Open political warfare between two powerful Turkish Islamist camps is shaking the country’s political institutions and will likely erode Ankara’s international posture, as the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) scrambles to uproot followers of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen who are in turn scattered throughout the country’s state and non-state institutions.
Over 500 Turkish police and security officers have been purged, and many have been replaced by AKP-sympathetic figures. Officials linked to Gulen have for their part widened a corruption probe that had already ensnared top AKP figures, and investigations have been initiated against the sons of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Burak and Bilal.
Turkey expert Michael Koplow outlined yesterday the resulting dynamic:
After the initial arrests and announcements of corruption probes, Erdoğan purposely went after one of the Gülenists’ strongholds in replacing high-ranking police officials wholesale. What is now happening is a showdown between prosecutors, who are still largely Gülenist, and newly appointed police who refuse to carry out the prosecutors’ orders. Any semblance of impartiality and rule of law on either side has been completely thrown out, and Turkish institutions are being harmed in ways that will take years to overcome. When the courts and the police are being used to further nakedly political agendas, it is the first and easiest sign that Turkish democracy is as hollow as it has been since the military was openly running things.
It is unclear whether Erdogan will be able to politically survive the crisis. The Council on Foreign Relations quoted former Turkish minister Erdogan Bayraktar declaring that “to soothe the nation, I believe that the prime minister should resign,” and the Christian Science Monitor on Thursday assessed that Erdogan’s allies are deserting him:
The resignations, recriminations, and a widening corruption investigation have shaken confidence in the decade-long tenure of Erdogan and his Islam-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Erdogan’s spiraling domestic position has seen the Islamist prime minister revert to what Koplow describes as “full-blown populism mode,” with potential impacts for Turkey’s foreign standing.
Erdogan and his AKP allies have during previous crises sought to link domestic unrest to foreign conspiracies. Their scapegoating has at times been explicitly anti-Semitic, at other times has targeted the United States, and occasionally has implied that Jews are driving anti-Turkish American policies.
Earlier this week Truman National Security Project fellow Joshua Walker noted that the AKP has already blamed Jews, gays, and others for the chaos around the corruption probe. Earlier this week Erdogan ally and then-EU Minister Egemen Bagis reportedly declared that “the people won’t give up on Erdogan because Zionism is past its expiration date.” AKP figures have also already also blasted the US in the context of the corruption probe.
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