Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan finds his cabinet in disarray after a police corruption probe resulted in the arrests of high-profile officials and their family members. Erdoğan responded swiftly last week by firing top police officials—at least 70 at last count—but it wasn’t enough to quell anger over government corruption. The political crisis deepened over the weekend as protests broke out and the police intervened with water cannons and tear gas. In response, Erdoğan went on the offensive:
The premier has refused to remove four ministers implicated in the corruption scandal and has accused an unspecified international group of diplomats, journalists and financiers that he called “the interest-rate lobby” of fabricating allegations.
Mr. Erdogan took back-to-back swipes at the U.S. too, suggesting that the American ambassador may be meddling in Turkey’s affairs and accusing lawmakers in Washington of trying to cripple a state-run bank, whose chief was also jailed pending trial in the bribery case.
“A totally illegal, very dirty, and extremely dark trap is being set under the guise of this corruption case,” Mr. Erdogan said Sunday in Giresun, on Turkey’s eastern Black Sea coast. “The meaning of the conspiracy that was hatched last week is very clear: disrupting peace and stability….We will destroy these nasty games being played on Turkey.”
Ah, that pesky interest rate lobby again.
Erdoğan and others have also accused a US-based Muslim cleric and popular community leader named Fethullah Gülen of orchestrating the unrest; on Friday Gülen denied having a role in the graft inquiry or the street protests but issued a warning that God would punish those engaged in theft and bribery.
As usual, Erdoğan’s international conspiracy-mongering is mostly intended to deflect attention from the accusations against his government and to maintain his popularity across the country, which remains high at around 50 percent. But the signs of a rift between leaders of the AKP party, Turkey’s most powerful Islamist political group, and his former ally Gülen, who commands wide respect and has millions of followers across the world, could have serious implications for Turkish politics. Turkish Islamists do not all see eye to eye; if Gulen and his faithful diverge from the ruling AKP party, the steady economic growth and modernization that has characterized Turkey over the past decade of AKP rule could be at risk.