMEs, then family values, and finally religion. He is convinced that the success of the Asian nations was supported by the confidence that their cultural identity gave them, and by their resistance to a “Western civilization” he severely condemns: “The so-called rationalist, Cartesian philosophy has drawn individual and social life into chaos by rejecting the value and existence of what cannot be measured or calculated. This overturning of religious values, and their replacement by a secular 'morality', transformed homo sapiens into homo brutalitas.” It is necessary to fight against this unjust capitalism by maintaining firmly certain moral convictions, evidence of a “healthy intellect”, and growing economically to gain autonomy and power. Thus reciprocal assistance and galvanization between Muslim countries are essential. The project of MÜSİAD for Turkey is not only economic, but also social. It proposes to the country a new moral and ethical system, as an alternative to the materialist and individualist values of the Western world. It considers that economic and technological progress must be accompanied by a spiritual step ahead, denied until now by Western capitalism and its Turkish derivative imported by the secular and Kemalist Turkish elites. MÜSİAD highly criticizes the decline of the family values in occident and its hedonist philosophy, responsible for the disintegration of the social structure and the loss of reference mark. Not to fall into the traps of the Western society, MÜSİAD proposes for Turkey a vigorous moral re-foundation backing by Islamic ethics and its associates, i.e. the family and the community. The MÜSİAD members are easily considered as examples for the Turkish society of which they want to be the new elite. But they also know that the expansion of their model depends much on their economic success and their influence capability on policy.
At the political level, taking advantage of the rise of Islamism between 1990 and 1997, the Anatolian Tigers back Refah to ensure their statute, grow and influence the economic and commercial policy. Initially, Refah receives 19.1% of the votes in the local elections of March 27, 1994, gaining six of the largest Turkish cities, among which Istanbul and Ankara. But its great victory is that of the elections of December 1995: it obtains 21.4% of the votes, i.e. more than all the other parties. To counter Erbakan, a first coalition of two secular parties is formed, but lasts only six months. Finally, on June 28, 1996, Erbakan becomes Prime Minister in a coalition government, “Refahyol”, as a result of an agreement between Refah and the DYP (Doğru Yol Partisi) of Tansu Çiller. Refah gives to the Islamist companies responsibilities in the government, and the Refah deputies are recruited in the circles of these entrepreneurs (entrepreneurs 31.4%, industrialists 12.83%, landowners 39%...).The new Prime Minister very quickly undertakes a tour of the Muslim countries, passing by Libya, Egypt and Iran. MÜSİAD takes almost always part in those trips abroad, collecting the new contracts and take advantage of the new economic conventions at first. In the circles of Islamic business, one then starts to dream of the construction of an “Islamic car” or an “Islamic plane”, products which will come to seal the economic rebirth of a whole civilization. Critics come up from the circles of the political opponents, who stress that this new clientelism around MÜSIAD and the Anatolian Tigers is worth that of the secular governments, so highly censured by Erbakan before his accession to power.
But the dream won’t last long. First, the elites which profited hitherto from the protectionist policies, chiefly TÜSİAD, start to feel threatened by the growth of their economic adversary, which could make it lose some contracts; then they try to make pressure on the military authorities to reverse the trend. Worried about Erbakan’s pro-Islamist policy, the National Security Council (MGK), super-official authority dominated by the military capacity, meets on February 28, 1997 and formulates a list of 18 procedures aiming at restricting the Islamist activities, and presents it at the cabinet of the Prime Minister. On April 29, officers intervene in the media saying that the situation of the country is critical as political Islam threatens the country’s unity made around the principle of secularism. In May and June, the military insists again on the Islamist danger, denouncing an infiltration of the Islamists in professional life, public institutions, and through various publications. On June 10, the staff intervenes once again to point the finger at the Islamist firms’ illicit activities. The ÖFK are accused to have channeled about 250 million dollars for Islamist activities against the State. The official statement denounces also two of larger MÜSİAD companies, Kombassan and Yimpaş; their owners are charged with having accumulated great quantities of wealth, gold in particular, to finance Islamist activities. Ülker, an important company in the biscuit industry and also a MÜSİAD member, loses its contract as supplier of the army. Reports published in the press in June 1997 indicate that the military is preparing a black list of one hundred companies blamed to finance Islamism. Indignant, the MÜSİAD members and the customers of its companies highly criticize this initiative they consider contrary with the principle of democracy. They empathize with the accused companies.
It is worthless. Necmittin Erbakan must give up reins of power under the pressure of the army, and Refah is prohibited. In April 1998, the authorities stop 16 pro-Islamic businessmen of the insurance company DOST Sigorta, related with MÜSİAD. Accused to be implied in some fund transfer for Islamist activities, they are finally exonerated in July. On May 25, 1998, the Court of National Safety (DGM) requires the closing of MÜSİAD for the violation of the laws controlling the companies and associations. It also charges the president of the association, Erol Yarar, with “incitation to hatred among the people” in a speech he made on October 4, 1997, criticizing the law on the extension of the primary education from 5 to 8 years to end with the religious high-schools İmam-Hatip, and calling for a “struggle for liberalization”. Yarar would have also named “dogs” the authors of the bill, describing it as the work of “no believers”. On June 29, Yarar’s declarations are heard by the DGM in Ankara. He is finally found guilty on 22 April, 1999, and he is condemned to one year of prison with deferment; he resigns on May 23 at the annual MÜSİAD Convention. It is at that same time that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then mayor of Istanbul, is sentenced to three years of prison for a speech made in Siirt, Southeast Anatolia.
Weakened and worried about its survival, MÜSİAD has to make forget its bonds with political Islam. It breaks up with Erbakan very quickly, causing the ire of the old political leader who founds in 1998 a new business association: ASKON, more conservative than MÜSİAD; several hundreds of MÜSİAD members leave MÜSİAD to join ASKON, which counts some 600 members today. In order to regain a credibility, MÜSİAD develops an alarm system to avoid the inaccurate behaviors of certain companies denounced by the Capital Market Board (SPK); they would have shared illegally the benefit carried out in Turkey and abroad, i.e. without the preliminary authorization of SPK which should have audited first the accounts of these companies. Without control on the funds destination, the MGK authorities suspect the companies of financing radical Islamic movements or laundering the money earned from weapon and drug traffics. That causes the panic of the small immigrant shareholders in Germany, who wonder what is made with their investments. MÜSİAD must reassure them. On March 6, 2000, Ali Baraymoğlu, the new president who succeeded Erol Yarar, brings together 18 members related to the accused companies. He asks them to respect the Turkish laws and not to refer to Islam anymore in their business activities. Those who will violate this rule will receive a warning initially; then, after repetition, their membership will be officially cancelled.
The decline of political and economic Islam in Turkey appears irremediable. From 2001, the renovating branch within the movement, dominated by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan whose political thought softens in prison, and by Abdullah Gül, takes its distance. Finally, a new party is founded, the “Party of Justice and Development" - whose Turkish initials AK mean “white”, “clean” and “pure”, arises against its former leader at the elections of November 2002, and gains an overwhelming victory, 362 of the 550 seats at the Parliament. Erdoğan takes care not to reiterate Erbakan’s aggressive, anti-Western speech; he calls for a “Muslim democracy”, very similar to the Christian democracy in Europe.
The relations between MÜSİAD, political Islam, the Islamic banks, and the religious communities have been variable and unspecified.
After the traumatism of the “28 February process”, MÜSİAD, eager to consolidate its position in the civil society, tries to keep away from any political engagement. The link to Refah, then to AKP, was never systematic within MÜSİAD, even if it were and remains preponderant; nevertheless, some MÜSİAD members belong to the “Party of the Right Path” (DYP), others to the “Party of the Great Unity” (BBP, Büyük Birlik Partisi), whereas a few would be affiliated with the “Republican Party of the People” (CHP), social democrat. At the time of the last MÜSİAD fair in September 2004, four presidents of political parties were invited. The members do not fail to recall that their association is first of all “independent” (…). The bonds with one or another tarikat or cemmat may exist, but they are not systematic. In province, various local offices are close to various communities.
In addition, although Kuveyt Türk, Al Baraka and Family Finans are financial institutions of the MÜSİAD label, the Islamic banks have also TÜSİAD members among their customers. Moreover, a broad range of the MÜSİAD members prefers to have recourse to risk capital – which is usually consisted of the savings of the immigrants of origin Turkish established in Germany -, to their own capital or to the internal interest-free credit between members, in the form of checks.
Lastly, the brotherhoods supported little Erbakan, because they rejected his political instrumentalization of religion. He was even regarded as a “traitor” by his community (Iskender Paşa), which had encouraged it to create his own party in the 1970s, and which he however gave up in January 1990 because he considered himself invested of a mission: to be the “commander of Jihad”.
The modernization of the religious communities, converted with the values of capitalism and technological innovation
But beyond these complex relations which prove the hybrid character of Turkish Islamic movement, the communities, like MÜSİAD, learned how to develop a speech of social and cultural advancement through economic success. Using the donations of their members, certain communities became true companies, when the abstract bonds between the members were restructured to reduce the costs of transaction. Some even succeeded in creating their own holdings.
Former popular brotherhood founded by Bahaeddin Nakşibend (1318-1389), the Nakşibendiyya knew to adapt to modernity and addresses today to its two million followers a modernizing speech where Muslim moral values and worship mix with instruction, technocracy and middle-class values. At the media level, the Nakşibendi owns three reviews: Islam, printing 100 000 copies, Mektup (“the letter”) and Kadin ve Aile (“Woman and Family”), designed for to the female public. Within the Nakşibendi, the community of the Iskender Paşa mosque in Istanbul directed by Mehmet Esad Cosan (born in 1938) can be regarded as the “star” branch. The authorities of the community see in the enrichment of its members a means of competing with the Kemalist establishment in the economic, political and intellectual life and, by that way, of proving the superiority of Islamic morals. This community set up its own business whose rise was supported by its contacts with powerful families, such as Özal and Topbaş, in the sectors of finance, trade, construction and oil industry. To help its members to develop economically, it provides them with all the available information, and mobilizes also its “relational capital”.
The Işıkçılar, a dissenting and conservative branch of the Nakşibendi, have certainly the most powerful holding, İlhas Holding, founded and chaired by Enver Oren. Able to compete with the Turkish largest conglomerates, such as Sabancı and Koç, İlhas is an immense company, especially present in edition, newspaper and magazine publishing, construction, healthcare and education. Among its publications, the daily newspaper Türkiye enjoys a large success, combining a nationalist and Islamic spirit in an attractive format, with photographs in colors and a full section “football”. It has also the television channel TGTR and the advertising agency ÖNCÜ. Moreover, it controls several financial institutions, like the Islamic bank İlhas Finans created in 1995, which knew the bankruptcy with the economic crisis of February 2001.
The Fethullahçı represent the most influential branch of the Nurcu, a community which constituted itself around the figure of Said Nursi (1877-1961); known for his Letters of Light (Risale-i Nur), Nursi insisted on the compatibility between Islam on one hand, and reason, science and modernity, on the other one. Fethullah Gülen, born in 1938 in Erzurum, Eastern Turkey, restores the thought of Said Nursi while mixing it with another movement of thought, the Turkish-Islamic Synthesis, which we already evoked. Moderated in his speech, Gülen is against the application of the Islamic law (Sharia) by the State and he thinks democracy is the best form of government. Privileging education for the integration in the modern world, the community of Gülen holds and manages a hundred schools in Turkey (…) whose instructors are graduates from the best Turkish universities. The figure of Fethullah Gülen allured young people from the cities, in particular the doctors, professors and some businessmen, who regard as an honor to take part in the activities of his foundations, the Turkish Teachers' Foundation and the Journalists and Writers Foundation.
At the beginning of the 1990s, the movement of Fethullah Gülen grows rapidly. Just as MÜSIAD has benefited from the political dash of Turgut Özal, the movement expansion and its presence in Central Asia has been encouraged by the successive governments, which, after the fall of the Soviet empire, try to impose Turkey as a new leader in the newly independent Turkic republics - Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kirghizstan. The Community founded about 200 schools throughout the world, from Tanzania to China, but mainly in these Turkic republics. The objective is to form local elites seeing Turkey as a model. These schools admit also non-Moslem students. English is the first teaching language (…), and these schools attract the children of the elites and the chiefs of government of various countries.
But it is especially around Asya Holding, founded in Istanbul in 1992, that the Fethullahçı built a reputation of leaders of the “alternative Islamic business”. Beyond the bank Asya Finans, that we already evoked, Asya Holding holds the daily newspaper Zaman, the television channel STV (Samanyolu, or “Milky Way Galaxy”), the radio station Burç, and an advertising agency, IŞIK. Rather intellectual, Zaman proposes insightful articles on national and international issues, economy, sciences and new technologies.
Among the organizations related to the community of Fethullah Gülen, İŞHAD, the Business Life Solidarity Association, was created in 1993, and it is based in Istanbul. It pretends not to have any Islamic ideology even if the majority of its 500 members back Gülen’s educative activities; besides, many have responsibilities in the school boards (…). They also recognize bonds with the Journalists and Writers Foundation of Fethullah Gülen. Their objective is triple: to improve the business external of Turkey, to reinforce the structure of the companies-members, and to support the dialogue with the various actors of political and economic life. Like the Gülen movement, they do not have positions on politics and they do not support any party in particular. They had until now good relations with the left-wing governments as well as with the AKP of Erdoğan.
In addition to the link with the Fethullahçı, İŞHAD forms also part of MARİFED, the Federation of Business Associations of the Marmara Sea, jointly with seven other associations “umbrellas”: BUGİAD (very active association of Bursa), KASİAD, SAGİAD, BESİAD, İGED, CAGİAD and GEMSİAD. İŞHAD is also related to a hundred organizations “sisters” in Central Asia, Russia and in several EU countries. Quite similarly with MÜSİAD, İŞHAD is present in Europe, in the Middle East, in Russia and Africa, in the sectors of textiles, manufacture, machinery, furniture and food. Nevertheless, the relations between the two associations are good, according to İŞHAD, and the constructive dialogue is privileged; moreover, certain İŞHAD are also members of MÜSİAD and TÜSİAD, “changing caps” according to circumstances.
It is interesting to underline the interconnection between the various “opuses” of Fethullah Gülen: the schools, İŞHAD, Asya Finans and Zaman. Thus, some great İŞHAD personalities multiply the responsibilities within the community’s associations. It is the case of İhsan Kalkavan, a businessman of the Turkish Marine sector, who was also the first director of Asya Finans in October 1996, Mustafa Şevki Kavurmacı, chairman of U.S Polo, Pierre Cardin and Cacharel for Turkey, who formed part of the audit board of Asya Finans, or Ali Akbulut, manager of Ortadoğu Holding (…) but also director of publications of the newspaper Zaman and, on several occasions, member of the audit committee of Asya Finans. One can then make a double statement: initially, the Fethullahçı businessmen are related to several organizations at the same time, which show their strong implication in Asya Holding and the religious community; but rather oddly and in same time, the management of the part “education and culture” of the community are also hold by the businessmen, not by the professors or intellectuals.
One can thus conclude that the great religious communities in Turkey did not want to remain aside modernity and the new values promoted by globalization. The exemplarity is no longer in contemplative piety but rather in action, entrepreneurship, the control of the American models of management and the capacity to become rich.
The media influence has been their priority: proof of it, the various newspapers, reviews, television channels and advertising agencies, which could influence the choices of the most religious-conservative consumers by selling “Islamic products” in conformity with their cultural and Moslem identity. The Islamists also take a chance on the media influence; they owns the newspaper Milli Gazete and the TV channel Kanal 7.
The dissolution of the Islamist speech in the promotion of ethical values
In the context of the opening of Turkey to democracy, do we have to accept as true the normalization of Islamic business associations, in particular MÜSİAD? Did the religious-conservative entrepreneurs really give up Islamism?
Since the AKP victory in November 2002, MÜSİAD have earned a privileged status in the Turkish economic life, consolidating its social position. It includes today 2200 members, distributed in 36 branches through the country, and related with some 7500 companies. The influence on the economic and commercial policy remains a priority. It annually publishes economic reports in Turkish and English, carrying advice or critics, sometimes virulent, on the governmental economic policy. However, in general, the relations between MÜSİAD and AKP are excellent, as the photography of the recent MÜSİAD Bületin’s cover (December 2004) testifies: the Prime Minister Erdoğan stands in the middle of the management committee members in the association of which he is member of honor. Erdoğan, who occupied responsibilities in the past in one of Ülker’s subsidiary companies, was also present on April 18, 2004 at the 13th MÜSİAD General Council and emphasized his frequent trips abroad to attract foreign capital to Turkey, justifying thus the presence of the businessmen amongst the cabinet members. Moreover there would be some clientelism between AKP and MÜSİAD; Ilhan Albarak, president of a homonymous company where Ömer Bolat, current MÜSİAD president, is a general manager, would have benefited from his position of AKP deputy for Istanbul since 2002 to obtain contracts by doubtful means.
Second business association at the national level behind TÜSİAD, MÜSİAD has become central in the Turkish business community. Even if it accounts for only 10% of the total GDP, a figure unchanged since 2001 and derisory if compared to TÜSİAD, it continues to receive the greatest part of the public resources for SMEs. Whereas the relations with the representatives of the large business remain distant, TOBB now acknowledges the association; the TOBB president, Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu, was thus present on May 13, 2004 at the ceremony of nomination of the new MÜSİAD: Ömer Bolat. MÜSİAD is also gaining influence within the Industrial Chamber of Istanbul (İSO), the most important of Turkey, gaining 12 seats in the elections of March 2005.
Although the trade with the European countries accounts for 60% of MÜSİAD companies’ trade - 8% more than the Turkish average -, the association is little familiarized with the European institutions. Contrary to TÜSİAD or İŞHAD, it does not have an office or a lobby in Brussels. It however has about fifty representatives disseminated everywhere in the world. Undoubtedly worried about the future changes which the possible entry of Turkey in the European Union implies and which are likely to affect the competitiveness of Turkish SMEs, it tries from now on to develop its bonds with Europe via Germany, where it profits from the support of one of its associations sisters, MUESİAD, gathering Islamic businessmen of Turkish origin. In this respect, the annual meeting of the European Confederation of the Associations of Small and Medium-sized Firms (CEA-PME), held in Istanbul on December 2-4, 2004, can be the starting point of a forthcoming establishment in Europe. Organized by MÜSİAD which is member of this confederation, it took into account a Turkish delegation of 120 people, among whom the Minister of Trade and Industry, the governor of Istanbul, 26 participants of CEA-PME in Europe and 20 press representatives. MÜSİAD took advantage of the event to develop bonds with the president of CEA-PME, Mario Ohoven, who is also the president of BVMW, the Association of Medium-Sized Firms in Germany; a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between MÜSİAD, MUESİAD, BVMW and KOSGEB (the governmental administration of SME created in 1973) has been signed and should lead to a complete agreement in January if the members of the board of Mario Ohoven’s association give their approval. In their majority, the members wish the integration of Turkey to the European Union and are ready to respect its economic and commercial standards. Nevertheless, they are more “closed” concerning morals, the role of genders and the defense of a conservative lifestyle.
One has the impression today that MÜSİAD, less religious in its speech and perhaps more openly liberal, joined İŞHAD and the so particular perception of Turgut Özal; it would share their will to reconcile the Islamic moral rigor, modernity, technological innovation and a friendly attitude with respect to the Western countries, which goes in its interest. The personal religious conviction must be thus “translated” in a entrepreneurial practice where profit maximalization is limited only by ethical firmness. During interviews held between October and December 2004 to two members of the management committee formed in April 2004, to a former member of the management committee and to the secretary-general of the association, I could note the same discursive line: if the questioned people remained very evasive on their religious convictions, considered as a part of their private sphere that do not influence their role within MÜSİAD, they were more loquacious about their will to grow and develop always more their business with the foreign countries - Europe, Russia, the Middle East or Africa, indifferently.
Beyond the cultural or religious factor, MÜSİAD insists on a revalorization of the ethical factor in the business world. The recourse to the concept of “ethics” is persistent, in the references to trade as well as in private life. Jean-François Pérouse, director of the Urban Observatory of Istanbul, underlined the “missionary” character of MÜSİAD and some other pro-Islamic business associations; business cannot be separated from the defense of certain moral values. At MÜSİAD, Sunusi Mısıroğlu, a representative in the sector of textiles, today AKP member of the city council of the Beşiktaş district in Istanbul, complained about having been a victim of the lack of seriousness and moral strictness of certain professionals of the clothing industry in Istanbul; the ordered work was never paid – and this should not happen between Muslims because in Islam gharar (or uncertainty in the commercial transactions) is formally prohibited. Nihat Alayoğlu, MÜSİAD secretary-general, also insisted on the importance of ethics in the association: “To be a member of the MÜSİAD, you have to respect some principles: business ethics, good reputation; and you don’t care any governmental issues.” The new members are thus carefully selected; they must be sponsored by two members and are objects of a morality investigation, before being able to enter the association. Lastly, the members claim to take into account the wellbeing of their employees, in their ensuring of safe working conditions and decent wages.
What did the Islamist dream within MÜSİAD become? Even if, officially, Erol Yarar no longer has responsibilities inside the association, he is president of the International Business Forum (IBF), whose secretariat-general is at the MÜSİAD headquarters in Istanbul. IBF considers itself a “Global Business Networking among Muslim Nations”. It was formerly a Pakistani forum founded in Lahore in September 1995. But from the second edition, it has been managed by MÜSİAD. The ultimate objective of IBF is to create a Muslim Common Market. Even if it is a nongovernmental initiative, the political authorities are largely represented during the discussions. For example, during the meeting on October 18-20, 2003 in Teheran, a great number of political personalities were present: for Turkey, the Minister of Industry and Trade, Ali Coşkun, who affirmed that the Islamic world should give up the “closed economies” and that Turkey was ready to share its own expertise on the subject, and the minister of State for the Foreign Trade, Kürşad Tüzmen - who would have been in the past an ideologist of MÜSİAD and its speech on transborder trade (…); for Iran, the Minister of Economic Affairs and Finances, Tahmasb Mazaheri, the Minister of Commerce, Mohammad Shariatmadari, and several Secretaries of State. In its 8th edition, on December 15-19, 2004, some 1500 Muslim businessmen coming from 60 countries - mainly from Saudi Arabia - joined together around the slogan “Developing a Common Market in Afro-Eurasia”. Each day of forum starts with a Koranic prayer. Beyond trade agreements and the promotion of mutual investments, the congress of the last IBF also offered opportunities to the national delegations to present the profile of their country from the business viewpoint; moreover, recent projects of business in the fields of industry, trade, finance or agriculture have got a multinational dimension. The forum 2005 is envisaged in Saudi Arabia.
It seems to exist a certain shift between the reassuring speech formulated by the administrative staff to some “curious” Europeans, and the speech of the highest leaders, Erol Yaral (1990-1999), Ali Bayramoğlu (1999-2004) and Ömer Bolat (2004 -), which evolved hardly and remains reticent with the opening on the Western world. The current leader, elected in the general assembly of April 2004, is a close relation of Yarar, who had expressed gratitude to him in 1994 for the drafting of a small book of pro-Islamic economic propaganda. Recently, in same spirit as Erol Yarar when he wrote his “Vision” for the 21st century, the president Bolat declared, in an article of International Herald Tribune of December 11-12, 2004, that the Middle East remains essential in the MÜSİAD business strategy. The journalist Justin Keay writes: “Although Bolat insist Musiad would like to have good relations with the EU, Musiad strongly advocates closer business relations with the Islamic world. Bolat noted that in the past three years Turkey' S trade with its Muslim neighbors has more than doubled, to 11 bores from 5 bore of total trade, has trend that He expected will continuous. Free trade agreement cuts been signed with Morocco and are pending with Iran, Jordan and Syria.” In short, according to Bölat, the accession of Turkey to the European Union is not the only option for the country.
Does one have to conclude that, in spite of a general impression of opening on the West, MÜSİAD did not operate a change from the top yet? If there is a certain shift between the leaders and the base, how is it seen by the latter? My fieldwork interviews taught me that the base is hardly worried about the ideological “audacities” of its leaders as long as its interests are represented. MÜSİAD leaders, from the president to the members of the management committee, generally distinguish themselves from the base by a university course abroad (the United States or Europe), the mastering of several languages and good contacts at the interior as well as exterior political level, which are a benefit for all the members. That would explain why, for example, Erol Yarar, Ali Bayramoğlu and Ömer Bolat went together to the United Arab Emirates, on March 26, 2004, with 70 businessmen. Questioned by me, Sunusi Mısıroğlu does not seem embarrassed by the persistent presence of Erol Yarar, considering it “symbolic” only; Yarar, like Erbakan, would have many dreams but few means to carry them out. It thus does not seem that the association retrogresses.
Like the rich members of the brotherhoods and the leaders of the Sufi holdings, today MÜSİAD represents a new bourgeoisie. Whereas it gives priority to capital maximalization, it also tries to keep in mind that the latter cannot be dissociated from some ethical constraint. In the same way that Max Weber ascribed the rise of capitalism to Protestant ethics, through the moral rigor of the believers and their personal work achievement, today the Islamic businessmen (including all groups) are the ones that draw from their Islamic faith the force necessary to work hard and consolidate a dearly gained social status. This attitude makes them examples for the Turkish people and the whole community of believers, and takes part to give a new outlook to a religion of which they are deeply proud.
 «Islamisme : le crépuscule de l'utopie»,Chantal de Rudder, Le Nouvel Observateur, No. 1732, 15 janvier 1998, entretien avec Gilles Kepel
 The Tuks Today, Andrew Mango, Woodstock/ New York, The Overlook Press, 2004, p. 86
Islam in Economic Organizations, Aişe Buğra, Istanbul, TESEV, 1999, note 7, p. 58
Yuzıla Girerken Dünyaya Yeni Bir Bakış / A New Vision for the World at the Threshold of the 21st Century, Erol Yarar, Istanbul, MÜSIAD, 1997
© 2005 Marie-Élisabeth Maigre. The reproduction of this text is prohibited without authorization of the author.