Erdoğan vs. Gülen

Erdoğan vs. Gülen

The government’s decision to shut down the prep schools has shaken heaven and earth as it was regarded as an open declaration of war against the powerful Gülen community, whose great root was in support of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) since the early 2000s. For many in Ankara, an open struggle between the AKP and the Gülen community was out of the question, as none of them wanted to damage their own benefits in this regard. But the unthinkable did occur after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reiterated he will not step back in his decision to ban the prep schools, although he said the government will give all of its support to transform these prep schools into private colleges.

The prep schools are very important for the Gülen community, as it regards this venue as its main source of human capital. (It’s believed that one quarter of prep schools in Turkey is owned by pro-Gülen community entrepreneurs, although there are claims that this figure was up to fifty percent.) Prep schools constitute the best and most convenient venues for the community to find the right youngsters to invest in and let them become a loyal follower of the Fethullah Gülen community. This strategy did work well over the last two decades and that is how the community had placed its thousands of followers in key institutions since the late 1980’s. Therefore, the decision regarding the prep schools is seen as a matter of life and death for the Gülen community.

Attempts to ban the prep schools are, of course, the last rings on the chain of conflict between the government and the community. The fight between the community and the government begun when an Istanbul prosecutor wanted to probe the chief of the intelligence organization, Hakan Fidan, on the grounds that he violated the law by meeting PKK members in Oslo, after a voice recording proving that Fidan, along with other intelligence members, negotiated with terrorists to solve the long-standing Kurdish issue.

This struggle of power was later kept away from public attention, but the government’s decision to ban prep school seems to flare it up once again. The main question here is what is the government’s gain out of this fight? According to government sources, public opinion polls show nearly 60 percent of people were in favor of closing the prep schools and this would result in only a 1-2 percent loss in the ruling party votes. This figure makes it rational for the ruling party.

However, on the other hand, expanding the front in which the government has been pursuing its fight against dissidents is not seen as a favorable move for Erdoğan, who aims to get 50 percent of votes in upcoming presidential votes. Today’s picture shows the government is in fights with almost every important segment of society: with teachers, students, Alevis, professional groups of architects and engineers, trade unions, academics, journalists etc. Adding the Gülen community to that group of dissidents is not seen a wise move under circumstances, if Erdoğan has started to lose his hopes to become a powerful president.