Friday, December 20, 2013

Questions about the Gulen-Erdogan fight

Do you consider these events more significant than the Gezi Park protests this past summer in terms of being able to erode Erdogan's grasp on power?

Yes, I do consider these allegations more significant as it seems Erdogan is going to remove half of his cabinet shortly. His most visible ministers are falling, and nobody knows how deep these allegations will penetrate. We are truly in uncharted waters and still yet to see what kind of a counter move will Erdogan take. He already removed over 100 police chiefs, but I expect something big in the works against the Gulen Movement, and its perceived allies within the state institutions. Meanwhile, his party's image is eroding by corruption accusations, he seems vulnerable.

Do you think Erdogan is mismanaging his response to the arrests by dismissing police officers and bring back this fight against the deep state, which he now appears to see as the Gulen movement?

I do believe he is making a huge mistake, but I am not surprised to see he is taking this course of actions. We just saw how his administration handled the Gezi protests with uncompromising attitude last summer. His administration stayed mostly on the offensive against the mass protests after first week of the protests. Instead of meeting their demands, Erdogan kept organizing rallies and continued accusing the protestors by wild accusations. Erdogan appears to be considering these corruption revelations directly targeting him, and instead of letting prosecutors and TNP to go after the claims, he decided to remove hundreds of chiefs. Can he stop these revelations and corruption case? We don't know because, as serious the claims are, we can't know where will they lead. Though important to note, Erdogan’s government was able to stop the “lighthouse charity” corruption scandal before. However, the perception is that by removing all those security and judiciary figures, including who launched these corruption cases, he tries to cover up the investigations. We still have about 3 months to go to the local elections, but venture to guess that his preferred course of action will damage his electoral appeal.

How long has this battle between Erdogan and Gulen been brewing, arguably it's been years?

First, these two pious-conservative blocks never liked or approved each other's approaches and ways of doing things, a.k.a. service to Islam. However, there was a common enemy for both, the military, and as soon as that threat was effectively ended, I think the fight began brewing. If we had to start with an event, I think, Mr. Gulen's criticism towards Erdogan regarding Mavi Marmara was the beginning, which means mid-2010. However, February 7th of 2012, when MIT's head was summoned by a prosecutor shook the partnership deeply. Since then, MIT is said to have been purging Gulen followers in the state institutions aggressively and the Gulen Movement has been looking for an opening to strike back.

What a kind of truth is there to these corruption charges?

So far the allegations, leaked parts of indictments, photos, phone conversations are appalling. However, many of the evidence leaked during Ergenekon and OdaTV cases later on proved to be inaccurate. So far though, the allegations extremely significant and damning. We have to wait more to see whether these allegations will be proved in the court of law. However, even at this stage, Erdogan is already wounded.

Who are among Erdogan's remaining allies and what kind of power do they wield?

PM Erdogan and his administration has been ruling Turkey for over a decade. Therefore they apparently think, by now, they have enough of their own allies to fill ranks of the state institutions and replace the purged security and bureaucrats believed to be Gulen's followers. According to one informed source, many of the nationalist leaning bureaucrats, even if not coming from the AKP base,  have been filling the ranks that are emptied. Erdogan also now wields influence over vast segments of the Turkish media. Though, we see that now secular segments of the media bosses, which have been submitted to PM Erdogan in recent years by either tax fines or lucrative tenders, are going after the corruption accusations aggressively. So, safe to say most of Erdogan's coalition partners of the last decades, in this current fight, alienated, including liberals. He is operating by leaning on his core base (conservatives, Islamists)

What is the real extension of Fethullah Gülen influence in Turkish society? Polls say his movement has little electoral appeal, I read rumors (in The New York Times too) that he’s trying to split the AKP and finance a rival party. Do you think it is a realistic scenario?

I believe that Mr. Gulen's influence in the Turkish society is significant. Newspaper that has the largest circulation in Turkey is pro-Gulen. Also the movement has TV-news channels, magazines, radio stations and what not. Therefore, his influence is not limited to his followers, but this vast media networks that can influence the society. Financing a rival party is not realistic, but surely this media and social media campaign sharply criticizing AKP, considering will continue months to come, will make a big dent among Erdogan's electoral base. And today is only the fouth day of the revelations. Much rumors indicate we yet to see the full extent of the accusations.

Seen from a foreign country, for a long period of time the fight for power in Turkey seemed an Edrogan-Gül affair, prime minister vs. president. Even last summer during the Gezi park riots Gül was a more prominent figure than mr. Gülen. What is the role of Abdullah Gül in this context?

Mr. Gül and Mr. Erdogan always have been able to keep their differences or disagreements in private. Yes, Mr. Gül's approach was softer during Gezi protests, but Pres Gül is always known for his smooth talk. However, as the corruption and bribery scandal continues, Mr.Gül might indeed end up being the ultimate winner out of this saga for the next presidential elections. He hasn't ruled out for running the second term yet, and everyday these revelations continue, his biggest rival for the presidential spot, Mr. Erdogan loses and he wins.

What about the secular elite? The whole affair seems an intra-religious matter. What do the entrepreneurial and urban class think?

Secular elite is, in essence, is watching the whole episode, with a smile on their face. In recent years, their political reps have been ineffective and appeared weak, fragmented. The largest secular media conglomerates, one by one, lost their influence and submitted to the AKP government. Some of them became submissive with massive tax fines by the government, others got cozy with the AKP by large public tenders and/or winning energy bids, mega construction projects. That's why, practically, the Gulen Movement is left as the last safeguard that is not submissive to the AKP government. Now we are watching whether PM Erdogan can beat his last enemy, the final check on his power.

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