Tags: Gulen | Erdogan | Turkey | imam

Poconos Imam Roils Turkish Politics

Image: Poconos Imam Roils Turkish Politics Embroidered images of U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, left, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are displayed in a shop in Gaziantep, Turkey, on Jan. 17.

Tuesday, 21 Jan 2014 11:45 AM

By Lisa Barron

Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan's grip on power is being threatened by a rift between his ruling party and a Pennsylvania-based imam who has supported him in the past.

Fethullah Gulen has lashed out at Erdogan from his base in tiny Saylorsburg in the Poconos Mountains, accusing him of impeding the country's democratic reforms.

"Turkish people ... are upset that in the last two years democratic progress is now being reversed," the imam told The Wall Street Journal in emails.

"Purges based on ideology, sympathy, or world views was a practice of the past that the present ruling party promised to stop," he added.

Gulen, 72, would like to see a challenge to Erdogan's Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party, the AKP, and did not rule out the possibility that followers of his Cermaat movement, which preaches tolerance, would support the secular Republican People's Party.

He indicated that they, "just like any other citizen, will make their choices based on their values."

The Journal described Gulen's emails as "the strongest sign yet of an irreparable split" between the two men.

Under Erdogan, who has led the governing coalition since 2002, Turkey has become the West's biggest ally in the Muslim world. Now members of his party say that aligning with Gulen's followers was a mistake, saying Cermaat members "do not conform with the state hierarchy but take orders from the movement."

But Gulen said it is Erdogan who has changed not him. "Whether the stance or actions of the political actors are consistent with their earlier record should be decided by the Turkish people and unbiased observers," he said.

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