Two weeks after the failed Turkish coup attempt, there are still questions about the full extent of the plot and who, exactly, was involved. Still, it is possible to make some educated guesses.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has blamed Pennsylvania-based preacher Fethullah Gulen and his followers. The ongoing power struggle between the AKP and the Gulenists renders this account suspicious, although mounting evidence suggests that high-ranking followers of Gulen were intimately involved in the plotting and execution of the coup attempt. The evidence thus poses thorny challenges for Turkey and its partner, the United States. Turkey will craft its response to maximize domestic political advantages, although its decisions will perhaps have greater implications for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Syrian conflicts. Meanwhile, the United States will have to come to terms with an operational partner in turmoil and the possibility that the coup was ordered or inspired from U.S. soil by a permanent resident.
The AKP government’s complicated history with the Gulen Movement has regained attention after the attempted coup. Starting in 2002, the two distinct political Islamist movements joined forces to lead Turkey politically, populate its bureaucracy, and subjugate the overactive military to civilian control. The erstwhile alliance worked well. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wielded political power; the Gulenists entrenched themselves in the civil service, police force, prosecutors’ offices, and judiciary. Meanwhile, the Gulen Movement concocted show trials to cleanse the military and bureaucracy of the joint political project’s more radical opponents. Yet, divergent interests and competing designs on power led to conflict. The Gulenists launched corruption probes against AKP heavyweights; Erdogan retaliated by purging Gulenists from the bureaucracy, media, and business worlds—an effort that was ongoing when the coup attempt touched off on July 15.
The AKP government’s rash behavior following the failed coup served its political purposes but diminished its trustworthiness. Within hours of the start of the coup attempt, Erdogan and senior government officials had already blamed Gulen for
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