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Gulen Blasts Turkey Leader 21 janvier 2014

Posted by Acturca in Turkey / Turquie, USA / Etats-Unis.
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The Wall Street Journal Europe (USA)  January 21, 2014, p. 1

By Joe Parkinson & Ayla Albayrak

The reclusive, Pennsylvania-based imam who has been in a political marriage of convenience with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for more than a decade lashed out Monday at his onetime partner, the strongest sign yet of a definitive split that could imperil the political and economic stability of the West’s biggest ally in a turbulent region.

In comments exclusive to The Wall Street Journal, Fethullah Gulen, a charismatic, moderate cleric with millions of followers who preaches a feel-good message of tolerance, accused Mr. Erdogan of abandoning the path of reform.

“Turkish people are upset that democratic progress is now being reversed,” Mr. Gulen said in emailed answers to questions— his first such exchange since a corruption probe plunged Mr. Erdogan’s government into crisis last month.

“Purges based on ideology, sympathy or world views was a practice of the past that the present ruling party promised to stop,” he wrote.

Mr. Gulen hinted that his movement—known internally as Hizmet, which means service, and externally as Cemaat, which means congregation— would like to see another party challenge Mr. Erdogan’s Islamistleaning Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

p. 4

Muslim Cleric Lashes Out at Erdogan

He didn’t deny speculation that his flock could back the opposition Republican People’s Party—Mr. Erdogan’s secularist nemesis, which was established by modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

“When the opportunities come, Cemaat participants, just like any other citizen will make their choices based on their values,” the cleric wrote. “It is possible that people who share core values will make choices along the same lines.”

Mr. Gulen’s decision to part ways with the AKP represents an unraveling of the broad, Islamist-rooted coalition that has governed Turkey since 2002— a decade of stability during which the economy boomed, living standards rose and Ankara’s international influence grew.

Mr. Erdogan ushered in a rare period of stability for Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, by reining in the military and pursuing membership in the European Union. The country was often cited as a model of how Western-style democracy could flourish in the Muslim world.

Now as Turkey approaches a series of elections, starting in March, that could set its political direction for the next decade, Mr. Erdogan has suddenly found himself in the midst of a spiraling corruption scandal that has ensnared dozens of his political allies.

The disarray is also spooking investors and aggravating a glut of economic problems, threatening to undermine the premier’s chief political achievement: years of steady growth.

With the U. S. Federal Reserve winding down its stimulus efforts at the same time, the Turkish currency has sunk to record lows, borrowing costs have surged and stocks slumped.

Private savings, foreign investment and exports are shrinking, meaning local businesses that prospered under Mr. Erdogan are taking a hit. The central bank—politically constrained by a prime minister who has decried raising interest rates as “un- Islamic”— has little room to stem the declines.

For years the Cemaat was a crucial partner underpinning the AKP.

Mr. Gulen, 72 years old, leads his flock from a leafy, 25-acre estate in the Poconos, where he landed more than a decade ago after seeking medical treatment in the U.S.

But he is still thought to control key government appointments in areas including law enforcement and the judiciary.

Private rifts between Messrs. Gulen and Erdogan exploded into public view in December after the government announced a plan to shutter private schools that help students prepare for college exams. Many of the schools are owned by the Gulen movement, for which they generate revenue and new members.

Less than two weeks later, authorities unveiled the corruption investigation, arresting dozens of people. The prime minister responded by shuffling his cabinet and shaking up the police and the judiciary. He accuses Gulenists in those institutions of trying to force him from power, creating what he calls a “parallel state” within the bureaucracy.

“This conspiracy eclipses all other coup attempts in Turkey. It is a virus bent on taking power,” Mr. Erdogan said to AKP lawmakers in Ankara last week.

Mr. Gulen denies the premier’s allegation. “We will never be a part of any plot against those who are governing our country,” the imam said.

The outcome of the clash could dictate both Mr. Erdogan’s political future and the shape of political Islam in Turkey, the only Muslim member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“Mr. Gulen’s statements confirm that this turf war has gone beyond the point of no return and we are looking at the battleground which could shape the next generation of Turkish politics,” said Sinan Ulgen, Chairman of the Center for the Study of Democracy, an Istanbulbased think tank.

Mr. Gulen may be an unlikely provocateur, but has nevertheless become a blunt political force in Turkey.

Known as Hodjaefendi or “honorable teacher,” Mr. Gulen has an estimated 2 million disciples and a further 2 million sympathizers, many of whom occupy senior jobs in government and law enforcement organizations.

His followers run one of the biggest business organizations, Tuskon, which represents more than 55,000 companies, and publish Zaman, the country’s largest circulation daily.

Known to cry during sermons, the preacher has built a world-wide movement that operates charter schools in 160 countries, including the U. S., where Cemaat has forged ties with local and national political leaders, paying for congressional trips to Turkish cities.

But the movement’s opaque structure and Calvinist work ethnic has spurred comparisons to Opus Dei, the Masons and the Mormon Church.

One of the biggest mysteries about the imam is how much sway he holds over his followers and how his influence is transmitted through the movement’s nebulous hierarchy.

Members of the Cemaat deny that they are seeking to take over state institutions, insisting that the structure is informal and they are merely “inspired” by Mr. Gulen’s teachings.

The imam gained a broad following for his moderate Islamic sermons in the 1960s and ’70s. He benefited from Turkey’s economic liberalization in the 1980s, which allowed his followers to found companies that have become among the country’s largest.

In 2000, a video surfaced showing Mr. Gulen saying: “You must move into the arteries of the system, without anyone noticing, until you reach all the power centers.” The military- backed government charged him with threatening the integrity of the Turkish state. Mr. Gulen denied the charges and claimed the video had been tampered with.

The following year, he left for medical treatment in the U. S., opting to convalesce on a sprawling Amish country estate in the town of Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. In 2001 he secured a green card and remains on U. S. soil despite being acquitted in Turkey in 2006.

By then, the secular elites that had long dominated Turkish politics were being elbowed aside by the popular Mr. Erdogan. The Gulenists joined him, supplying his AKP with well- educated cadres to manage state institutions as well as a supportive media.

The government gave Gulenist schools, charities and companies access to opportunities at home and abroad. The army, a once-invincible secularist force and instigator of four coups since 1960, was brought to heel through a controversial series of cases known as Sledgehammer and Ergenekon, spearheaded by Gulenist prosecutors and backed by the government.

Proponents of the trials saw them as the definitive break with military tutelage; opponents said they were selective justice based on weak or trumped-up evidence.

The confirmation of the split between the two men comes as the premier has appeared to gain the upper hand. Last week he blocked a new corruption probe implicating his son by reassigning more than 2,000 police commanders and seeking to seize control of appointments in the judiciary.

“It is ironic that members of the police force and judiciary who were applauded as heroes a few months ago are now being shuffled in the middle of winter without any investigation,” Mr. Gulen said.

According to Mr. Gulen, government attacks on his business interests, including Bank Asya, a lender with some $ 20 billion in assets, is “already a reality.”

Senior AKP politicians say that forming an alliance with the Gulenists was a mistake that Mr. Erdogan is determined to correct.

“These purges should continue, because Cemaat members do not conform with the state hierarchy but take orders from the movement. They run their own political system inside the institutions within the state,” said Osman Can, a member of AKP’s executive board.

Mr. Gulen said it was Mr. Erdogan’s government that has changed. “Our values or stance have not changed,” he said. “Whether the stance or actions of the political actors are consistent with their earlier record should be decided by the Turkish people and unbiased observers.”

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