June 5, 2014

Hizmet and March 30 elections: What happened? (2)

Haluk A. Savaş*

The people who were unable to acquire representation in the state because of the domination and influence of the pro-Western or pro-Republican People's Party (CHP) bureaucrats and officers within the state apparatus who consolidated their domination during the CHP's single-party rule of 27 years, which restricted the sphere of public activity and religious displays and practice, see Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as a leader who has opened up the state and its sphere of influence to the people.

During the process starting with former prime ministers Adnan Menderes and Turgut Özal, religious people were preferred as high-level officers in the state apparatus. During Erdoğan's term in office, the Hizmet movement particularly attracted attention because of its highly educated members, who were suitable for public posts.

This seemed a great advantage and asset; however, both the government and other religious communities were particularly uneasy with this situation, because it would cause some asymmetry in the bureaucracy. This has led to the argument that the Hizmet movement has become extremely influential within the bureaucracy and the state apparatus over the past four to five years. The reason for this perception and argument is that the Hizmet movement consists of fairly educated people and is able to mobilize its human resources for bureaucratic posts. In the meantime, it should also be noted that group solidarity is particularly noticeable in the movement. As a result of this sense of solidarity, members of the Hizmet movement may have preferred each other for hiring and promotion in the public sphere. This eventually led to a sense and perception of bureaucratic guardianship by members of the Hizmet movement, who are able to get influential bureaucratic positions thanks to their credentials and assets.

D- Probable reasons for the conflict between the Hizmet movement and Erdoğan within the context of domestic and foreign political clashes

It appears that the Hizmet movement is perceived by Erdoğan as a group that poses a serious threat to the government and that is able to act independently of government control and influence. I am not sure what happened in the Feb. 7 process, when the prime minister and his allies felt a serious threat after a prosecutor summoned the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) undersecretary to give a statement; but based on this sense of threat, they believed that there was a dangerous structure within the bureaucracy and judiciary. Erdoğan has personally repeated that this was a breaking point in relations with the Hizmet movement. On the other hand, it has become apparent that the National Security Council (MGK) joined the government in viewing the Hizmet movement as a threat to national security, as evidenced in its decisions since 2004. There was this balancing act: They would use the human capital of the Hizmet movement to address military guardianship, but they would use the support and contribution of the MGK in an attempt to deal with the Hizmet movement because of the possibility that it would topple the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

Erdoğan free to do as he pleases

The prime minister now feels that he is authorized to do whatever he wants because the people voted for the constitutional amendments in a referendum (by 58 percent) and his party received nearly 50 percent of the vote in the last general election. Due to this sentiment, the prime minister and his government made a deal with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in an effort to resolve the Kurdish problem; as part of this strategy, the government preferred to undermine the image of the Hizmet movement by portraying it as if it were opposed to the settlement process. The movement was no longer considered a partner by the government, which acknowledged the Kurdish movement as its new ally. With these moves, the government has created a new context in which the Hizmet movement has turned into a potential enemy to a better approach towards this longstanding problem in the country.

The PKK and Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) have sometimes made remarks against the Hizmet movement. In a talk around six years ago, Mahir Kaynak made an analysis in which he argued that the pro-globalization process would come to an end and be replaced by a nationalistic tendency, further saying, “We will see whether Fethullah Gülen will side with the pro-globalization or nationalist front.”

Back then, this question was meaningless to me. During the Ergenekon trial process, the Hizmet movement was pro-globalization, and then it sided with the nationalist parties, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and CHP, in the March 30 elections. But by this time these parties had become pro-globalization, whereas the AKP had become relatively nationalistic.

E- What was the effect of anti-Hizmet propaganda?

The Hizmet movement sided with the CHP and MHP after the corruption scandal; in addition, the majority of people perceived the Hizmet movement as an actor of bureaucratic guardianship, and they also believed that the movement was in line with the global pro-American and pro-Israel front due to its efforts to engage in interfaith dialogue and its stance on the Mavi Marmara incident. The propaganda made to consolidate this perception presented the Hizmet movement as a malign actor in this process.

However, what was happening was as follows: The Hizmet movement, a fairly religious group that expresses a tendency for solidarity among its members, who are self-confident, well-educated and active in different parts of the world, had alienated itself in the eyes of religious people as well as regular people. Such a perception had emerged as a result of the level of education they have attained and their presence abroad. The impression that they would support CHP candidates in the local elections contributed to the impression, suggesting that the movement was part of the repressive bureaucratic elite that had been dominant in the single-party era.

For conservative people, who constantly feel that they were betrayed by intellectuals, the Hizmet movement has become alienated from the people, as its beliefs are just like those of the earlier educated elite. Therefore, the Hizmet movement's recommendations or stance in the elections could not appeal to those people.

The failure of this movement to reach out to ordinary people and the lower classes and segments of society was a huge defect. On the other hand, in his political rallies, Erdoğan targeted the movement rather than his political rivals. There were two advantages to this preference: With this move, he totally ignored his political rivals by not mentioning about them at all, and on the other hand, he offered a new definition of the enemy to consolidate his support base. This imagined enemy, the Hizmet movement, was a perfect target, because it relied on diplomacy and caution in its actions, was present in different parts of the word, was separated from the ordinary people, because its members were highly educated, because its leader, Gülen, was living in the US and because it did not have a political party that would respond to allegations in the political sphere. In this way, he had created an enemy that he could punch without retaliation. In addition, he further argued that the movement had organized itself within the judiciary and police force; this was the overall depiction of the political environment before the elections. The information being disseminated through Twitter, YouTube and other social media instruments revealed that there was huge corruption for which the government might be responsible. However, the support base of the AKP, which appeals to the poor and uneducated segments of society, did not pay any attention to these allegations and evidence. In addition, these media were used mostly by educated people, which meant that the support base of the AKP did not have access to this information, and therefore it was fairly unlikely that it would be influenced by information posted on the Internet. Besides, these segments of society were suspicious of these media as reliable sources of information.

Arguing against authenticity of tapes

Most of the evidence of corruption was based on audio recordings, and the visual evidence was relatively small. This raised concerns that the recordings may have been fabricated or manipulated, and Erdoğan relied on this doubt, arguing that the audio recordings were not authentic. The pro-government TV channels broadcast altered recordings of CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli, which confirmed that the audio recordings of Erdoğan might also have been tampered with, and therefore people did not believe the allegations that Erdoğan had been involved in corruption. Strong supporters of Erdoğan in particular dismissed the allegations by relying on this excuse.

F- Religious sensitivities

Conservative people and circles were particularly afraid that the party they supported might lose power; this would be a horrible outcome, given that they had previously been insulted and denigrated during the republican era. Above all, the possibility that they would become second-class citizens again raised concerns. This was a particularly visible concern for religious communities and orders.

G- Partners of the AKP in sharing economic benefits

The audio recordings showed that the AKP administration had tried to create a new economic class and segment of businessmen and entrepreneurs that would support its rule. To this end, they favored particular actors and figures in public tenders and the distribution of wealth in such fields as exports, construction, the press, mining, transportation, etc. The groups that had most benefitted from AKP rule strongly reacted to the corruption charges and allegations, because they would have been affected by the allegations and because they would have faced the danger of losing the ground that had been fruitful to them for a long time. For this reason, they expressed full support for the AKP in the elections and forced their employees to vote for the government as well.

H- Erdoğan and the Hizmet movement in terms of the social policies implemented during AKP rule

While it has been a source of social aid and help for the poor and needy through humanitarian aid organizations and scholarships for students, the Hizmet movement has not succeeded in presenting itself as a philanthropic endeavor; instead, it has been perceived as a movement that asks for contributions from the people for its activities. Its members and activities have been strongly criticized for collecting money from the people. Sometimes people resent the fact that members of the Hizmet movement only remember them when they need money. According to a news report published in the Aksiyon weekly on May 5, 2014, “Sustainable poverty,” the government has provided direct aid to 12 million poor people. These people receive direct aid in the form of free healthcare services and social benefits. Given that the people receiving these benefits could influence the decisions of at least two or three people around them, it becomes evident that this financial aid is a great investment for future elections.

I would like to explain something I experienced: A young woman, aged 23-24, who wore a headscarf and lived in a small town told me that she would vote for the AKP because her husband had a job thanks to them. She responded to advice that she should vote otherwise merely by saying, "It's all for the best." On the other hand, when she was told that the government was placing pressure on the courts and trying to influence the decisions of judicial units and institutions, she said, “Well, if he is able to influence the courts, that means he is a strong man.”

Let me give another example: A person, after a long effort, convinced his aunt to vote for a party other than the AKP. When she came out of the booth, she told him: “Well, I couldn't vote for another party. I remembered that I had been given a pension by the government.”

These two examples confirm that those who live in extreme poverty view the AKP as an assurance of their sustenance, because of which they feel grateful for the party and what it has done.

I- Results of the anti-Erdoğan propaganda from the Hizmet movement

The Hizmet movement followed a strategy in the local elections of supporting strong parties and candidates in different election districts instead of supporting a certain party nationwide. But it did not implement this strategy directly and transparently. Therefore, this strategy did not work well, and the Hizmet movement was unable to reach out to the people on the micro level. However, it also appears that nearly 2.5 million people less chose the AKP this time, compared with the general election, as a result of this strategy. But these people did not pick a certain party against the AKP; therefore, despite the AKP's loss of votes, no strong alternative emerged. However, there have been cases of an alliance between the CHP, MHP and the Hizmet movement against the AKP in some districts, and this worked well in some cases. In Ankara, the CHP has become a serious alternative after many years; while it lost by a small margin, its performance was impressive.

In general terms, Erdoğan still remained strong in the elections. By one calculation, the party received 43 percent of the vote. This could be seen as a success compared to its 38 percent of the vote in the previous local elections. However, given that the party framed the elections as a national liberation war and that the constitutional amendments were supported by 58 percent of the people, it could also be argued that it lost significantly in this election. The impact of the Hizmet movement's opposition on this result is unchallengeable; it could be argued that the influence of the movement was no less than 5 percent. I also believe that the remaining loss is attributable to the opposition's efforts and the declining image of Erdoğan in the eyes of some people.

All in all, it could be said that due to the factors elaborated above, the AKP did not lose significantly in the elections, but the Hizmet movement's efforts also worked in part. I believe that the best concept by which to depict the strategy the AKP devised to deal with its opponents and rivals in the election is the “destruction of the ship” metaphor, which was stressed in the Friday sermons right before the elections. The religious circles and segments of society particularly, as well as the newly emerging business tycoons and the people who live in extreme poverty and still need the aid provided by the AKP, viewed the whole process as the destruction of the ship they are in, and the AKP relied on this propaganda and discourse to keep the support base alive and alert.

The indirect political efforts and propaganda performed by the Hizmet movement without relying on a political organization, on the other hand, did not lead to concrete political outcomes. But we should also note that no single opposition party made serious progress in the elections, and the AKP lost some support while other parties increased their votes by a reasonable margin. This enabled the Hizmet movement to act together with a broader social segment and march along with new political and social perspectives.

The AKP has become the party of Erdoğan, whereas the Hizmet movement is expanding the sphere of political and social support for its activities.

*Haluk A. Savaş is a professor of psychiatry and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Mood Disorders.

Published on Today's Zaman, 05 June 2014, Thursday