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Could little-known Turkish party offer Islamist alternative to Erdogan's AKP?

Turkey’s Islamist Saadet, or Felicity Party, has flown largely under the radar, but its new moderate line may build a force to be reckoned with in 2019.

For outside observers, Turkey’s Saadet (Felicity) Party is hardly a matter of interest. Since the Islamist party's founding in 2001, its mandate has never risen above 2% of the national vote. However, in Turkey’s ever fluid politics, Saadet is gaining a new importance that may prove politically significant. It could present a more moderate Islamic alternative to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The idea may sound odd, because in the early 21st century, it was not Saadet but the AKP that was the more moderate face of Turkey’s political Islam. Both parties were rooted in Turkey’s old school Islamism, which was led for decades by the late Necmettin Erbakan. Erbakan had always promoted a pan-Islamic foreign policy and a “just order” at home with Islamist themes such as an “interest-free” economy. When Erbakan’s coalition government was forced from power by the military in 1997, however, the reformist wing of his party broke up and founded the Justice and Development Party in 2001. It came to power only a year later and dominates Turkish politics to date. Meanwhile, Erbakan loyalists gathered in the Felicity Party, which survived as a small and dull vestige of the old Islamist line.

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