(h/t Israel Matzav) Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has largely defeated his secular, Kemalist opponents. Many of the military's leaders are in jail, as are more journalists than any other country in the world. While this development is negative for Turkish democracy, it also may turn out to be negative for Erdogan himself.
Yet, while Erdoğan may appear to be at the pinnacle of power, it is his government’s “Gülenist” allies who have grown increasingly powerful. Members of the transnational Gülen movement – inspired by followers of Fethullah Gülen, a Pennsylvania-based Muslim theologian – are staffing Turkey’s police, judiciary, bureaucracy, and universities. The Gülenist media now set the country’s new ideological tone, producing a steady stream of disinformation in their vocal support of the country’s show trials.
These trials are, in fact, often staged to serve Gülenist ends specifically. Prominent detainees, such as the journalist Nedim Sener and police commissioner Hanefi Avci, landed in jail after exposing the wrongdoings of Gülenist police and prosecutors. Editorials in Zaman, the Gülen network’s Turkish-language daily newspaper, no longer mince words: a new Turkey is being created; those who stand in the way are getting what they deserve.
Erdoğan has benefited greatly from Gülenist support, yet he detests sharing power and remains suspicious of the movement. Early on, he successfully exploited the Gülenist-supported political trials in order to demonize the opposition. But, as the charges have increased in scope and implausibility, the trials have complicated his relationships with the military, domestic liberals, and outsiders such as foreign media and the European Union. Moreover, individuals close to him and his administration have recently become entangled in the net of judicial manipulation, which suggests that he may be losing control over the police and the special courts.
Given that the fight against the common enemy, the secularist old guard, has been decisively won, an eventual break between Erdoğan and the Gülenists is perhaps inevitable. Unfortunately, regardless of which side emerges victorious, the outcome will not be good news for Turkish democracy.