Feud between Turkey's Erdogan and influential cleric goes public

Thu Nov 21, 2013 12:58pm EST
 

By Seda Sezer

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A feud between Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and an influential Islamic cleric has spilled into the open months ahead of elections, highlighting fractures in the religiously conservative support base underpinning his decade in power.

Erdogan's government has incensed followers of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Islamic preacher whose supporters say they number in millions, with plans to abolish private 'prep' schools many of which are financed and run by Gulen's movement.

The reclusive cleric drew parallels with the behavior of the secularist military in the build up to past coups.

Gulen has built a global network of schools over the past four decades promoting Turkish language and culture. In doing so, he has established a powerful movement whose members hold influential positions across Turkish society, from the police and judiciary to the central bank, political parties and media.

"The draft bill regarding closing of prep schools and reading rooms came like a dagger to our heart," an editorial on one of Gulen's official websites said, an unusually blunt expression of opposition to Erdogan's government.

In a voice recording on another site, Gulen recalled the actions of the military, staunch guardians of Turkey's secular order, which staged three coups between 1960 and 1980 and forced Turkey's first Islamist-led government from power in 1997.

"They could even want to shut the gates of heaven," he said. "We have seen this during the 1960 coup and have been slapped by it. We have seen the (1971) coup and been kicked by it. We have seen the 1980 coup and we've all been hit by them."

Gulen's sympathizers, largely drawn from the same religiously-minded professional class which helped sweep Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK Party to power in 2002, revere him as an enlightened, pro-Western face of progressive Islam.   Continued...

 
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses the media in Ankara November 13, 2013. REUTERS/Umit Bektas