Would Gul battle Turkey’s 'parallel state'?

Outgoing President Abdullah Gul’s distinction between Gulenist wrongdoers within the state and innocent members of the community shows the difficulty of dismantling the “parallel state” without crippling democracy and social peace.

al-monitor Turkey's President Abdullah Gul (R) and his wife, Hayrunnisa, attend a wreath-laying ceremony in Amsterdam, April 17, 2012.  Photo by REUTERS/Robin van Lonkhuijsen.
Mustafa Akyol

Mustafa Akyol


Topics covered

turkey, security, recep tayyip erdogan, politics, internal security forces, gulen movement, abdullah gul

Aug 15, 2014

In an article for the Al Jazeera Turk website, Etyen Mahcupyan, a leading unofficial ideologue of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), made the following description of “the new AKP”: “The AKP today is not only looking for a new prime minister, but is trying to shape new cadres and a new working modality that will guarantee the continuation of the settlement process [with the Kurds], the purge of the Hizmet [Gulenist] movement’s cadres from the bureaucracy and the introduction of a new constitution. Quite a large number of people in the party, its grassroots and constituency, suspect that [outgoing president Abdullah] Gul will be inadequate with respect to these ‘imperative moves.’”

In other words, “the new AKP” is said to be facing three major struggles, with some convinced that the outgoing Gul would be “inadequate” in waging those struggles. This is said to be the reason why Gul, the AKP’s first prime minister, is being cast out from the party despite his great popularity in the grassroots.

What Mahcupyan describes gently as “the purge of the Hizmet movement’s cadres from the bureaucracy” appears to be the most essential issue out of the three major struggles, given that Gul’s support for the “settlement process” is obvious and that he will no doubt lend staunch support to a “new constitution” if that constitution is to uphold European Union standards.

In Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s words, this essential issue means a “struggle against the parallel state.” As everyone is aware, the struggle targets the Fethullah Gulen community’s cadres within the state, which over the past year have evolved from Erdogan’s chief ally to his archenemy.

But are the misgivings mentioned by Mahcupyan justified, even from the AKP’s vantage point? In other words, if Gul becomes AKP chairman and prime minister, will he really fail in addressing the “parallel threat” and protecting Turkey against that “treacherous gang?”

Erdogan’s concept

To answer this question, let’s first see how Erdogan and his circle describe the “parallel threat.” Their description tells us, in a nutshell, that the Gulenist cadres have become organized within the state and are engaging in unlawful deeds under their own internal hierarchy. Recent revelations that hundreds of people were wiretapped — either illegally or in an unlawful fashion made to look by the book — provides some tangible basis for this argument.

Yet, the Gulen community has a huge “civic society” wing that has nothing to do with state institutions — schools, boarding houses, private tutoring halls, associations and media outlets. Quite intriguingly, Erdogan’s government is targeting not only the “parallel state” but the entirety of Gulenist civic society. In the words of journalist Rusen Cakir, who specializes on the issue, “Erdogan has adopted a strategy of an all-out offensive against the community.”

And that’s exactly what makes Erdogan’s concept not a legal struggle but a witch hunt, in which an entire religious community is being cast as an “internal enemy” and a hate subject, instead of pursuing only concrete offenders for concrete offenses. A prosecutor’s declaration that, “We may detain as many as 500,000 people if need be” is an indication of the point things may reach.

The reason why Erdogan and his supporters act in this fashion is their intent to “root out” what they see as a “national security threat,” and in this aspect they seem to be no different from the “old Turkey” they so revile. For it is an old Turkey classic to suspend universal law in the face of political threats, move the state “out of its routine” and mount indiscriminate, all-out offensives against both the guilty and the innocent.

And what about Gul’s concept?

Gul’s concept

No doubt, I’m not in a position to comment on Gul’s behalf. Yet, Gul’s statements and attitudes since the onset of this controversy leave me with the impression that he, too, is aware of the “parallel state” threat but is against transforming the struggle against it into a witch hunt.

I highlighted the “Gul difference” in May in an article for the Star daily where I wrote a column at the time. The article, headlined “Another Way Is Possible,” included the following lines: “Recently Mr. Gul has made statements indicating that he, too, takes seriously the ‘parallel state’ allegations. He warned that, ‘There can’t be a state within a state, nor any separate formations within the state.’ Yet, he did not use a language vilifying wholesale an entire social group with all its civic activities. On the contrary, he stressed the need to make this critical distinction. Referring to the [Gulen community’s] Turkish schools abroad, he said: ‘I’ve attended the opening of some of them. They have nice activities and should not be implicated in this affair.’”

Hence, if Gul comes to power, he is likely to sustain the purge of the “parallel structure” from the state and support related legal processes, but without allowing this drive to devolve into political lynching, hatred campaigns, revenge operations and a quarrel in the “Islamist neighborhood.” In other words, the “parallel state” would be dismantled but the Gulen movement’s “civic wing” — schools, charities, media and economic assets — would remain untouched and sustain their legitimate activities.

Who is right?

Well, which leader has the right concept?

In Turkey, the more radical view is usually considered to be the right one. But often, the opposite is true — just as in this case.

The right course of action will be to purge what really makes the “parallel structure” within the state (and not build a “judiciary parallel to the government” in the meantime). And no doubt, civic society should be left untouched. No doubt, the Gulen community should be able to continue its religious and social activities at home and abroad.

There are two reasons for this:

First, this is what justice and law require. Criminal offenses are individual, both under universal and Islamic law. Putting a “parallel” policeman on trial cannot justify attacks on a Turkish teacher working in Africa, just as trying “putschist” generals does not justify attacks on people who share their feelings and ideology.

Second, only the moderate concept described above can put an end to this damaging quarrel that is wreaking havoc in Turkey. The Gulen community may be ready to forfeit what is said to be a “parallel structure” within the state, but will definitely refuse to be wiped off in its entirety.

In my aforementioned article I had said, “This political war can come to an end only if the sides leave ‘exit routes’ to one another. Otherwise, the struggle will go on as a war of survival that will continuously deepen as neither side will acquiesce to its own death.”

Therefore, in my view, if Turkey’s “parallel state” problem is to be resolved without destroying democracy, the law and social peace, Gul’s approach is in no way “insufficient.” Moreover, it is a must.

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