Analysis: In Turkey, Erdogan is fighting for his political life

The struggle between Erdogan's AKP Party, Gulen’s Hizmet movement comes down to 2 radically different views of Islam; Erdogan's faction identifies with the "Arab Islam," while Gulen's supporters prefer "the Islam of the Turks."

By
December 27, 2013 05:57
2 minute read.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip  Erdogan and US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Tayyip Erdogan, Fethullah Gulen split screen 370. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has received a political blow from which he may not recover.

His problems began in earnest in the summer with the outbreak of the Gezi Park protests, and now a corruption scandal at the highest levels of his government has put his continued leadership in serious jeopardy.

The military coup in Egypt in July, which ousted the Muslim Brotherhood, worked to begin a regional pushback against Islamist leadership.

Erdogan’s ruling Islamist AKP party as well as large parts of the bureaucracy have been penetrated by the Hizmet movement of his previous Islamist ally, Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Turkish cleric.

Awkwardly, the Turkish nationalist opposition Republican People’s Party, founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1924, and the Islamist Gulen movement find themselves opposing Erdogan together.

The brewing struggle under the surface between the AKP Party and Gulen’s movement comes down to “two radically different views of Islam,” according to Harold Rhode, a senior fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute and a former adviser at the Pentagon.

“In the first, Erdogan’s faction identifies and allies itself with the [Arab] Muslim Brotherhood,” said Rhode in an article for the Gatestone Institute.

“In the second view, supporters of Fethullah Gulen look down upon ‘Arab Islam.’ To them, ‘real’ Islam is ‘the Islam of the Turks’ – meaning the people who live in Turkey, Central Asia, and Western China.”

Now we are seeing “an alliance of convenience” between Gulen’s movement and the secularists, wrote Rhode.

Rhode told The Jerusalem Post in an interview that in the Middle East, competitors pounce when they sense weakness, and the summer protests possibly led to such a perception by Gulen and his well-positioned supporters.

Rhode said there is little chance Erdogan would step down, because it would be a shame for him – “much better to be killed than be shamed and lose your reputation.”

What happened here is that Erdogan was not aware of what was going on and suddenly woke up and understood what was happening and how the Gulen movement was slowly taking over and infiltrating centers of state power, including his own party.

“Erdogan realized he was in trouble, that the problem was not the secularists – the problem was the Gulenists,” said Rhode.

Burak Bekdil, a columnist for Hurriyet, said that perhaps there will be a move to “confine” Erdogan to the powerless presidency, and “then hit the road with AKP version 2.0, a softer, less confrontational and more pluralistic version of the party, ideally run by [current President Abdullah] Gul.”

Taner Aydin, the bureau chief in Israel of the Anadolu Agency, the official government news agency in Turkey, told the Post that “of course he [Erdogan] will not fall. He is still strong and will be stronger” at the end of this episode.

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