Prof. Gökhan Bacık is Associate Professor of International Relations at Ipek University, Ankara. He formerly served as the Director of the Middle East Strategic Research Center at Zirve University in Gaziantep. Prof. Bacık is also a prominent academic analyst of the Gülen Movement in the modern Turkish political arena. In his lecture for Club Turkey, Prof. Bacık analyzed the relation between the nature of political alliances in Turkish politics and the rise of the Gülen movement in the religious and political spheres in Turkey.
Turkish political culture still retains some degree of “tribalism,” as does the current AKP government, in which prominent officials surround themselves with an entourage of close associates and yes-men. Domestic alliances are short-lived, and one may be part of several, parallel alliances, which are being routinely severed and re-formed. After the ruling AK Party has gained power and fame, it ceased to take part in political alliances within the “Islamic bloc” in Turkish politics, but has aligned itself with the state and serves as a dominant party. In other words, Turkey is currently dancing to the tune of the AKP.
Despite the AKP predominance in Turkish politics, the Gülen movement has managed to retain its independence vis-à-vis the party that it has supported until now. It has a large body of members and supporters both in Turkey and abroad. The movement’s leader, Fethullah Gülen, has come to believe in the past two years that Turkish PM Erdoğan stopped promoting democratization in the country. Gülen allows himself a great deal of freedom in his public criticism of Erdoğan, and is openly critical of growing signs of corruption in the government sector. After the May 11 attack in Reyhanlı, Gülen berated Erdoğan for choosing not to publicly refer to the Iranian involvement in the attack.
Behind the scenes, there are major disagreements over the role of Islam in politics and the public sphere: whereas AKP is in favor of a greater role for religion in politics, as in what the Muslim Brotherhood tried to do in Egypt, whereas Gülen has adopted a more liberal attitude, preferring a more private and lower profile for Islam. In a way, Gülen remains a preacher, a role the Brotherhood abandoned when entering politics in Egypt. There are also major differences on the Kurdish issue and the reconciliation process the AKP government is pursuing, on Iran, and other foreign policy issues, including relation with the US and Israel.
The tension between the Gülen movement and the AKP will affect a variety of areas—both political and social—in the future. Gülen’s social Islam will survive even without an Islamic party in the background. The power of the Gülen movement may be used, theoretically, to form a political party, but it is more likely that the movement will not form a party but encourage its members to join other parties, including non-Islamic, and specifically not the AKP.