The AKP without Erdoğan?

The AKP without Erdoğan?

The dispute over prep schools between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Gülen community (or "Hizmet") seems to have entered a new phase, after the government announced that the transformation of these institutions into private schools will be completed in two years and that this process will be financially supported by the state.

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç gave detailed information about the draft law on prep schools on Dec. 2 at a press conference, following a 7.5-hour-long Cabinet discussion. Arınç’s, and therefore the government’s, message to the Gülen community was clear: prep schools will not be abolished but will be transformed into private schools, and this move of the government does not represent hostility toward the Gülen community. He also urged the community not to turn this issue into a show of force. 

Arınç’s softer language towards the community was well received by the Gülen community, as its prominent representatives expressed their partial satisfaction with the decision. Hüseyin Gülerce, a columnist for daily Zaman, in his message through his Twitter account, implied that the tension could well be reduced as the government had corrected its mistake.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, seemed to maintain his harsh rhetoric against the Gülen community on Tuesday during his party’s parliamentary group meeting. He refrained from making a direct reference to the discussion about prep schools, but he focused on some pro-Gülen community newspapers’ publications over a leaked National Security Council (MGK) document that orders the abolition of the Gülen community. 

Although the 2004-dated document carries the signatures of Erdoğan and senior AKP officials, along with four-star generals, senior AKP members argue that it was never put into practice and accused pro-Gülen media of a smear campaign against Erdoğan and his AKP. 

Despite the fact that the government’s decision to delay the closure of prep schools could partially help defuse political tension, it won’t have a repairing effect on growing mistrust between the government and the Gülen community. 

For pro-government media, the campaign being run by the Gülen community is part of a larger and global plot against Erdoğan himself, especially in the wake of the Gezi protests. “The AKP without Erdoğan” is the keyword of this plot, and the main objective is to tarnish the prime minister’s credibility in the eyes of the Turkish people, according to Erdoğan’s aides. For them, this plot is backed by international actors who have already taken their part during the Gezi Park protests. It is likely to continue over the course of three consecutive upcoming elections. 

Denying all these claims and recalling how it helped the government in abolishing military tutelage over politics over the last decade, the Gülen community will continue to struggle for its powerful position within the state and for its other privileges. With the heating up of the pre-election campaign in the coming weeks, this debate will likely produce more confidential documents and more headlines, which will obviously make the coming months more interesting to observe.