The US-based Turkish cleric and politician Fethullah Gulen, who once did his best to push Justice and Development Party (AKP) up to power, in the middle of the road went discontented with Erdogan’s pathway and so decided to challenge the AKP-led Turkey’s government in a bid to make it retreat from its stances.
This issue presents a large-scale challenge to Erdogan and his policies as Gulen holds sway in the country’s judicature and the police force. Therefore, Erdogan, using different ways, tries to limit the power of Gulen and his movement Hizmet- also called Gulen Movement. This comes while following the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Turkey, the Gulen Movement has adopted simultaneously two strategies to impair Erdogan:
First, the Gulen Movement has attempted to convince the moderate faction of AKP to keep away from and not to back Erdogan’s ambitious policies.
Second, it also has tried to create a balance to contain Erdogan’s aggressive behavior by publicizing a couple of anti-ruling party controversial cases and documents.
These measures are done while Erdogan, too, through a variety of ways made efforts to challenge Gulen Movement. Erdogan’s anti-Gulen actions are as follows:
- Giving the economic projects and contracts to MUSIAD business association and keeping away the TUSKON (Turkish Federation of Businessmen and Industrialists) from working in large economic and construction projects. TUSKON is considered as the economic and financial command center of Gulen’s Movement. For years it has succeeded to get toehold in many Turkish economy's corners.
After AKP’s rise to power, Erdogan backed the Muslim economic elites. The government contracts were given to the AKP’s proponents, most of them belonging to Naqshbandi groups and Gulen Movement. The minor and medial businessmen accounted for a majority of these Erdogan-backed business elites who came from Anatolia to the Turkish urban areas. Most of them changed to a new urban class, mostly living in Istanbul, in the time of the former Turkish President Turgut Ozal who served from 1983 to 1989.
During the years that Gulen Movement and AKP held close relations, there was an alliance between MUSIAD and TUSKON. In association with each other, they managed to drive the rival TUSIAD (Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’ Association) out of the economic and commercial fields.
The TUSKON’s staff accompanied the president and prime minister in official foreign trips, using their network to facilitate investment and foreign trade in other countries from Africa to East Asia.
However, after Gulen-Erdogan's break-up, TUSKON drew close to TUSIAD as part of its rivalry with MUSIAD. In fact, Erdogan entrusted many of profitable state contracts to MUSIAD, and so TUSKON in many cases was deprived of trading and winning contracts. Furthermore, Erdogan in his foreign visits was accompanied by MUSIAD’s members. This developments took place while earlier TUSKON’s members enjoyed such a privilege in Erdogan’s policy, managing to expand their business thanks to their travelling with the then-Prime Minister Erdogan.
- Closing down Gulen’s private courses with the excuse of reforming Turkey’s education system. On March 1, 2014, the Turkish parliament voted to ban Gulen institutes’ private and extra-curricular courses while millions of students were taking private courses to prepare for the university entrance exam. According to the bill, the private courses had to be closed down from early September 2015. With doing so, the government targeted a major revenue source of Gulen Movement.
- Considering alternative education institutes
During the recent years, Erdogan paid special attention to graduates of other education centers in a bid to check the growing expansion of Gulen’s schools and institutes.
A research by the American think tank RAND Corporation on the political Islam in Turkey conducted in 2008 showed that the government hired the graduates of theological schools in the state sectors and companies in all levels of expertise. This indicates that success of theology graduates in the government jobs not only transforms the balance in the secular-religious status of the Turkish society but also it practically blocks the progress of the graduates of Gulen schools. This comes while Gulen Movement has tried in a variety of ways to push its graduates in the state offices and institutions so that it could take advantage of them in the future.
- Cleansing the judicature, security forces and police forces of pro-Gulen elements
When Erdogan-Gulen's rift came to surface, within several days thousands of police staff and prosecuting attorneys who were tasked with corruption cases were dismissed or put to other jobs. Many of the police officers were also dismissed or downgraded and so got new jobs. Also, the attorneys responsible to prosecute corruption, smuggling, cyber and organized crimes cases were given new jobs. Additionally the police chief and general attorneys of several significant cities in the country were changed.
- Clamping down on pro-Gulen media
Erdogan is well aware that one of Gulen’s strong power pillars is his media. So, he goes to great lengths to scale down his media strength and influence. For example, in June 2014, the Radio and Television Supreme Council, Turkey’s top state agency for regulation of media, fined the pro-Gulen STV channel for insulting Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then-prime minister of Turkey. The channel was fined over $35,000 for broadcasting in its major news bulletin a report on a complaint of a retired police officer. The Supreme Council earlier had sent letters to some of other channels, warning them of giving reports on corruption and bribery.
- Improving Diyanet Institute
The Presidency of Religious Affairs or Diyanet Institute, led by Mehmet Gormez, is active in the country under the administration of the Turkish prime minister's office. Its budget saw a considerable boost during the recent years and for 2014 it hit about $3 billion. The annual budget of Diyanet is said to be more than a total sum of budgets of eight government ministries. Within a decade, the number of employees of Diyanet jumped from 74,000 to 141,000. The president of the institute has a full authority to pick the imams and employees of mosques at home and out of the country. Even the texts of the Friday Prayers (Jumu'ah) are reportedly written by the president of Diyanet. Wherever the Turks are present, the network of the president is widely present.
According to many evidences, during the election campaigns, many of the Diyanet members work for the AKP. For example, before the local elections held in March 30 2014, there appeared allegations suggesting that the sermon texts or Khutbahs written by Diyanet Institute and distributed to the mosques incited people to vote for Erdogan’s AKP. Even the conservative elites have expressed concerns, explaining their reasons for the need of the religious affairs to be kept away from politics.
Additionally, the president of Diyanet institute has never spoken out against the government’s measures. After September 17, 2013 corruption scandal, the anti-Erdogan politicians and elites have lashed out at the presidency of Diyanet for its silence on corruption of the government members.
Therefore, while Diyanet Institute is under fire for turning a blind eye to the policies and measures of the AKP-led government, it appears that Erdogan, through establishing an alliance With the Presidency of the Religious Affairs and backing it, in the first step intends to develop a government-controlled Islamic authority in the country and in the second step take on the unofficial religious movements like that of Fethullah Gulen.
So, while the two sides are in open rivalry and opposition, and their power struggle is expected to continue in the short run, it seems that in the long run none of them is capable of removing the opposing side. Additionally, the two sides could face a need for close cooperation for some time, specially that at the present time a variety of common challenges and social movements like the Kurdish developments, the Alawites’ awakening, the religious amendments and seculars’ power seeking are gaining ground in Turkey, and any of them could interweave once again the interests of AKP and the Gulen Movement.