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The Gulen Affair

The conflict between Erdogan and Gulen is a conflict between two flavors of Sufi Islam. Erdogan represents a more traditional "tarikat" - the Naksibendis - which emphasized Sunni orthodoxy and discouraged heterodox innovative practices and groups. Fethullah Gulen leads a Cemaat, a more recent phenomenon formation, emerging in the 19th century, with far less emphasis on ceremony than tarikats, and lacking the sheikh-disciple relationship that is central to tarikats.

As members of Gulens movement, also known as the Hizmet, or service movement, took posts in key sectors of education, military, intelligence, the judiciary, and especially the media, their power grew. Penetrating the education sector was the key of Gulens strategy for more than four decades.

Fethullah Gulen was a former ally of Turkeys President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but had a falling out in 2013. The Gulen movement was once among Erdogan's most enthusiastic supporters and Gulen-affiliated media groups backed government policies. Judging by comments of insiders in the influential Islamist lodge of Fethullah Gulen such as publicist Abdurrahman Celik, the lodge, which by 2004 had made some inroads into AKP (Minister of Justice Cicek, Minister of Culture and Tourism Mumcu; perhaps 60-80 of 368 MPs; some appointments to the bureaucracy), resumed the ambivalent attitude it initially had toward Erdogan and AKP.

Gulen fell out of favor with the president when police and prosecutors seen as sympathetic to Gulen opened a corruption investigation into Erdogan's inner circle in December 2013. Related court cases were subsequently dismissed following a large-scale reorganization within the police and judiciary. Erdogan blamed the cleric's supporters for the corruption allegations and purged thousands of police and members of the judiciary he deemed loyal to Gulen.

Erdogan battled corruption allegations amid a power struggle that went to the heart of the political elite, in a feud which saw three Cabinet ministers lose their jobs in late 2013. Several police chiefs and 350 police officers were fired. Dozens were arrested. On 22 January 2014 a further 470 police officers, including department chiefs, were removed from their posts. This brought the total of sacked or reassigned government officials and police officers to roughly 2,000.

Observers said the purge was targeting followers of a powerful conservative movement known as Hizmet, founded by a U.S.-based Islamic scholar, Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan cast the corruption allegations as an attempted "judicial coup" - and blamed foreign powers. Faced with anti-government protests and corruption investigations, Erdogan blamed his problems on the US, Israel and cleric Fethullah Gulens followers, who are reportedly influential within Turkey's judiciary and police. International powers are behind this," Erdogan said last month. Dissemination propaganda has been launched against us. There is a gang, a cabal organizing within the state.

Government members said its former ally, Islamic scholar Fetullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, is behind the conspiracy, using a network of his supporters in the judiciary. As an imam in Turkey, Gulen encouraged his followers to become educated, and the movement spread beyond Turkish borders, with hundreds of schools and charities established in other countries. Gulens messages of peace tolerance have won him praise from luminaries in the United States. Former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and James Baker, and former President Bill Clinton have all spoken at Gulen foundations.

Loyola University Maryland Professor Joshua Hendrick said the Gulen movement is more akin to the Moral Majority, an American evangelical movement that became politically active in the 1980s in favor of conservative politics. Hendrick, who recently published a study of the Gulen movement, said the prime ministers accusations are not implausible. What were dealing with is a very influential, very powerful social organization that is very effective at achieving its goals, such as influencing an investigation, he said.

Police in Turkey raided media outlets throughout the country 14 December 2014, arresting 24 supporters of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. They include Ekrem Dumanli, the editor-in-chief of Zaman, the country's top-selling newspaper. Dumanli said the Turkish media is face-to-face with a monster that has gone haywire, and is focused on annihilating democracy. He accused the government of carrying out a coup against the media.

Erdogan reiterated accusations that supporters of Gulen run what he called a parallel state in Turkey and were plotting a coup against him and his government. Erdogan said there would be no let-up of police probes against followers of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who he accused of seeking to overthrow the state. He said, "Elements who threaten our national security will receive the necessary treatment, even if they are members of the press." The Turkish president went on to say that purges within the judiciary would still be needed to remove what he called traitors.

Under a law that took effect just days before police launched probes of Zaman and Samanyolu TV, assets and companies belonging to people under investigation for terrorism can be seized even if those individuals have not been convicted of a crime, as long as there is a "reasonable suspicion" of guilt.

Turkeys top-selling opposition newspaper, Zaman, was forcibly taken over by the Turkish government. Turkish authorities took control of Zaman on 04 March 2016 by appointing new trustees for the Feza Media Group, which includes the paper. Police also raided Zamans offices to enforce a Turkish court order demanding that the media outlet be brought under government authority.

Ankara claimed that its actions were aimed at investigating illicit financing of what it described as a Gulenist terror group. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu described Zamans activities as an operation targeting a legitimate government that came to power with popular support, referring to the papers affiliation with the now US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. On 07 March 2016 the Turkish government took control of the Cihan news agency, believed to be associated with US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, a foe of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Cihan was the largest private news agency in Turkey, and its takeover now left state-owned Anadolu as the only source of information for Turkish people.

Erdogan's administration was widely criticized for violating human rights, imprisoning journalists and taking over several media organizations in the country. Washington-based Freedom House, which publishes an annual report on press freedom around the world, indicated conditions for media in Turkey had deteriorated during the past five years. The organization calls the country "Not Free" in its 2015 assessment. Reporters Without Borders also ranks Turkey at the bottom of its 2015 World Press Freedom Index: 149 out of 180 countries.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2016 20:26:54 ZULU