Gülen and Er­do­gan’s is­lamic ri­valry and its con­se­quences

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - WORLD -

Since his self-im­posed ex­ile in 1999, Gülen has built up an im­pres­sive busi­ness em­pire. “His net­work of me­dia out­lets in Turkey and abroad had be­come in­creas­ingly pow­er­ful; his schools were groom­ing the next gen­er­a­tion… his banks fa­cil­i­tated the move­ment and trans­fer of funds…where some coun­tries’ fi­nan­cial af­fairs are gov­erned by Is­lamic prin­ci­ples”, re­ported Deutsche Welle. De­spite Er­do­gan’s crack­down on Gülen’s fi­nances, thou­sands of busi­nesses in and out­side Turkey, as well as hun­dreds of thou­sands of fol­low­ers, con­tinue to con­trib­ute hand­somely to the fi­nanc­ing of Hizmet.

Fethul­lah Gülen left Turkey in 1999 at a time when he was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for un­der­min­ing the gov­ern­ment, which at that point was still firmly un­der the con­trol of Turkey’s sec­u­lar elite and backed up by the mil­i­tary. In 2000, he was found guilty, in ab­sen­tia, of schem­ing to over­throw the gov­ern­ment, by em­bed­ding civil ser­vants in var­i­ous gov­ern­men­tal of­fices – an in­dict­ment which he ve­he­mently de­nies that would come back to haunt him later un­der Er­do­gan.

Prior to 1999, Gulen op­er­ated within a con­sti­tu­tion­ally sec­u­lar Turkey, and his fol­low­ers have for the past four decades spread through­out Turkey’s in­sti­tu­tions. His ad­vo­cates call him the ‘ guru of mod­er­ate Is­lam’, marked by his hu­man­i­tar­i­an­ism while he was pro­mot­ing his ide­ol­ogy through a net­work of high-achiev­ing schools in Turkey and in about 140 coun­tries. Whereas Gülen ed­u­cated the youth with sciences and for­eign lan­guages, Er­do­gan was not as keen about ed­u­ca­tion which mir­rors his base, largely com­prised of the poor and less ed­u­cated.

Er­do­gan never trusted Gülen, but ini­tially de­cided to co­op­er­ate with him in or­der to gain the sup­port of his fol­low­ers. But once he so­lid­i­fied his base and grad­u­ally as­sumed dic­ta­to­rial pow­ers through con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments, he was then in a po­si­tion to do away with his ri­vals – chief among them Gülen – to re­alise his long-awaited “Caliphate” dream while res­ur­rect­ing el­e­ments of the Ot­toman Em­pire.

Er­do­gan’s in­ten­tions were to ex­ert in­flu­ence on gov­ern­ments around the world, es­pe­cially in Africa and Cen­tral Asia, to close Gülen-af­fil­i­ated schools in their coun­tries. “When we look at Er­do­gan’s own state­ments and the doc­u­ments un­earthed in re­cent years, we can eas­ily say that Er­do­gan has never liked… Gülen”, says Sitki Oz­can, a US-based re­porter for Za­man Amerika.

Ay­do­gan Vatan­das, an in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist from Turkey, says that the main rea­son that the lead­er­ship of the Gülen move­ment failed to see Er­do­gan’s real am­bi­tions was due to their be­lief that sub­or­di­nat­ing the mil­i­tary to civil­ian au­thor­ity and lim­it­ing the in­flu­ence of the ju­di­ciary would not have a dra­matic ad­verse ef­fect on Turk­ish democ­racy. “It was wrong to be­lieve that weak­en­ing these in­sti­tu­tions would lead to the emer­gence of a democ­racy.” Ac­cord­ing to him, Er­do­gan has al­ready con­sol­i­dated his power to re­shape the so­ci­ety, which led to the en­tire cleans­ing of the Gülen move­ment from Turk­ish so­ci­ety.

Since the failed mil­i­tary coup in July 2016, nearly 445,000 peo­ple have been the sub­ject of le­gal pro­ceed­ings on bo­gus charges of mem­ber­ship in the Gülen move­ment, in­clud­ing judges, teach­ers, po­lice of­fi­cers, and jour­nal­ists, while snatch­ing over 100 al­leged mem­bers of the Gülen move­ment from other coun­tries.

Nazmi Ulus, the Gülen move­ment’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Kosovo, said that although the move­ment main­tains their schools (Mehmet Akif Col­leges) and is sus­tain­ing their ac­tiv­i­ties, they no longer feel safe any­more, es­pe­cially in light of Er­do­gan’s kid­nap­ping of six Turks liv­ing in Kosovo in March. “Con­sid­er­ing the peo­ple of Kosovo, yes we can say we are safe, but again con­sid­er­ing the self-as­ser­tion… and also the abil­ity [of Er­do­gan to black­mail and]… op­er­ate in the re­gion, it is im­pos­si­ble to say yes, we are safe”.

Although Er­do­gan was able to nearly de­stroy the Hizmet move­ment in Turkey, hun­dreds of thou­sands of fol­low­ers are still fully but qui­etly en­trenched in pri­vate and gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions and are well-em­bed­ded in scores of coun­tries, in­clud­ing the US, which are be­yond his reach.

The ri­valry be­tween Er­do­gan and Gülen sug­gests that de­spite Er­do­gan’s ef­forts to dec­i­mate the Hizmet move­ment, he will end up on the los­ing side. The ma­jor­ity of the Turk­ish pop­u­la­tion has suf­fered greatly from his purges and gross hu­man rights abuses; cou­pled with an alarm­ing de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the econ­omy, he has be­come in­creas­ingly un­pop­u­lar.

Un­like Er­do­gan, to whom his­tory will not be kind, how­ever, Fethul­lah Gülen en­joys a non-elected po­si­tion and will re­main deeply revered by his fol­low­ers as long as he lives and be­yond. His so­cially-ori­ented Is­lamic phi­los­o­phy and hu­man­i­tar­ian ser­vices will cer­tainly out­live Er­do­gan’s po­lit­i­cal Is­lam, which may well di­min­ish once he leaves the po­lit­i­cal scene. Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at the Cen­ter for Global Af­fairs at NYU. He teaches cour­ses on in­ter­na­tional ne­go­ti­a­tion and Mid­dle East­ern stud­ies. Ar­bana Xharra au­thored a se­ries of in­ves­tiga­tive re­ports on re­li­gious ex­trem­ists and Turkey’s Is­lamic agenda op­er­at­ing in the Balkans. She has won nu­mer­ous awards for her re­port­ing, and was a 2015 re­cip­i­ent of the In­ter­na­tional Women of Courage Award from the US State De­part­ment. [email protected]­ben-meir.com www.alon­ben-meir.com

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