July 30, 2016

In Debt to Turkey, Somalia Shuts Network Tied to Fethullah Gulen

Barely 12 hours after a failed coup in Turkey, Somalia’s cabinet met to consider a request from Turkey to shut down two schools and a hospital linked to Fethullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric whom the Turkish president blames for the attempted coup.

The influence of Turkey in Somalia, where it has spearheaded international reconstruction efforts after decades of war and instability, is so strong that it was not a difficult decision.

Teachers and pupils — almost all of them Somali — at the two boarding schools run by Mr. Gulen’s Nile Academy educational foundation were given seven days to pack their bags and leave the school.

“Considering the request of our brother country Turkey, the cabinet ministers have agreed upon the following points — to stop the services provided by Nile Academy including schools, hospitals, etc.,” the Somali government said in a statement on July 16.

A week later, the order had been carried out to the letter.

Turkey’s ties with Somalia are well established. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, became the first non-African leader to visit Somalia in nearly 20 years in 2011, when he was prime minister.

Turkey was a major contributor to the aid effort during the 2011 Somali famine, and it continues to build hospitals and deliver aid across Somalia.

The closings in Somalia are part of a wider effort to erode Mr. Gulen’s influence, with Mr. Erdogan going after not only the cleric’s followers at home but also Mr. Gulen’s network of schools and other interests around the world.

Mr. Gulen’s schools have been a major source of influence and revenue for his Hizmet movement. It runs about 2,000 educational establishments in about 160 countries, from Afghanistan to the United States.

The schools are generally well equipped, teach a secular curriculum in English, and are popular, especially in poorer countries, with the political and business elite.

Like the two Somali schools, the Deva hospital, a rare private clinic in the battle-scarred capital, Mogadishu, is no longer open.

“The Turkish workers left Somalia,” said a police official, Maj. Mohamed Nur. “These institutions are now under the custody of police. No teaching and no medical services are going on now. Nurses just visit us every day to monitor and just go back.”

Somalia is not the only country where Mr. Erdogan has tried to limit the influence of Mr. Gulen, who has denied any role in the attempted coup from his home in exile in the United States.

Turkey has also appealed to countries like Germany, Indonesia, Kenya and Nigeria to shut down institutions backed by Mr. Gulen.

Azerbaijan, which like Somalia enjoys close ties with Turkey, closed an independent television station on Friday that planned to broadcast an interview with Mr. Gulen.


But other countries appear to be less willing to comply with Turkey’s lobbying efforts.

In Kenya, where Mr. Gulen’s Omeriye Foundation has grown from its first school in 1998 in the vast Nairobi slum of Kibera to a nationwide network of academies, the government has for the most part resisted requests by Turkish officials to close them down.

Officials in Germany, which has an estimated 14 high schools with links to Mr. Gulen, were asked by Turkey to examine a list of those institutions. But Winfried Kretschmann, the premier of the state of Baden-Württemberg, said: “We are responsible for these institutions and no one else. We will judge these institutions with our own discretion and we are aware of nothing negative about these institutions.”

Turkey’s requests have also not impressed Indonesia [neither Kyrgyzstan], another country where Mr. Gulen’s foundations have put down roots. “Indonesia’s internal affairs remain Indonesia’s responsibility,” Pramono Anung, a cabinet secretary, told reporters.

Published on The New York Times, 30 July 2016, Saturday

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