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When your cousin gets arrested in Turkey

Gulen’s supporters are not like those of ISIS, they are normal, religious followers therefore, it is very difficult to identify them

Jamal Khashoggi

Published: Updated:

In Istanbul, I met friends who are close to the ruling AK Party. I told them that claims that Fethullah Gülen’s group was the main force behind the failed coup in Turkey were exaggerated. I told them that I thought the government was using the coup attempt to get rid of its rivals. However, my friends were convinced of his involvement.

“If Gülen wasn’t behind the coup, the Republican People’s Party and the Kemalists wouldn’t have stood against him,” one of them said. “If the army alone was behind the coup, they would’ve supported it as they had done before. Like us, they rejected the coup organized by Gülen’s movement because it’s a totalitarian group.”

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party and of the Turkish opposition, stood with the government against Gülen, who he accuses of plotting the coup. Kılıçdaroğlu even supports Ankara’s request that the United States hand over “the terrorist leader in a military suit” - as Gülen is now called in Turkish media - and the soldiers involved with him.

Concerns

However, Kılıçdaroğlu has expressed concerns about the large wave of arrests, warning the government against arresting innocents. Many AK Party members share those concerns, though they express them quietly out of solidarity with their party.

However, the feeling is that had the coup succeeded, it would have been worse than the one in 1980 that led to the arrest of hundreds of thousands, 10,000 of whom are still missing.

“We would’ve certainly not allowed or accepted such a thing, and we started discussing an underground resistance plan, but our problem is that we don’t have a secret organization like our rivals,” Turan Kashlakji, former manager of state broadcaster TRT’s Arabic channel, told me.

The AK Party “is used to working in public since its establishment. We felt threatened, but we took to the streets with the people to resist the coup. We didn’t wait for directions and orders from the president and party leaders.”

They feel the government is being fair in its efforts to dissolve Gülen’s movement to protect democracy and the state, but they are worried about the consequences. What has been said or done so far is only the beginning. Everyone is awaiting carefully what will happen next.

Discussions

I was invited to a dinner hosted by Mustafa Joksho, advisor to the director of the Investment Support and Promotion Agency (ISPAT) who lives in Riyadh. The dinner was attended by Saudi investors in various real estate and tourist projects in Turkey, some of whom live in Istanbul. They all support Turkey’s government, which has facilitated the growth of their business there.

I had a side conversation with a Turkish university professor, who told me that families are divided. “My wife and her father are members of [Gülen’s] party, and our relationship isn’t good anymore,” he said.

“Some of my wife’s relatives have been arrested or fired from their jobs. She doesn’t want to believe that [Gülen] and his group are involved in the coup. She says it’s a big lie despite all the facts. They’re brainwashed, and I don’t know how our family will overcome this crisis.”

Gulen’s supporters are not like those of ISIS, they are normal, religious followers therefore, it is very difficult to identify them

Jamal Khashoggi

I have been told stories about the infiltration by Gülen’s organization of the army, security forces and all governmental institutions. This explains why employees from everywhere - not only from the security forces and educational institutions - have been dismissed from their jobs. Even Turkish Airlines employees have been fired.

Gülen’s supporters are not like those of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who criticize the government publicly, accuse people and societies of being infidels, and resort to violence. They are normal, religious followers, or as someone jokingly described them to me, “slightly religious.”

Therefore, it is very difficult to identify them except by finding their names in lists of secret social networks that are now in the hands of the Turkish intelligence, to be used to identify those involved in the coup attempt.

I went through the translated scripts transmitted between army members of the group. I noticed that military officers were using Islamic terms while exchanging directives for the failed coup, asking God for victory and luck. These expressions do not belong to the school of Kılıçdaroğlu, as the translator told me.

He then spoke of their decades-long infiltration of the military, saying some officers pretend to be liberal and Kemalist but are in fact Gülen loyalists. The translator showed me videos of Gülen preaching about the art of infiltration. He even allowed members of his group not to pray or wear the veil just to achieve their goals. The strangest thing I saw was the group’s magazine Sizinti, which means “infiltration.”

Understanding

It is a story that looks like a conspiracy plotted by secret groups such as the Freemasons. It needs a Turkish mentality to understand how an army that considers itself the guardian of secularism can be affiliated to an organization that perceives its idol Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as being the anti-Christ, but rejects political Islam (this is what differentiates Gülen from the AK Party).

Kemalists believe that their Republican People’s Party represents the moderate Islam needed by the West to coexist with Islam. Maybe the simplest way to explain this complicated situation is to compare Gülen supporters to those of Egyptian preachers Amr Khaled and Khaled al-Jendi, who infiltrated the rich and educated social classes in Egypt by using the ideology behind the speech of former Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, who hates political Islam but supports the hierarchical structure of the Muslim Brotherhood.

One of the AK Party’s leaders expressed fears that Gülen’s group would shift from government institutions to the business sector, since its members are not short on expertise and financial means. Some estimate that the group has access to more than $100 billion.

Others are concerned by Ankara’s disregard of other organizations, such as the Sufis, which are now siding with the government and have a presence in police departments. The solution - according to Mohammad Zahid Gul, a political analyst close to the AK Party - is “establishing more democracy when the state, not the party, takes control of the system and dissolves all secret organizations.”

A leader in the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the biggest beneficiary of the coup’s failure, told me: “I’m optimistic. The Turkish state was able to accommodate 3 million Syrian refugees, has integrated many of them into its economy, and gave them access to free education and hospitalization. It will definitely be able to control a few hundred thousand Turkish rebels now. It’s a difficult phase, but it shall pass.” Nobody disagreed with him.

This article first appeared in Al-Hayat on July 30, 2016.
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Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels. Twitter: @JKhashoggi

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.