Key player: Fethullah Gulen

President's ex-ally now his political foe


US-based cleric's Hizmet movement has powerful presence in Turkish society

LOS ANGELES • Mr Fethullah Gulen, the US-based cleric accused by Ankara of orchestrating the coup attempt in Turkey, has a wide following in his native country, where he enjoys support among the police and judiciary.

According to The Guardian, some reports say 10 per cent of the Turkish population are estimated to back his movement, called Hizmet.

Critics say Hizmet aims to infiltrate the government, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former ally, has grown deeply suspicious about Mr Gulen's intentions.

The reclusive Islamic preacher lives in his sprawling Golden Generation Worship and Retreat Centre in Saylorsburg, a tiny town in Pennsylvania. Mr Erdogan quickly blamed Mr Gulen for the coup attempt, an accusation the cleric quickly denied.

"As someone who suffered under multiple military coups during the past five decades, it is especially insulting to be accused of having any link to such an attempt. I categorically deny such accusations," Mr Gulen said in a statement, Agence France-Presse reported. "I condemn, in the strongest terms, the attempted military coup in Turkey," read the two-paragraph statement.


It is especially insulting to be accused of having any link to such an attempt. I categorically deny such accusations.


Mr Gulen, 75, was once a close ally of Mr Erdogan but the two fell out in recent years as Mr Erdogan became suspicious of Mr Gulen's Hizmet, and its powerful presence in Turkish society.

Hizmet - meaning service in Turkish - advocates a mix of Sufi mysticism and harmony among people based on the teachings of Islam.


According to The Guardian, Hizmet has spawned think-tanks, businesses, schools and publications across the globe, while building up substantial wealth and influence in the process.

The preacher moved to the United States in 1999, before he was charged with treason in his native country, said AFP.

The power struggle between the two foes came to a head in late 2013 after judicial officials thought to be close to Mr Gulen brought corruption charges that directly implicated some of Mr Erdogan's inner circle, including his son Bilal.

Mr Erdogan launched a series of counterattacks, purging hundreds of army officers, including top generals, shutting down schools operated by Hizmet and firing hundreds of police officers. The military's acting chief of staff Umit Dundar said yesterday Turkey's armed forces were determined to remove members of the "parallel structure" from their ranks - shorthand commonly used by the government to refer to Mr Gulen's followers.

Hizmet officials insist that Mr Gulen is committed to democratic reform and interfaith dialogue, AFP said. Critics point to a video that emerged in 1999 in which Mr Gulen seemed to suggest his followers should infiltrate mainstream institutions, the Guardian reported. Mr Gulen has said the recording had been altered.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 17, 2016, with the headline 'President's ex-ally now his political foe'. Print Edition | Subscribe