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Fethullah Gulen shares blame for Turkey’s plight

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YOU MIGHT assume that by now Turkey had run out of handcuffs. However though the wave of arrests associated to the weird coup try that rocked the nation in the summertime of 2016 has definitely slowed, it has not stopped. Each week appears to deliver a brand new round-up of suspected members of the Gulen neighborhood, or cemaat, the Islamist motion that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for the coup. A minimum of 41 folks, lots of them troopers, have been detained on July 27th. Warrants for over two dozen others have been issued final week.

Practically 600,000 folks, most of them suspected Gulenists, have been investigated because the coup; almost 100,000 have been arrested. Most had solely tenuous hyperlinks to the motion, reminiscent of having an account at a Gulenist financial institution. Some seem to have been tortured in captivity. However whereas there may be sympathy amongst Turks for particular person victims of Mr Erdogan’s purges, there may be virtually none for the cemaat as an entire, and even much less for its chief, Fethullah Gulen, an ageing imam dwelling in exile in Pennsylvania. Ask nearly anybody in Turkey, together with Mr Erdogan’s most bitter foes, and you’ll hear that in contrast with Mr Gulen, Turkey’s chief is the lesser of two evils. Mr Erdogan is an autocrat and a bully. However nobody helped him cripple Turkey’s democracy greater than Mr Gulen and his sect.

The motion is a troublesome nut to crack. From the 1970s onwards, it attracted a whole bunch of 1000’s of followers, drawn principally from among the many poor and religious college students who gravitated to its prep colleges and dorms. After the tip of the chilly conflict, it started to market itself because the torchbearer of an enlightened Islam, organising foundations overseas and profitable a circle of Western well-wishers. Nevertheless it was solely when Mr Erdogan and his Justice and Improvement get together got here to energy in 2002 that it began to flourish. Its sympathisers had beforehand trickled into Turkey’s forms. With Mr Erdogan’s encouragement, they took over whole establishments. (By one estimate, Gulenists held 30% of high jobs within the judiciary and 50% within the police.) Along with his approval, they orchestrated the arrests of 1000’s of Kurdish activists, military officers, secular varieties and journalists. “The Gulenists performed a decisive position in enabling Erdogan to consolidate energy,” says Gareth Jenkins, a safety analyst.

The Gulenists’ success was their undoing. By the early 2010s, that they had amassed sufficient energy to pose a risk to Mr Erdogan. “There was a time after they just about dominated Turkey,” says Gokhan Bacik, an instructional previously near the motion, now dwelling in exile. They overreached by making an attempt to torpedo peace talks with Kurdish insurgents, going after Turkey’s intelligence chief in 2012, and implicating Mr Erdogan in a corruption scandal the yr after. Turkey’s strongman responded by declaring conflict on the cemaat and eradicating its loyalists from the forms. The purges went into overdrive after the coup try.

A lot in regards to the night time of the putsch stays unclear. Some 250 folks died in what resembled a military mutiny accompanied by a collection of terror assaults greater than a standard coup. The official model, during which Gulenist sleeper cells within the armed forces awoke to take over the nation all on their very own, appears as watertight as a teabag. To today, Turkey’s authorities has not produced proof of what the plotters deliberate to do as soon as they seized energy. The coup itself seems to have been the work of a small however numerous coalition. But there isn’t a doubt that the Gulenists performed a giant half. A minimum of a number of the officers who directed the violence turned out to be graduates of the Gulen system. Two of the civilians concerned seem to have seen Mr Gulen in America solely days earlier. Analysts agree there isn’t a probability Gulenist operatives would have acted with out their chief’s approval. Mr Gulen denies involvement.

Mr Erdogan and his ministers fume that foreigners don’t respect the harm the Gulenists inflicted on Turkey. They’re partly proper. “In lots of European international locations, folks assume that as a result of Mr Erdogan is a dictator, anybody against him have to be a democrat,” says Bayram Balci, head of the French Institute of Anatolian Research in Istanbul. That form of logic performs into Mr Gulen’s fingers and lets him masquerade as a dissident.

Nobody, nevertheless, is worse positioned to evangelise in regards to the risks of Gulenism than Mr Erdogan, whose authorities was as soon as joined on the hip with the motion. By locking up everybody linked to it, together with attorneys, academics and charity employees, Mr Erdogan has ditched the rule of legislation in favour of a vendetta. He has not helped his case by accusing almost all of his different opponents of treason or terror. “Folks [in America] may be extra receptive to Erdogan’s facet of the story if he had extra credibility,” says Gonul Tol of the Center East Institute, a Washington think-tank. “However he has none.”

Going however not gone

Right this moment the cemaat appears to be a spent power. Inside Turkey, it has no room to breathe. As a result of it alienated nearly each a part of Turkish society, there isn’t a one left to defend it, except for a handful of human-rights activists. Overseas, the Gulenists are higher off, however nonetheless on the again foot. Mr Erdogan has efficiently pressed a number of international locations in Africa and Central Asia to sever hyperlinks with Gulen colleges and companies. Funding has begun to dry up. Lengthy-standing followers are leaving in droves and new ones are nearly unimaginable to recruit. Mr Gulen instructions blind obedience. His deputies, says Mr Bacik, are all theologians with no expertise outdoors the group. There are not any girls in positions of energy. For a motion that portrays itself as a modernising power in Islam, this isn’t an excellent look. Mr Gulen himself is approaching 80 and sick. When he dies, what stays of the cemaat is more likely to crumble.

Its legacy in Turkey has been grim. “They’ve as a lot duty as Erdogan for the state of the nation,” says Ms Tol. A lot of the skin world appears to assume there is just one villain within the story of Turkey’s descent into autocracy. Turks will inform you there may be room for extra.

This text appeared within the Europe part of the print version beneath the headline “The opposite villain”

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