On Dec. 17, the Turkish public and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan were shocked by the news that a major corruption operation had nabbed three sons of Erdogan’s cabinet members, a prominent businessman, a mayor belonging to his party, a bank manager and a slew of government officials. Almost immediately Turkish pundits pointed fingers at the secretive Islamist Gulen movement for triggering this investigation that has so embarrassed the government.
No one can really divine whether this allegation is true, but in a world where perceptions rule the day, this matters little. The investigation will be perceived as another battle in a war that no one can win. The only question is who will lose less? Erdogan is far more powerful than Fethullah Gulen, a charismatic preacher on self-imposed exile on a farm in Pennsylvania since 1999, when the then-powerful Turkish military sought to charge him with undermining the secular order. But Erdogan has also far more at stake as an elected leader and, therefore, is likely to emerge as the bigger loser.