A Turkish can of worms

After the massive street protests this summer and their brutal suppression by the police, this week has seen the outbreak of a huge corruption scandal in Turkey involving various politicians and business people from the ruling party. Among the 52 people already detained by police units are the sons of the Interior, Economy and Environment Ministers along with various mayors, the manager of a major public bank, big real estate businessmen and so on.

Apparently the investigation was sparked off by an anonymous letter to the police over a year ago which pointed to the illegal use of central and local government powers to facilitate various building projects which yielded huge profits to all involved. The media is reporting that police have a mass of evidence through surveillance and phone tapping of up to ten government ministers being involved in the corruption including video footage of one minister personally receiving a $1.5 million bribe.

We are told that when police raided the home of the Interior Minister?s son they found seven safes and money counting machines. Meanwhile, at the home of the Manager of state-run Halk Bank some $4.5 million was found in cash neatly tucked away in shoe boxes, the same method of storage discovered earlier in the year in another criminal investigation (already throwing shoe boxes rather than shoes is now becoming the favoured indication of disgust). It is also being openly said that Halk Bank was a key conduit for Iran to get around the international banking sanctions with $100 billion flowing through it in recent years.

Also involved in the scandal are allegations of gold smuggling, the issue of false Turkish passports to mafia contacts for business operations, and the export of important antique objects discovered in the excavation of the railway tunnel under the Bosphorus. You just couldn?t make it up if you tried!


What has been the reaction of the Government? Repentance and contrition? Hardly. Within hours of the police raids one key police official after another involved in the investigation has been fired ? so far eleven directors of various units plus dozens of other officers including the head of Istanbul?s police have been dismissed and replaced by more ?reliable? officers, while two extra prosecutors have been appointed to ?help? with the inquiries. This blatant interference with justice has been met by widespread condemnation even among elements previously sympathetic to the regime.

But such is the scale of the scandal that clearly the government feels it better to openly flout the basic rules of police and legal procedure than to allow the investigation to proceed to its logical conclusion. This is particularly the case as we have now entered a period of campaigning for important elections for local government next March, the Presidency in July and the parliament the following June. Better the administration thinks to lose votes to a weak opposition than to lose half of its Ministers and even worse.

Splits At The Top

At first sight it seems very strange that the Turkish Prime Minister, Tayip Erdogan, the President of the Republic, Abudllah Gul, and the Interior Minister, Muammer Guler, knew nothing of the year-long police operation. Indeed, it is inconceivable that such an investigation would even have happened in most Western countries where government control of its police forces is much more centralized. However, Turkey is a state riven by deep divisions.

Well publicized has been the struggle by the non-religious army and bureaucratic kemalist elite based in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, against the growing power of the pro-muslim governing party who represent a rising bourgeoisie from the previously excluded areas of mainland Anatolia. But much less well-known have been the increasing splits within the Islamic movement itself.

Normally, fundamentalist religious groups have a tendency towards splits and intense infighting just like the fundamentalist sectarian groups on the revolutionary left. In Turkey there are now more than 70 Islamic movements known here as Hizmet. The sweeping victory of the pro-islamic AK Parti in the 2002 general election saw an unprecedented level of unity among the Islamic movements in Turkey. However, as the undemocratic and arrogant style of the new government began to emerge, one by one these Islamic groups became disillusioned with it.

Most important of the muslim movements in Turkey is the Gulen Hizmet named after its founder Fethullar Gulen. This movement grew fat under the AK Parti?s patronage with extensive influence in private education, business and the media, and gaining followers in prominent state and civil positions. Indeed, many Turks came to believe that the increasing power of the Gulen movement was a massive conspiracy controlling the government and threatening to turn Turkey into an Islamic state on the lines of Iran. Actually, this was never a serious possibility. On the one hand, the Gulen movement is a relatively moderate wing of the Islamic movement and very much under the influence of the American government who have funded and supported it for a long time and provided a refuge for its leader. On the other hand, the AK Parti government is essentially a pro-business administration and uses its Islamic credentials to maintain popular support. There is no way that it wants to emulate the example of Iran and cut itself off from Washington and Brussels.

However, as the AK Parti government increasingly consolidated its power especially after it defeated the army and legal opposition in the constitutional crisis of 2007, the regime no longer felt it needed the Gulen movement?s ?advice?. As the government?s arrogance and corruption grew in scale the Gulen movement became increasingly disaffected and began to voice its criticisms through the media. The split between the government and its previously close ally broke out into the public a month ago when the administration announced plans to close down the private schools run by the Gulen movement and launched into a vicious propaganda campaign against it. Alongside this campaign, the government have launched tax investigations against the Gulen companies. This comes on top of the tax investigations launched into the Koc holdings, the biggest in the country, as revenge for its support of the Gezi Park street protest movement earlier this summer.

Even within the AK Parti itself, we can see the first stirrings of revolt against the personal dictatorship of the Prime Minister. Ignoring his long-standing party comrades who have been trying to urge a less confrontational style, Erdogan increasingly closets himself with his inner circle of young sycophantic hard-line advisers.
All this has created a fertile basis for internal strife at all levels of the Party and state, to add to the massive discontent among sections of the public.


The Turkish state has never been a stranger to corruption. The crony capitalist coalition that the AK Parti replaced used to hand out banking licences as political favours and then were surprised when the banking system collapsed at the end of 2000. The huge economic crisis that this precipitated in Turkey caused millions to lose their jobs, the majority to see a big fall in salaries, and widespread poverty. Nearly a quarter of the population had to move home to cheaper accommodation. This was the background to the massive defeat of the old political parties who were all thrown out of the parliament in 2002. In their place, the AK Parti offered a clean pair of hands promising an end to the endemic corruption. And at first they delivered significant changes. Low level corruption such as traffic police demanding cash payment on demand at every opportunity became far less evident.

But bribery is inherent in the capitalist system. With the sweeping victory of the AK Parti in local elections in 2004, businessmen understood that in order to win contracts at local and central government level they needed to pay money to AK Party politicians. This process was further exacerbated with the privatisation of public sector industries with the AK Parti government happy to carry out the neo-liberal instructions of its masters in America and Europe. It became the practice for AK Parti politicians in government and town halls to expect a 20% fee for agreeing tenders for contracts or sales of public assets. A percentage apparently copied from Iran.

Not that the AK Parti officials were reluctant. Prime Minister Erdogan who comes from a poor background has still never explained how he managed to become a multi-millionaire during his period of office as the Mayor of Istanbul in the 1990s.

The significance of this latest corruption scandal is that it undermines the whole moral basis of the pro-islamic regime. A key element of Islam is the injunction on the better off to share their wealth with the poor. Instead of sharing the growing wealth of Turkey with the population as a whole, the government has presided over a monstrous growth of inequality. In the latest OECD survey, among the top 34 countries Turkey is now the third most unequal country in the world after Chile and Mexico. They are even ahead of the United States and Israel. As this scandal shows, the only sharing these muslims seem to be interested in is among themselves and their families. And the source of their shares ? the public finances of the people!

Turkish Correspondent for
 The Socialist Network

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