Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is facing the greatest challenge to
his rule since the protests that erupted in the summer in Gezi
Tensions from within his Islamist base have escalated and come out
into the open.
On Thursday, Istanbul’s powerful police chief Huseyin
Capkin was dismissed by the government, in what seems to be a response to an
anti-corruption investigation striking at the heart of Turkey’s ruling elite and
threatening the authority of Erdogan at home and abroad.
Capkin was the
most senior commander so far to be sacked following the dismissal of dozens of
senior officers on Wednesday over what Erdogan has termed a “dirty operation” to
tarnish the government.
The police staged raids on Tuesday morning and
detained over 80 people.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet
Bahceli spoke out against the dismissal of members of the police by the
government, saying it demonstrated “panic” because of “feelings of guilt” by the
government, as quoted by Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News.
The judiciary and
lawyers were also upset with the government’s attempt to obstruct and interfere
in the investigation, Turkey’s Today’s Zaman newspaper
Erdogan’s government also appointed two more prosecutors to
take part in the investigation.
Scores of people including sons of three
ministers and some prominent businessmen close to Erdogan have been detained in
an action seen widely as a symptom of a power struggle with a US-based cleric
Fethullah Gulen, who has set up a network of private schools stretching to
Europe, Asia and America and who wields influence in the police, judiciary,
media, and within Erdogan’s Islamist AK Party itself.
movement, long a close ally of Erdogan, has in recent months publicly fallen out
with the prime minister over government plans to shut down private schools in
Turkey, including those run by Hizmet.
AKP member of parliament Hakan
Sukur, a well-known follower of Gulen, quit the Party on Monday in protest over
the prep school plans.
Erdogan, still by far the most popular Turkish
leader of modern times, said he would not tolerate corruption, but saw in the
raids a conspiracy to “create a state within the state.”
Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) at Bar-
Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post, “The Gulen movement has been critical
of Erdogan for some time on issues such as growing authoritarianism,
anti-Western orientation, and relations with Israel.”
“The opening rift
between them weakens Erdogan and the AKP. A big test is the upcoming municipal
election in the spring,” said Inbar.
If the main opposition Republican
People’s Party (CHP), along with other opposition parties, do well, they would
be able to block AKP party initiatives.
Erdogan will be ending his third
term in 2015 and unless he has the numbers in parliament to extend the country’s
term limits – beyond the current three terms – he may have to settle for running
for president, a less powerful position.
Erdogan’s party has been seeking
to make constitutional changes that would keep him in charge of the country, but
Gulen may throw a wrench into these plans.
A coalition between Gulen’s
more pragmatic supporters and the opposition, could force Erdogan to focus his
energies and political capital on domestic politics, leaving less room for his
aggressive neo-Ottoman foreign policy.
“The events in Turkey suggest that
what goes around comes around,” Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American
Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official told the
“Erdogan used the Gulen-dominated security forces to go after his
enemies, but now that they’re targeting his allies, he’s whining like a
toddler,” said Rubin.
Rubin does not believe that the AKP will be toppled
any time soon because they still have too many assets.
AKP-Gulenist rivalry might exacerbate splits in the party and lead Erdogan to
face more internal challenges,” he said, adding that “we already are seeing that
with Bulent Arinc, his deputy, who is close to the Gulenist movement and is
increasingly challenging Erdogan.”
Rubin sees a chance that Erdogan could
end up in prison or in exile in Saudi Arabia.
“After all, Erdogan still
has more than a dozen corruption cases against him pending, delayed only by his
parliamentary immunity,” he said concluding, “What’s clear is that the illusion
of invincibility that once surrounded Erdogan is crumbling.”Reuters
contributed to this report.