News / Europe

Feud Between Turkey's Erdogan and Influential Cleric Goes Public

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses the media next to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (R) at Esenboga Airport in Ankara, Nov. 21, 2013.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses the media next to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (R) at Esenboga Airport in Ankara, Nov. 21, 2013.
Reuters
A feud between Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and an influential Islamic cleric has spilled into the open months ahead of elections, highlighting fractures in the religiously conservative support base underpinning his decade in power.

Erdogan's government has incensed followers of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Islamic preacher whose supporters say they number in millions, with plans to abolish private 'prep' schools many of which are financed and run by Gulen's movement.

The reclusive cleric drew parallels with the behavior of the secularist military in the build up to past coups.

FILE - Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen at his residence in Saylorsburg, PennsylvaniaFILE - Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania
x
FILE - Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania
FILE - Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania
Gulen has built a global network of schools over the past four decades promoting Turkish language and culture. In doing so, he has established a powerful movement whose members hold influential positions across Turkish society, from the police and judiciary to the central bank, political parties and media.

“The draft bill regarding closing of prep schools and reading rooms came like a dagger to our heart,” an editorial on one of Gulen's official websites said, an unusually blunt expression of opposition to Erdogan's government.

In a voice recording on another site, Gulen recalled the actions of the military, staunch guardians of Turkey's secular order, which staged three coups between 1960 and 1980 and forced Turkey's first Islamist-led government from power in 1997.

“They could even want to shut the gates of heaven,” he said. “We have seen this during the 1960 coup and have been slapped by it. We have seen the (1971) coup and been kicked by it. We have seen the 1980 coup and we've all been hit by them.”

Gulen's sympathizers, largely drawn from the same religiously-minded professional class which helped sweep Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK Party to power in 2002, revere him as an enlightened, pro-Western face of progressive Islam.

His critics see a more sinister agenda, accusing members of his Hizmet movement of furtively seeking to infiltrate state institutions and wield power through undemocratic means.

FILE - Children attend a class at Fatih College in Istanbul, Turkey. The 640-pupil school is run by followers of Fethullah Gulen.FILE - Children attend a class at Fatih College in Istanbul, Turkey. The 640-pupil school is run by followers of Fethullah Gulen.
x
FILE - Children attend a class at Fatih College in Istanbul, Turkey. The 640-pupil school is run by followers of Fethullah Gulen.
FILE - Children attend a class at Fatih College in Istanbul, Turkey. The 640-pupil school is run by followers of Fethullah Gulen.
Closing its prep schools in Turkey - schools that provide high-standard private education to prepare children for high school and university - could deprive the movement of one of its sources of financing.

In an interview on Turkey's ATV television late on Wednesday, Erdogan was defiant, referring to the Hizmet movement as the “opposing side”.

“If they are expecting a turnaround, they should know it is not going to happen,” he said, but denied that the draft bill on prep schools was targeting Gulen.

“Why should we side against the movement now? We find it very strange that our brothers are attacking us.”

Political sway

Erdogan, accused by critics of pursuing an increasingly authoritarian style of government, has in the past said his relationship with Gulen is an issue he prefers to keep out of the public eye.

But the secretive nature of the Hizmet movement means its impact on forthcoming elections - local polls next March, a presidential race a few months later in which Erdogan is expected to stand, and general elections in 2015 - is hard to quantify.

Surveys commissioned by the AK Party have put the level of voters the movement could sway at around 3 percent of the electorate, while other sources have suggested they control up to 8 percent, according to Turkish media reports.

Gulen left for the United States in 1999, shortly before the start of a case against him on charges of plotting to destroy the secular state and establish Islamic law.

He was acquitted but has lived there ever since, presiding over a movement with influence from the United States to Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and Europe.

In a statement on the web site of the Journalists and Writers Foundation, which has Gulen as its honorary leader, the movement said it had no plans to establish its own party.

But its real power lies within the AK Party bureaucracy and ranks and its ability to rally support for or against Erdogan.

Erdogan has won three elections in a row since 2002 and presided over an economic boom in Turkey. On the electoral map nearly all of the country - apart from the Aegean coast, the mainly Kurdish southeast corner and a small region on the European continent - is AK Party orange.

But there are signs of fracture within the party.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, a co-founder with Erdogan of the AKP and a long-time ally, sparred with Erdogan this month over his suggestion that regulations be drawn up to stop male and female students living together.

During anti-government protests over the summer, when Erdogan dismissed the demonstrators as looters and oversaw a heavy-handed police crackdown, both Arinc and President Abdullah Gul - both seen as Gulen sympathizers - struck markedly more conciliatory tones.

Erdogan has said that the prep schools, estimated to number around 4,000 in Turkey, boost inequality by placing an unfair financial burden on lower-income families and that in any case, only around a quarter of them are run by the Hizmet movement.

Not everyone is convinced.

“The real target is to deal a serious blow to Gulen's movement,” Rusen Cakir, a columnist in the pro-government Vatan newspaper, wrote this month.

“The first question that comes to mind is why Erdogan is taking such a risk before local elections, and presidential elections shortly after. Does he want to test the Gulen movement's strength at the ballot box?”

You May Like

WHO: Anti-Ebola Efforts Should Focus on West Africa

Official says WHO is 'reasonably confident' countries bordering those hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak are not seeing the virus crossing their borders More

South Sudan Crisis Threatens Development

Economic costs and lost development opportunities in South Sudan have erased what little progress the country has made since independence in 2011 More

Ukrainian PM Warns: Russia May Try to Disrupt Sunday Poll

Arseniy Yatsenyuk orders full security mobilization for parliamentary election to prevent ‘terrorist acts’ from being carried out More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid