It is by now abundantly clear that Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in the process of rapidly transforming Turkey into a religious dictatorship that is increasingly resembling a totalitarian rather than just an authoritarian state. Having suspended all constitutional rights and guarantees, as well as the European Convention of Human Rights, under a blanket emergency rule law, Erdogan governs Turkey today much as the Stalinist regimes did in Eastern Europe after Soviet bayonets installed them there at the end of WWII. The list of abuses is long and getting longer by the day. So far, 79,000 public servants have been dismissed, 40,000 are in jail awaiting trials, 1016 educational institutions, including 15 universities, have been closed down, as have been 129 charitable foundations. Ditto for 1125 citizen associations, 19 trade unions and 35 private and military hospitals, whose names have promptly been changed to those of Ottoman sultans. In a move strongly reminiscent of the massive nationalizations of private property under communism, Erdogan has confiscated the assets of 4500 private companies and those of their owners leaving them virtually on the street unless they had assets abroad. The dimensions of the massive witch hunt of those that do not agree with AKP’s Islamist agenda are yet to become fully known, but dozens of journalists, writers and secular activists have already been arrested. In one particularly egregious case, the internationally-renowned Turkish writer and human rights defender, Asli Erdogan, who suffers from diabetes and astma, has been thrown in jail and made to sleep on an urine-soaked mattress. All of them have now collectively and illogically been accused of being members of an ostensible Fethullah Gὒlen terrorist network (FETO).
So who is Fethullah Gὒlen and what is his relationship with Erdogan and Turkish society? The basic facts of his life and activities are not in contention. Born in Erzurum in 1941 in a family of devout Muslims, Gὒlen is said to have studied Islam at an early age and to have given his first sermon at the age of 14. As an adult, he is reported to have embraced the teachings of the Islamist Said Nursi and his Nur Movement, which is considered an Islamic movement opposed to Mustafa Kemal Attaturk’s efforts to build a secular Turkish society in the years after the foundation of the Turkish Republic. Later, Gὒlen became a prominent Islamic preacher on his own and the head of a popular movement called Hizmet (service) or Jamaat (congregation). The movement, which many believe to actually be a sect with Gulen as the supreme guru, is reported to have at least three million adherents in Turkey and many more outside of it. In 1999, Gὒlen moved to the United States, ostensibly for medical treatment, but according to some, because he expected to be sentenced for allegedly advocating the overthrow of the secular government, a trial which actually took place in 2000.
Ideologically, at first glance, Gὒlen and Erdogan could not be more different. Erdogan has never been shy of acknowledging his firm Islamist beliefs and is on record claiming openly that he is a “servant of sharia,” that his goal is the establishment of an “Islamic state” in Turkey and that he sees democracy as nothing more than an instrument to achieve that objective. Gὒlen, on the other hand, claims publicly that he is in favor of interfaith dialog, secular government and multi-party democracy. Unfortunately for him, this is a carefully constructed public façade behind which a radical Islamic ideology is all too easily visible if one were to read his actual writings as exhaustively documented in this excellent analysis.
For instance, in a book describing the brilliance of the Prophet Muhammad as a military commander, Gὒlen explains that Muslim hatred toward the infidels is actually a form of compassion, since by being unbelievers they commit injustice. Therefore this type of compassion justifies the conquest and killing of the infidels by the Muslims. Because, argues Gὒlen “it is incumbent upon those who serve the One God and worship Him faithfully to secure justice in the world. Islam calls this responsibility jihad.” And Gὒlen leaves little doubt as to what the purpose of jihad is in his view: “It seeks to convey the Message of Islam to all human beings in the world and to establish a model Islamic community on a world-wide basis.” Less sophisticated Islamists like Erdogan call this the Islamic Caliphate.
Gὒlen is also very specific about the tactics to be employed by his followers in accomplishing these objectives by instructing them in internal Hizmet communications how to take over governments: “With the patience of a spider, we lay our web and wait for people to get caught in the web.” In a 1999 Hizmet video he advises: “Wait until such time until you have got all the state power…” There are many other questionable aspects of Gὒlen’s modus operandi such as his use of U.S. government money in his large network of charter schools in the United States, visa fraud and proselytism and a number of countries, apart from Turkey, have already forbidden his activities.
What is important to note with respect to Turkey, however, is that Gὒlen and Erdogan worked closely together in undermining Turkish secular society for the first ten years of the Erdogan rule. For instance, Erdogan’s justice system acquitted Gὒlen of all charges against him in 2008 and there is also the case of the prosecution of 3000 Kurds in 2010 by Gulenists prosecutors that have now themselves been detained as terrorists. Also in 2012, two prominent journalists, Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener, were thrown in jail for writing a book called “The Imam’s Army” documenting Gὒlen’s nefarious influence. The most important case by far, however, were the two huge alleged conspiracies against the state named Ergenekon and Baliyoz, concocted by the Erdogan regime and carried out by Gulenist supporters in the justice system and the prosecutor’s office, which beginning in 2010, resulted in hundreds of high-ranking military and journalists being thrown in jail for ostensibly planning a coup d’etat without a shred of real evidence. They were eventually exonerated and released, but the real enmity between Gὒlen’s anti-secular zealots and the military remains and makes it extremely unlikely that Hizmet had anything to do with the military coup attempt of this past July 15th as claimed by Erdogan.
Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the former Islamist allies are now mortal enemies. The real reason for that may be as simple as akin to a fight over turf and money by two mafia dons and may not reflect any real ideological differences. It is well known that Gὒlen’s supporters were instrumental in documenting the vast corruption schemes of the Erdogan regime, after he threatened to close the lucrative Turkish university preparatory schools, 75% of which were run by the Hizmet. They were reported to number 3100 in 2014 with two million students, each paying $11,000 per year. It will sooner or later become known what caused the breach, but whatever the case, it is already clear that Erdogan cannot prove Gὒlen’s culpability in the coup. What’s left is the fact that on the morning of the coup, Erdogan’s minions already had lists with thousands of people to be dismissed and arrested. Events since than speak eloquently that what we have observed is a naked Islamist power grab that has for now destroyed the secular democratic order, however imperfect, installed by Attaturk. It is highly unlikely that Erdogan’s dictatorship will last long.