Turkey’s governing AK party embroiled in internal strife over corruption claims
Opinion: Erdogan is likely to announce a major cabinet reshuffle
When police on Tuesday raided the home of Baris Guler, son of Turkey’s interior minister and the man responsible for the police, they found large quantities of cash in metal containers and a money-counting machine. In the home of Suleyman Aslan, director of state-run Halkbank they found €3.3 million in cash.
The two men, and 50 others – two other sons of ministers, officials and businessmen closely associated with governing AK party – were rounded up in what investigators said was the culmination of a year-long investigation into corruption, notably in the construction sector; into gold smuggling, possibly linked to the export of billions of euros worth of bullion to Iran last year; and into to the violation of zoning laws on building.
That’s not, however, how, prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP view the raids. They see the inquiry and arrests as the opening shots in a war from within their own Islamist ranks directed by supporters of the Hizmet – “service” – movement led by internationally popular exiled Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, and aimed at bringing down Erdogan.
Erdogan has called the investigation a “dirty operation”. While not mentioning Gulen by name he has described those behind the corruption case as a “criminal gang”, and warned that “the situation now is about these gangs showing efforts to become a state within a state”.
The damage to AK is serious, and Erdogan is expected to announce a major cabinet reshuffle. He has started to retaliate – dozens of senior police officers are being transferred and on Thursday the local media reported that Istanbul’s police chief Huseyin Capkin and four other senior officers have been removed from their posts.
Although corruption – believed to be widespread in the upper ranks of the AK, a party that made its name originally in fighting to rid Turkey of deep-rooted graft – may well be proven, few in Turkey do not believe that politics lies behind the investigations, carried out without Erdogan’s knowledge. It is a showdown within the ranks of the Islamist movement and the AK itself that has the potential to do to the prime minister what mass secular demonstrations this summer failed to do.
With local and presidential elections looming next year – Erdogan is reputed to be particularly interested in the latter – there is speculation that Hizmet may endorse non-AK candidates.
Gulen now lives in Pennsylvania. He went into exile in 1999 after charges that he was trying to overthrow the secular state, but retained a huge influence and network of supporters, many believed to be within the ranks of the police and judiciary.
Hizmet, which promotes a tolerant but conservative Islam, emphasises altruism and the religious responsibility of Muslims to engage in hard work and education for the common good. It now controls some 900 schools in Turkey and hundreds more from Kenya to Kazakhstan, and has attracted millions of followers and billions of euros.
The group, which has no formal structure, visible organisation or official membership, has operated as an informal faction within the AK and has supported Erdogan’s successful campaign over the last decade to reduce the influence of the military in Turkish society.
Hizmet members are believed to have played an important part in recent years in organising the trials and jailings – investigations into alleged coup plots known as Ergenekon and Sledgehammer – of top generals and hundreds of officers charged with plotting against the state.
But the relationship was always uneasy and a sharp break came with Erdogan’s decision last month to close down or transform prep-schools owned by Hismet, depriving them of millions in revenue and a powerful recruiting network.
Gulen’s supporters now appear to be using the political/legal tools honed in the struggle against the army on their erstwhile allies – Turkish media reports that one of the prosecutors involved in the corruption probe is Zekeriya Oz, who headed the Ergenekon case. In doing so, Hismet has prompted the now-familiar accusations of politically motivated stitch- ups, this time from AK leaders. The shoe is on the other foot .
As for members of Turkey’s old secular elite, Financial Times correspondent Daniel Dombey observes they watch the battle between their two foes as mere onlookers. “It’s like Alien versus Predator,” he quotes one as saying, referring to the science fiction series. “I don’t know who to root for.”