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Imam wields power from self-imposed exile in west 20 décembre 2013

Posted by Acturca in Turkey / Turquie, USA / Etats-Unis.
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Financial Times (UK) December 20, 2013, p. 4

By Daniel Dombey in Ankara

Fethullah Gulen, whose movement is clashing with the premier, is no ordinary cleric, says Daniel Dombey.

Last week Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Muslim preacher now living in Pennsylvania in the US, gave an unusual sermon.

In a video address to his hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of followers, the 72-year-old spoke of a phone call he received years ago about « a top personality » in Turkey who was on his way to meet a prostitute.

Mr Gulen said he called a friend to warn off the person involved. « If this had been a trap, he would not have come to the position he is occupying right now, » the preacher added. « I have not mentioned this incident to anybody until now . . . But I can count perhaps 10 similar incidents. »

Such comments, suggesting access to intimate information about prominent people thousands of miles away, might seem surprising for a preacher. But Mr Gulen, known to his followers as hocaefendi, or « master teacher », is no ordinary cleric.

His followers are embroiled in a bitter battle with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, at a time when he and the Gulenists are no longer held together by fear of their common foe: the country’s fiercely secular military. Against this backdrop, Mr Erdogan faces one of his most serious challenges since taking power more than a decade ago: an anti-corruption probe investigating four of his ministers and a host of other figures connected to the government.

Mr Gulen’s lawyer denies his client has any involvement with the investigation and Mr Erdogan has shied away from naming him. But elsewhere, the case is universally depicted as an offensive by Mr Gulen’s followers against Mr Erdogan’s government.

Mr Gulen’s movement began with his work as an imam in the city of Izmir in the 1960s. Its followers run schools in some 140 countries, including the US; lead one of Turkey’s biggest business organisations, Tuskon, which has spearheaded trade with new markets, notably Africa; and publish Zaman, the country’s biggest circulation paper.

The movement’s critics, including many in Mr Erdogan’s ruling AK party, accuse the Gulenists of establishing strongholds within the police, especially in counter-terrorism and intelligence, the prosecutors service and the judiciary.

Mr Erdogan has responded to the corruption investigation by moving dozens of senior police officials from their posts, including yesterday the Istanbul police chief. The government is also suing prosecutors in the case for allegedly violating suspects’ privacy.

« They are trying to discredit this investigation by saying the Gulenists are in the police or in the judiciary, » Mustafa Yesil, head of the Journalists and Writers Foundation, which spreads Mr Gulen’s message, told the Financial Times. « This investigation should carry on to clear the air because there is evidence and there are suspicious things. »

He and other Gulenists argue that their movement simply has followers in the police as in other walks of life because Mr Gulen wins adherents with his message of moderate Islam and dialogue between religions. Many say they were converted by tapes of Mr Gulen’s sermons. « It is an altruistic movement, with no material expectations, » Mr Yesil said.

He added that Mr Gulen had long been focused on combating ignorance, conflict and poverty. Education, including the Turkish language, mathematics and science, is a constant focus.

But others point to a much more organised movement, with goals of its own.

In 1999, the year Mr Gulen left for medical treatment in the US, a videotape was broadcast on Turkish television in which he appeared to tell his followers: « You must move in the arteries of the system, without anyone noticing . . . You must wait until such time as you have acquired all the state power. » Mr Gulen has said the video was tampered with and he was acquitted in a related court case. He remains abroad in self-imposed exile.

One former Gulenist said in an interview this year that children were targeted for recruitment at about the age of 12. He added that for decades the movement’s main revenue was donations by businessmen, but from the 2000s, with Mr Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AKP in power, income from pre-university and pre-high school crammers became more important.

But the crammers are in Mr Erdogan’s sights. In recent weeks, the prime minister stepped up a drive to close them down or to convert them into ordinary schools. Mr Gulen’s warning about sexual indiscretions followed that move.

Mr Erdogan has declared that he is getting rid of what he calls a « state within a state ». But after images this week purporting to show piles of cash held by the suspects in the corruption probe, Turks are steeling themselves for more revelations from the investigations.

Gulenist influence

State institutions

Mr Gulen’s detractors say his followers have gained positions of power within the police, prosecutors and judiciary. One ruling party MP recently said the government had handed control of the police to the movement. Critics also accuse movement sympathisers of orchestrating mass political trials. Mr Gulen and his supporters deny such claims


Mr Gulen’s followers say there are schools inspired by his teachings in almost every big city in Turkey and in about 140 countries, although there is no central register.

International expansion gained steam in the 1990s, with schools opening in central Asia. In some instances, schools established links with local elites then followed with business ties


The movement’s most prominent outlet is the Zaman newspaper, which says it has Turkey’s highest circulation.

Other outlets sympathetic to Mr Gulen include the English-language Today’s Zaman and television stations


Rizanur Meral, head of Tuskon, a business confederation that represents 120,000 companies, many of them run by Gulenists, said in an interview this year that Mr Gulen’s approach helped people « become serious, reliable businessmen… and to discover the opportunities in the world »


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