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Erdogan expected to put anti-Gulen movement in high gear

The Turkish government has officially declared the Gulen movement a terrorist organization, paving the way for even speedier seizures of Gulen-affiliated universities.
Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen is pictured at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania September 24, 2013. Born in Erzurum, eastern Turkey, Gulen built up his reputation as a Muslim preacher with intense sermons that often moved him to tears. From his base in Izmir, he toured Turkey stressing the need to embrace scientific progress, shun radicalism and build bridges to the West and other faiths. The first Gulen school opened in 1982. In the following decades, the movement became a spectacular success, s

The latest battle between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the outlawed Gulen movement is being fought in universities. The government is seizing universities — many with tens of thousands of students enrolled — operated by Gulen movement foundations and has appointed trustees to run them with the intention of either turning them into public universities or closing them down.

At the May 26 meeting of the National Security Council, Erdogan declared that the council has officially registered the Gulen movement as the Fethullah Terror Organization (FETO).

Until now, scores of businessmen, journalists and police officials, including members of their senior ranks, have been detained in what were called "operations against parallel state structures." Now, such anti-Gulen actions will be taken based on "combating terror organizations."

But several legal experts have warned that charging people under a terrorist designation without a judicial decision would contravene the law and the constitution.

Sami Selcuk, honorary president of the Court of Appeals and a law professor at Bilkent University, said only a court can determine that a group is a terror organization, and then such a ruling has to be ratified by the Court of Appeals. “Neither the National Security Council nor the national parliament can reach such a conclusion and so advise or instruct the judiciary,” he said.

Until the massive bribery and corruption investigations of 2013, Erdogan and the Gulen movement were close allies. Erdogan believed the Gulen movement was behind the corruption allegations, which implicated some government ministers and even Erdogan's family. “What did we ever deny to you?” he asked, and labeled them first as “coup plotters” and then a terror organization.

In this new phase, after seizing a variety of companies and media organizations, the government has launched an operation to seize 17 universities belonging to the movement. The Higher Education Board has made changes in its bylaws related to private foundation universities and paved the way for their seizure.

New regulations say, “If a foundation is directly involved in actions against the integrity of the state or in supporting such actions, then such foundation-owned universities can be seized, closed or turned over to a state university in that province.”

Under such allegations, a court appoints a trustee to run the foundation that owns the university. The school's administration automatically becomes subject to the trustee's control.

Istanbul’s Fatih University, which was established in 1996 and has graduated thousands since then, this month became the latest university to be seized.

The Gulen movement-affiliated foundation that operated the Mevlana University in Konya, the hometown of former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, was also put under a trustee.

The most controversial takeover happened at Halic University of Istanbul, which was seized in May. University Chairman Mansur Topcuoglu reacted sharply to the decision to turn Halic over to Istanbul University. In a press conference, Topcuoglu labeled the Higher Education Board as “a gang that has personal interests in universities” and said the decision to take over Halic University was illegal.

A year ago in Izmir, police raided the Turkish Doctors Foundation, and its affiliated Sifa hospital and university were also seized based on charges of “providing financing to FETO/parallel structure terror organizations.”

In Kayseri, Meliksah University and the Burc Foundation, which managed it, were raided by police in September. Prominent businessman Memduh Boydak, who was president of the foundation and the university, was detained. Boydak, who also was a board member of the powerful TUSIAD, the Turkish Industry and Business Association, resigned from the association. Boydak Holding, with 41 companies and 14,000 employees, is one of the country's major corporations.

Now that the National Security Council has officially declared the Gulen movement a terrorist organization, the government is expected to step up seizures of universities and companies. The ruling Justice and Development Party government, which also amended the bylaws of the Court of Appeals and Council of State, the two highest courts of the land, is also taking steps to protect the government-appointed trustees against prosecution. The government has determined that trustees appointed to universities cannot be taken to court to be held accountable for their actions.

Meanwhile, Karatay University, owned by the pro-government Chamber of Commerce of Konya, announced the forthcoming opening of a new faculty for the 2016-17 academic year. Selcuk Ozturk, chairman of Karatay University, said the Islamic economy, finance and banking faculty will be the first of its kind in the world and will contribute significantly to training acutely needed workers. Ozturk said that, worldwide, there are 40 universities offering graduate degrees in Islamic finance and economy, but none at the undergraduate level. Ozturk said this is extremely important for Turkey, as Islamic-compliant banking is rapidly growing.

There are reports that in addition to Islamic banking, the Islamic-compliant insurance market is also developing rapidly in Turkey. So far, 1.5 million people have bought Islamic insurance policies and their premiums have reached $300 million. Interest-free Islamic investment insurance called Solidarity is also gaining popularity, though it was only introduced recently. In addition to 1.5 million policyholders, 525,000 people have joined the interest-free personal retirement system, thus bringing the total number of people opting for Islamic insurance to more than 2 million.

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