Investors are nervous and the lira currency has swooned. But the scandal has only brought out the fight in Erdogan, who has consistently said that the entire affair is a foreign-backed plot against him. He has sacked police officers including the Istanbul police chief, exchanged diatribes with a powerful cleric and steadfastly insisted he has done nothing wrong. The document naming his son was just another example of the conspiracy, he said: “If they try to hit TayyipErdogan through this, they will go away empty-handed. Because they know this, they’re attacking the people around me.”
So far, opinion pollsters predict that support for Erdogan’s AK party, which enjoys wide support in Istanbul and the conservative countryside, has probably fallen by a few percentage points but still remains over 40 percent. That is hardly enough of a slide to force it out of power. The last election saw it win more than two thirds of the seats in parliament with 50 percent of the vote, an unprecedented success. Still, one senior official in Erdogan’s AK party predicted the next general election, due in 2015, could be brought forward to early next year “if events take a dramatic turn”, a sign that the party is revising its calculations to contain the fallout.
Dexter Filkins links the crisis to Erdogan’s increasingly paranoid leadership:
There isn’t much doubt that something called “the deep state” actually existed in Turkey, and that it used violence and intimidation to enforce the secular state enshrined by Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal, or Atatürk. But the Ergenekon investigation, along with its sister case, called Sledgehammer, rapidly evolved into something much more pernicious: a campaign to crush Erdoğan’s political opposition.
The Ergenekon and Sledgehammer prosecutions were built on mostly fabricated evidence. In case that didn’t work, Erdoğan embarked on an aggressive campaign to silence anyone who might criticize him, most notably the press. Just last week, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that Turkey had forty reporters behind bars, more than any other country in the world. All this worked for a while, in no small part because Erdoğan faced almost no criticism from the West. The Obama Administration, grateful for an ally in an otherwise unfriendly part of the world, largely gave the Prime Minister a pass. Erdoğan, who is planning to run for President in 2014, seemed destined to stay in power for years to come.
But then it all unravelled. It’s not clear why Erdoğan and Gülen [“the leader of a far-flung Islamic order”] are splitting now, but, according to some reports, the roots may lie in disagreements over foreign policy and how to deal with the country’s Kurdish minority. Among other things, the Gülenists oppose Erdoğan’s arming of rebels in Syria and the cooling of the Turkish government’s long-standing friendship with Israel. The Erdoğan-Gülen break also follows Erdoğan’s brutal suppression of anti-government protests that swept the country earlier this year.
Brent E. Sasley further explores Erdogan’s struggle:
It is one part tug-of-war between the two main elements of Turkey’s Islamist-conservative movement, the AKP and the Gülenist movement (also known as Hizmet, or the Service), one part Erdoğan responding to what he sees as illegitimate criticism of his rule. At this point there is no viable substitute to either the AKP or to Erdoğan himself (though President Abdullah Gül is touted as a possible candidate). What is more likely is the undermining of Turkey’s political institutions to the point that the country’s politics becomes as dysfunctional as it was in the pre-AKP era. The institutions that have suffered most directly as a result of Erdoğan’s effort to shut down the investigations are the judiciary and the police, but the civil service and the media have also been victims of Erdoğan’s tenure. So, too, has the entire political system that, in a democracy, depends upon a loyal opposition able to safely critique the government and suggest alternatives.
Alexander Christie-Miller has more on the Gülenist movement and its role in Turkish politics over the past decade:
Drawn from the teachings of the reformist Sufi thinker Said Nursi, who died in 1960, Gulen’s followers espouse engagement with the West, interfaith dialogue, self-advancement, and a dash of Turkish nationalism, and emphasize the importance of education in the sciences. It is believed to have between 3 million and 6 million followers worldwide, and runs a network of schools in more than 130 countries. In the US, it runs one of the largest networks of charter schools – purportedly secular – with links to more than 100 schools. In Turkey, it controls a media and business empire that includes the newspaper Zaman, the country’s highest-selling daily.
Gulen followers, who were often clean-shaven, Western-educated, and English-speaking, defied the stereotypes of Islamists in Turkey during the 1990s and early 2000s, which some analysts believe allowed them to enter the judiciary and police without attracting the attention of the secularist establishment. Leaked video footage of one of Gulen’s sermons from 1999 laid out this strategy explicitly: “You must move in the arteries of the system without anyone noticing your existence until you reach all the power centers,” he said. “You must wait until such time as you have gotten all the state power, until you have brought to your side all the power of the constitutional institutions in Turkey.” Gulen-allied prosecutors – in some cases the same individuals who launched the current corruption probe – were widely believed to be the driving force behind two mass trials that effectively broke the power of the military, which historically has seen itself as the protector of Turkey’s secular governing model.