Over the past several weeks a rift has appeared between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ideological former partner, a reclusive imam who preaches tolerance and runs a worldwide network of charities and schools from a refuge in the Poconos. The split is dividing Turkey, and it could have the effect of ending years of economic growth.Fethullah Gulen, the imam, has accused Erdoğan of targeting Gulenists in Turkey’s government, judiciary, police force, and prominent businesses in what amounts to a “purge.” Erdoğan retorts that an international conspiracy is preparing to bring down his government in a coup. In a rare interview, Gulen hints that his followers are prepared to challenge Erdoğan’s AK Party, and might even form an alliance with the secular party founded by Atatürk. The change, the WSJ suggests, “appears to represent an unraveling of the broad, Islamist-rooted coalition that has governed Turkey since 2002—a decade during which the economy boomed, living standards rose and Ankara’s international influence grew.”The emails between Gulen and the WSJ are the first public comments he has made since a corruption probe launched by the police targeted Erdoğan’s family inner circle and a network of businessmen who were profiting off shady property deals. Gulen blames Erdoğan for threatening Turkey’s years of growth:
Turkish people…are upset that in the last two years democratic progress is now being reversed.
And he attacked Erdoğan for purging Gulenists in retaliation for the corruption probe:
Purges based on ideology, sympathy or world views was a practice of the past that the present ruling party promised to stop…. It is ironic that members of the police force and judiciary who were applauded as heroes a few months ago are now being shuffled in the middle of winter without any investigation.
Attacks by Erdoğan’s agents on his business interests, Gulen wrote, are “already a reality.”Erdoğan’s supporters and members of the AKP counter that Gulenists “do not conform with the state hierarchy” but instead take orders from abroad. “They run their own political system inside the institutions within the state,” said one member of the AKP executive board.The rift is already having a negative effect on Turkey’s stock market and making international investors worried. It’s also complicating negotiations between Erdoğan and the EU over Turkey joining the club. That looks unlikelier now than ever before, with EU officials voicing renewed concern over Erdoğan’s meddling in the judiciary and dwindling public trust in his government. Feeling the changing winds, domestic challengers to Erdoğan’s rule have risen up in recent days, such as the opposition Istanbul mayoral candidate who accused Erdoğan of trying to sabotage his campaign.Perhaps the biggest threat to Erdoğan’s (and his party’s) continuing rule is the impact of the unfolding scandal on the economy. The AKP oversaw years of swift economic growth and development, but the underlying health of Turkey’s economy is suspect. The central bank is now scrambling to protect the lira, but whether it can continue to do so effectively is not at all certain, especially as the political crisis drags on further.