The conflict between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and penetration of the hierarchical judiciary by the US-based Gulen movement (Cemaat) is escalating by the day. It would be misleading to see this clash as solely between the government and the Cemaat. The decisions at the last meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) indicated that the entire Turkish state was determined to purge the state of Gulenists. It is no longer a Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan versus Gulen clash, but the Turkish state versus Gulenists.
In that critical meeting of the NSC, decisions were taken on measures to cleanse the state from the “parallel body” built by the Gulenists. In the meeting chaired by President Abdullah Gul the outcome was a firm decision for all-out combat against efforts for a parallel state. The strategy for the struggle will have three main prongs:
- Fighting penetration of state organs.
- The Cemaat’s contacts with foreign organizations and intelligence services.
- The Cemaat's domination of the private sector through intimidation.
So what transpired in that crucial NSC meeting? I spoke on background with senior participants: Hakan Fidan, head of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), gave a comprehensive brief on the Gulenists' structuring within the state and of mass wiretapping operations that even included the encrypted phones of Gul, Erdogan and other senior officials and how these were conveyed abroad. Hakan said the trucks chartered by MIT were searched to damage Turkey’s international standing and enhance suspicions of cooperation with terror. He gave detailed information on parallel operations within the state, on clusters formed in critical institutions and purging of civil servants who refused to submit to the Cemaat by using judicial powers.
The emphasis was on the threat to national security posed by this parallel body as indicated in the communique issued after the NSC meeting that said: “All penetration efforts and activities that threaten the peace of our people and national security were discussed.”
MIT draft bill postponed
Another critical development followed the NSC decision and, in a last-minute decision, the AKP postponed the parliamentary discussion of the new MIT draft bill that it had planned to enact before the parliamentary recess until after the March 30 local elections. Senior AKP parliamentarian Mustafa Elitas said, “Our first order of the day after the elections will be to discuss the bill that introduces changes in the MIT legislation.” Meanwhile, the AKP will modify the draft to prevent the parallel state from obstructing the solution process with the Kurds. I understand that there were also objections in the NSC to certain anti-democratic stipulations of the MIT draft bill that were bound to be controversial. The AKP, not wanting to be challenging the state and acting without its consent, postponed the draft bill’s discussion.
For example, the clause in Article 3 that says, “MIT personnel in the performance of their duties can hold meetings with detainees in prison” will be expanded by adding “or can authorize such meetings.” This will provide security for those Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) members or anybody else who goes to Imrali to meet with the imprisoned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan.
I also think the postponement of the MIT draft bill and its reconsideration are wise decisions. That bill was perceived in the West as an effort by the Erdogan government to consolidate its control over key state institutions on the eve of approaching elections. The bill authorized unfettered MIT access to all official and private sector documents without court permission. Prosecutors who would want to investigate MIT operations or its personnel would have to get the clearance of the MIT. Journalists publishing confidential MIT documents could be facing up to 12 years of imprisonment.
These are not clauses that can be accepted in a liberal democracy. Yes, I also believe that the Gulenists operate like a gang that abuses state power without any checks, and that the MIT had be to be strengthened.
It is not a surprise that Gul, who shared the same concerns with Erdogan about the parallel structure, approved both the Internet bill and the bill on Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). This vindicates my thesis that Gul and Erdogan had the same stances on these issues. Many analysts and writers were saying Gul had a totally different outlook and was uncomfortable with Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies. True, there may be differences between them, but Gul never sees Erdogan’s tough stand in the struggle against the parallel state as signs of authoritarianism. To the contrary, Gul feels that the cleansing the state of this parallel body is vital for Turkish democracy.
Turkey is in such a polarized atmosphere that many analysts have lost their cool-headedness. Their animosity toward Erdogan allows them to express their wishful thinking as the truth. Despite the latest leaked controversial tape recordings, 40% of the population still supports Erdogan. Anyone wondering about the future of Turkish politics must have no doubt that Erdogan will still continue to be the political actor with overwhelming support. There will be no dramatic decline in his vote.
According to the findings of Hakan Bayrakci, polling expert of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), 35% is Erdogan’s firm base vote. This 35% segment is truly attached to Erdogan. Those who monitor the public attitudes with scientific research methods acknowledge this reality even if they oppose Erdogan.