Extraditing Gülen: A smart move for the PM?
In the latest salvo in his battle for his political life, the Turkish prime minister has started to threaten to bring U.S.-based scholar Fetullah Gülen back to Turkey to face a possible criminal case for his alleged role in what the premier called a “civilian coup plot” attempt. In legal terms, there has been no legal investigation or arrest warrant for Gülen, whose Hizmet (Service) Movement has waged a fierce war against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government via a massive corruption scandal.
After all, the prime minister’s move is politically motivated and aims at showing to his supporters as well as his enemies that he is still strong enough and in charge of the country, which has been apparently governed by the “Hizmet parallel state,” not by his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Erdoğan suggested that the U.S. administration is not cool on extraditing Gülen, but it is his version of the story and, for now, it highly unlikely to see Gülen on a plane en route to Turkey.
That being said, the wisdom behind the idea of bringing Gülen back to Turkey is also highly questionable. By putting an old but influential figure on trial, the AKP government might create a “new hero,” who would become more powerful and dangerous for its rule.
With the huge support of Gülen and his Hizmet followers, the AKP government for years led a judicial campaign that saw military personnel, including senior soldiers, before judges; doing the same for Gülen risks backfiring on the prime minister. Moreover, Erdoğan would lose another one of his cherished pieces of political ammunition: Playing the victim.
Since coming to power, the prime minister has been using how he and Turkey’s conservative half have suffered under military juntas to cement support for his party. The policy of playing the victim, indeed, worked and Erdoğan’s rule eventually became unquestionable. However, it was Gülen and his Hizmet Movement who sent tremors to the epicenter of his rule and keeping the enemy closer than a friend does not always entail victory in every fight.
Besides, Erdoğan already has a legitimacy problem, at least in the other half of the country, which has not voted for him in the course of his 11 years in power. The fear threshold created by the prime minister throughout his rule seems to have been effectively overcome and criticism against him, which was a taboo, has slowly become louder recently.
On the other side, publishing nearly identical front pages or broadcasting nearly day-long coverage about the PM, pro-government media has reversed the ethical codes and called on others to pick sides, preferably with Erdoğan. It would be a tough choice to pick his side considering the dirt spread out in the graft case, and the new trend is to speak against him, not in favor of him.
Against the rising criticism against him, the prime minister is setting the upcoming local elections as a task that will somehow acquit him of the corruption allegations and strike into the heart of the plot against his government. Even if his AKP is the first party in the elections, that would not mean that he and his officials are all clear.
But those familiar with his aggressive rhetoric and policies must be sure that he will continue to play the victim who yet again survived and is now coming for his revenge. That’s why he settled for only a huge reshuffle campaign, mainly in the security forces. The purge was unseen but the wave will be much bigger after the March 30 elections.
That’s why the prime minister has started voicing plans to extradite Gülen back to Turkey in a threat to his followers, not to the scholar himself. The prime minister is also calling on them to pick a side before his last stand against the movement.