Turkey’s PM Recap Erdogan being one of Obama’s closest friends among world leaders.


Turkish political life has a fondness for turbulence, which is perhaps inevitable given the dynamics and mechanisms at play in a country as large and as polarized as Turkey. While most international attention to Turkey this year focused on the Gezi Park protests, with some going so far as to depict them as evidence of some sort of “Turkish Spring,” the real game-changing political event of the year has come towards the end with the dramatic breakup of an uneasy alliance within Turkey’s conservative movement. The recent high-profile spat between the Gülen movement and Prime Minister Erdoğan is unprecedented, pitting a powerful civil society-based religious movement against a one-party government that has not been so centralized since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

The movement of Fetullah Gülen, one of Turkey’s most influential contemporary religious scholars who has lived in the US since the 1990s, played a key role in the birth of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) when Erdoğan and others split from the Islamist Millî Görüş movement. It played an equally important role defending the AKP when the military and secular establishment tried to shut it down. And Gülen and his followers were crucial to the counter-offensive that saw the Turkish military finally subordinated to civilian control. More recently, the Gülenists publicly lent credibility to the notion that Gezi Park was an aberration within the narrative of the Turkish miracle decade, through their staunch defense of government action in their media and international outreach.

Now, with local elections approaching in March and Turkey’s first popular presidential elections approaching in the summer (Turkish presidents have normally been elected by parliament), the unity of the AKP is being challenged from within, to a degree beyond anything in its history. Born in the aftermath of Turkey’s first Islamic party rule, which ended with a military ultimatum known as a “postmodern coup,” the AKP combined conservative Muslim values with pragmatic pro-business and European rhetoric that resonated across a wide spectrum of Turkish politics. This strategy resulted in winning coalitions across three national elections and 11 years in power. The AKP didn’t simply harness the power of the grassroots – it became the grassroots, with the help of various individuals and institutions like those sympathetic to Fetullah Gülen. […]

Corruption charges were filed against 16 figures close to Erdoğan, including key ministers’ sons, by Gülenist police officials who were then in turn fired.  The speed and ferocity of the high-stakes civil war being waged between the AKP and Gülenists has caught even the most experienced Turkey-watchers by surprise. Conventional wisdom held that the Gülen movement did not engage in overt politics and had no other credible political movement to support, other than its long-time allies, the AKP. Yet the gloves have come off with a Prime Minister who is known to never back down from a street fight.  The AKP has since linked the Gülenists to a myriad of Turkey’s tried-and-true conspiracy favorites including, but not limited to, Jews, gays, and outside traitors, which strikes a distinct contrast with Western fears about the movement as a Caliphate-in-waiting.