Gul, Gulen, Gulenists and Turkey’s Political Civil War

A Turkish imam named Fethullah Gulen has been living in the U.S. for over a decade. Many consider him to be western civilizatin’s most dangerous imam. That may be but right now, Turkey’s Prime Minister appears to be fighting off Gulen’s supporters, known as Gulenists.

Gulen: He's emotional too.

Gulen: He’s emotional too.

A corruption scandal that appears to have set PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan in its sights, is being blamed on the Gulenists. One of those followers – President Abdullah Gul – is one such Gulenist, according to a 2009 cable revealed via Wikileaks:

…the political context for conversations about Gulen is complicated because President Gul is himself seen by almost all of our contacts as a Gulenist, while Prime Minister Erdogan is not. Indeed, some of our contacts have argued that Erdogan is so firmly outside the Gulen camp that Gulen loyalists view him as a liability.

In a piece by Alex Alexiev at National Review, the relationship between the Gulenists and Erdogan’s AKP Party is explained thusly:

Observers of the Turkish political scene have known for a long time that the Fethullah Gulen movement plays a crucial role as a reliable partner of the AKP in the steady Islamization of the country. It was also widely known in Turkey, though not in the West, that Gulen followers were a huge presence in the security organs, the justice system, and the police — according to U.S. diplomats, as early as 2006, 80 percent of senior police posts were filled by Gulen supporters. They played a dominant role in key Erdogan achievements, such as suppressing the military, curtailing freedom of speech, and brutally putting down the Gezi protests.

Those inclined to cheer on the Gulenists should hold their applause. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul have, for years, attempted to present a united front. Erdogan has a much harder time masking his intentions that does Gul, and by extension, Gulenists. Turkey’s president is much more politically savvy than Erdogan and if he truly is a Gulenist, he knows all about the imam’s chosen means for furthering that agenda – deception.

Muslim Brotherhood's Mursi and Erdogan of Turkey in happier times.

Muslim Brotherhood’s Mursi and Erdogan of Turkey in happier times.

Alexiev writes:

It (Gulenist movement) preaches a radical version of Islam and ultimately aims to destroy the secular order in Turkey and beyond. It is easy to see all of that if one goes behind the movement’s carefully cultivated façade, with its pious verbiage of interfaith dialogue, peace, and Islamic enlightenment, and looks directly into the writings of Gulen that inform his movement’s ideology.

Sound familiar? Furthermore, Gulen has a history of being extremly concerned about his movement’s agenda being revealed too soon because it would lead to disaster. In one of many speeches, he used metaphors that explained this. Erdogan, unlike Gul, has a much more difficult time keeping his goals hidden. In this regard, the Gulenist movement may see him as a threat.

Then there is the rough patch Erdogan’s Tukey has been through, which includes the ouster of Egypt’s Mohammed Mursi last year and a failure in Syria to see Bashar al-Assad’s removal. In this regard, Erdogan must be losing favor.

Gul has made a habit of playing his political calculus close to the vest. However, the blood in the water relative to how the corruption scandal could take down Erdogan, may be too enticing for Gul not to tip his hand.

Turkey's President Abdullah Gul is a Gulenist.

Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul is a Gulenist.

Dilay Gundogan at Middle East Online explains how the schism between the two leaders is coming to the surface:

Amid this fray Gul, who had stayed mum on the issue for a long time, broke his silence and came to the defence of the judiciary. He countered Erdogan by saying that the judiciary should be free from government interference.

“The legislative and executive powers are in a way accountable through elections but the judicial system is in a different position. For them, independence and impartiality is much more important,” Gul said on television last week.

Perhaps this stance from Gul does more than anything else to reveal where his allegiances lie. By siding with the Gulenist-dominated judiciary, Gul is taking sides in a burgeoning political civil war. He is not taking the side of Erdogan.