What ‘struggle for power’? [Between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and the Fethullah Gülen movement ]

Şahin Alpay
Şahin Alpay


Date posted: January 12, 2014

ŞAHİN ALPAY

My friends and readers abroad often ask me nowadays what I think about the “struggle for power” in Turkey between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and the Fethullah Gülen movement they read and hear about.

This is what I tell them: Yes, it is true that many, in a broad spectrum stretching from (Turkish and Kurdish) hard-line secularists to hard-line Islamists, seem to be convinced that there is a power struggle between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and religious leader Gülen — between the AKP government and the social movement inspired by the latter, condescendingly labeled “Fethullahists.”

Both hard-line secularists and Islamists agree that the corruption probe into the Erdoğan government was initiated by the “Fethullahists,” who dominate the judiciary and the police, and demand that this “clandestine Fethullahist parallel state” be discovered and eliminated through what amounts to a witch hunt. Hard-line Islamists entirely embrace Erdoğan’s theory that the probe is basically a conspiracy designed by the Western powers and Israel to weaken Turkey,carried out by their lackeys, the “Fethullahists.”

Hard-line secularists, on the other hand, have a different position: Many of them, being pro-Western, embrace only the part of the theory about the “Fethullahist” operators, demanding both that the corruption probe be pursued until the Erdoğan government is brought down and that the “parallel state” be eradicated. They also demand that the military and civilian defendants in the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) and Ergenekon cases sentenced to lengthy imprisonment for plotting to overthrow the elected AKP government be retried, declared innocent and set free. Some among them also argue that the Islamism of the AKP is not so dangerous, because after all it may lose power in the elections and leave the scene, while the Islamism of the “Fethullahists” is extremely dangerous because it threatens to infiltrate the state and profoundly Islamize society as a whole.

This is what I have to say about all of the arguments above: I don’t believe in the least that there is a struggle for power between the AKP and the Gülen movement. The former is a political party that has been in power for over a decade, while the latter is a faith-based civil society movement with no claim on political power. On one side, we have a political party that is becoming increasingly authoritarian and intolerant of civil society; on the other, we have a civil society movement that has, since the 1990s, been lending significant support to the democratization and socioeconomic development of Turkey through the media, educational and business institutions it has sponsored.

As stated in my previous column, a “Fethullahist” parallel state is a conspiracy theory par excellence, exploited by secular as well as Islamist fundamentalists and particularly by the Erdoğan government which vindicates once again the dictum that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It is only natural that there are followers or sympathizers of the Gülen movement within the judiciary and the police. If there are some among them who are shown to have violated the law, they should indeed be tried and punished. I am inclined to believe that the most serious corruption probe in Turkey’s history, an investigation into AKP ministers, bureaucrats and businessmen, was initiated by prosecutors of various religious and political preferences who are committed to the rule of law.

I definitely believe that the Gülen movement is a social force keenly supportive of the consolidation of democracy, with a particular interest in the securing of religious freedoms denied by the Kemalist state. Muslim scholar Gülen was highly critical of former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan’s Islamist-leaning politics, but supported Erdoğan as long as the latter served the democratization of the regime and turned against him when Erdoğan slipped into authoritarianism and began to attack the movement Gülen inspired.

When it comes to the argument put forward by some hard-line secularists who claim that Gülen is far more dangerous than Erdoğan because he is out to Islamize society, I can only say that they are, perhaps because of their Islamophobic prejudices, blind to the fact that Turkey is sufficiently Muslim to not need further Islamization, and that Gülen represents the liberal trend of Sufi Islam, which is certainly a bulwark against religious fundamentalism and Islamism.

Source: Todays Zaman , January 12, 2014


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