Portrait of the Gülen Brotherhood, sworn enemy of Turkey’s President Erdogan

Islamic Scholar Fethullah Gulen
Islamic Scholar Fethullah Gulen


Date posted: January 24, 2017

Marianne Meunier

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is pursuing his sworn enemy beyond his country’s borders. While on a trip to Africa this week, he plans to “place the activities of FETÖ on the table”, he indicated on Sunday evening ahead of his visit to Tanzania, Mozambique, and Madagascar in that order.

No need for the president to spell out FETÖ. The acronym stands for the “Terrorist Organization of Supporters of Fethullah”, the label used officially to designate the movement of Fethullah Gülen.

Since the aborted coup of 16 July last year, Turks have heard many references to this former cleric who heads a vast Islamic brotherhood and exiled to the United States since 1999. For Ankara, which is calling for his extradition, he is the man behind the coup attempt.

Marked by a culture of secrecy, the Gülen movement raises many questions. Some are answered by a confidential document produced by the European Union Intelligence and Situation Centre (INTCEN) which works mainly with the intelligence services of member states and produces diplomatic reports.


Nevertheless, its authors feel that the Gülen movement is not behind the coup attempt. There is no evidence that the army (…) and the Gülenists (…) had had any intention to cooperate in overthrowing Erdogan, they say.


Published in August last, this six-page text, of which La Croix obtained a copy, paints a precise portrait of a movement that has a network of congregations and schools in more than 160 countries. It’s ideology, which is “very simple from a theoretical perspective”, is based on the principle of an “exemplary life”.

“The movement gives advice for all of life’s situations (including taboos like conjugal life, married life),” the report adds, noting that its central value is “tolerance”. According to Thierry Zarcone, a researcher at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS – National Centre for Scientific Research), “the Gülen movement appears to be a reformist current in Islam in Turkey, portraying a will to be more flexible with Muslim tradition”.

The inter-religious dialogue that he advocates, symbolized by Gülen’s visit to Pope John-Paul II in Rome in 1998, needs, however, to be qualified. The report, based on experts, notes that the writings of the cleric, “while advocating tolerance on the face of it” are “expressly anti-Semitic and anti-Christian”.


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In addition to the schools, the Gülen movement has a network of “houses of light”. Here, “in the evenings, the teachings of Gülen are shared in apartments by small groups that are beyond the control of the State”, the document states.

This is a habit of clandestineness left over from the Kemalist era, which was defined by a strict adherence to secularism. “The movement is characterized by a marked functioning of zones of opacity,” says Didier Billion, a Turkey specialist and deputy director of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS).

Such methods did not prevent Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, AKP, from making Gülen’s movement a “strategic partner” between 2003 and 2010, the report notes.

The AKP then participated in the purges against the Kemalist establishment in the army, the security forces and the judiciary, and “the vacant posts in these institutions were then largely filled by people linked to the Gülen movement, which strengthened its influence”.

“There was this intention to form an elite, but also to be able to put pressure on the State to defend the interests of the movement,” explains Turkey-specialist Jean Marcou, a researcher at the Institute of Political Science in Grenoble, France.

That continued until the movement itself became the target of purges, starting in 2013. Since then, “there has been a permanent conflict between the Gülenists and the AKP”, notes the report.

Nevertheless, its authors feel that the Gülen movement is not behind the coup attempt. There is no evidence that the army (…) and the  Gülenists(…) had had any intention to cooperate in overthrowing Erdogan, they say.

Their analysis is that the “group of officers” that led the coup attempt included “ Gülenists, Kemalists, AKP opponents, and opportunists”.

It continues that Gülen “has no intention to destroy the achievements of the re-Islamization of society” due to the AKP, which will try to “profit from the coup attempt and could even be strengthened by it”.

Source: LaCroix International , January 24, 2017


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