AK Party and Gulen movement fall out over prep schools

The Turkish government's decision to close prep schools has put them at odds with the followers of Fethullah Gulen, the influential religious community in the country.

AK Party and Gulen movement fall out over prep schools

World Bulletin / News Desk

A fierce debate has gripped Turkey this past week over the proposed closure of prep schools across the country. However, the move is also an indication of an official split between the Turkish government and the followers of Fethullah Gulen, who have up until recently enjoyed a harmonious relationship.

Since many of the prep schools in Turkey are owned by Fethullah Gulen’s Hizmet Movement, their closure would seriously damage the growth of their community.

The Hizmet Movement has been providing affordable prep school education for students in Turkey since the 1970s to help them prepare for university admission exams and to make up for inadequate teaching in public schools. However, they are known to be much more than simple prep schools, as the Hizmet Movement, under the tutelage of Fethullah Gulen, provided Turkey with an alternative narrative to the Kemalist-Republican propaganda offered by public schools.

For this reason, the schools were often targeted by previous Turkish governments, forcing Gulen to retreat into self-exile in the United States in 1999, until Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power in 2003. Erdogan offered his sympathy to the movement, allowing them to flourish. Today, schools and institutions belonging to the movement not only operate all over Turkey, but have also opened in other countries as well.

As well as schools, the movement has established many think-tanks and media outlets. Moreover, many of Gulen’s followers have enjoyed success in law enforcement and in political careers, including within the AK Party.

However, as of early 2012, cracks began to appear in the relationship between Erdogan and Gulen, when a head prosecutor accused the Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan of being linked to the activities of the PKK, an armed group of Kurdish separatists in the country’s south-east. The allegations sabotaged covert operations being conducted against the PKK and put the lives of operational agents in danger. Erdogan was outraged by what seemed to be an attempted plot to bring down one of his most trusted men.

Ironically, Erdogan in the summer of 2012 called Fethullah Gulen to end his self-exile and return to Turkey - an invitation Gulen rejected. Erdogan was also recently reported to have sent Gulen a ‘get well soon’ message on hearing of his poor-health. However, at the same time the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV), another group belonging to the Hizmet Movement, claimed that the government was accusing them of being behind the Gezi Park riots of summer 2013. Also, the relationship between Erdogan and one of his deputies, Bulent Arinc, who is also known for his ties to the Gulen community, has been on the rocks in recent weeks, with Arinc himself publicly admitting it.

No media outlet has been more critical of the attempt now to shut down schools than the Zaman newspaper, which is owned by the Gulen community. Despite the Education Minister of Turkey, Nabi Avci, saying that prep schools were free to register as private schools, Zaman has claimed that only 263 of the existing 3,100 prep schools were in a position to transform themselves into private high schools. It also expressed that those that do not conform to the new regulations would be subject to a hefty fine.

Gulen himself published a video linking the current government’s attitude towards the prep schools to the attitudes of post-coup governments of the past. He also compared those opposed to his movement to Pharaohs, and rather ironically, called for the ex-military generals who are being put on trial in Turkey charged with plotting to overthrow the government to be released. These of course being the same military generals that made Gulen feel like he had no choice but to leave Turkey for his safety in 1999.

Twitter has been overwhelmed by tweets by users debating the new measures, with reports claiming that the AK Party circles have formed a 6,000 strong Twitter army to counter the criticisms in pro-Gulen outlets.

With local elections approaching on March 30, many are also beginning to speculate that followers of Fethullah Gulen will cease their decade-long support for the AK Party, while others speculate that the Gulen community may split on political lines.

Last Mod: 19 Kasım 2013, 14:56
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