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No, Fethullah Gülen Isn’t a Savior

It’s hard not to applaud Islamist leader Fethullah Gülen for apparently blowing the whistle on the massive corruption scandal that now touches several Turkish ministers, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan, and perhaps the prime minister himself. The prosecutor’s surprise raids have also shown light on financial dealings which—aside from enriching Erdoğan’s cronies—also apparently assisted Iranian sanctions evasion and helped al-Qaeda expand its network into Syria.

The problem is Gülen’s motive. Erdoğan is an arrogant man, and he has grown more arrogant with each election victory. He came to believe that he either no longer needed Gülen’s support or was strong enough to win a battle with Gülen and put the Hizmat movement leader in his place. Hence, his decision last November to close the Gülen movement’s test prep schools throughout Turkey. The schools are key to Gülen, not only because they are lucrative—and the Gülen movement is basically an international conglomerate—but also because they are useful for recruiting and indoctrination. They also fill a void and provide a useful service which Turks readily embrace.

While it is good that Gülen appears to bless a new transparency in Turkish politics, it is important to remember both that his about-face is based not in principle but self-interest and that Gülen enabled the tremendous corruption and abuses of power in which Erdoğan engaged.

Gülen’s followers dominate the security forces which Erdoğan wielded without mercy against his political opposition and the press. Gülen professes tolerance, but his own past is checkered. And while he has his own media network with the daily Zaman at is head, there is a disturbing difference in tone between Zaman and its English version, Today’s Zaman. Diplomats who only read the latter may not be aware that anti-Semitic conspiracies infect if not Gülen, then those around him and his top supporters.

Transparency is necessary in Turkey if there will be justice and reform. It is naïve to believe that the enemy of an enemy is a friend, or that Gülen’s apparent acquiescence to pursuit of the corruption allegations against Erdoğan means a fundamental difference in Turkey’s future. President Abdullah Gül has kept largely quiet, but has seemed more willing to accommodate Gülen and has taken many of his adherents into his inner circle. Gül is far more polished than Erdoğan, and presents a more professional face, but the difference in style masks a similar disdain for the separation of mosque and state that once marked Turkey’s imperfect democracy. Let us hope that reform continues, but there will never be any true and lasting reform until Gülen opens himself to the same sort of investigation which he once encouraged against Turkey’s so-called “Deep State,” and now seeks against Erdoğan and his inner circle.



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