The past thirty six hours in Turkey have been full of exceptionally high political drama: police have arrested 52 high profile figures closely linked to government, including the head of a state bank, the sons of three AKP ministers, an Istanbul district mayor and the eighth richest man in Turkey, on grounds of large scale corruption. Late tonight, several news channels have reported that prosecutors have asked Parliament to lift the immunity of four ministers so they can also be investigated. Throughout today interested news-followers have been treated to images of shoe boxes and safes stuffed full of cash ($4.5 million was apparently found in the bank manager’s house) and the frenzied reactions of ministers who fear similar treatment. There is an atmosphere of panic emanating from government quarters and undisguised glee from the opposition, and much of the public. In Ankara this evening, protesters gathered to denounce the recently uncovered “filth” of this corruption scandal, festooning the pavements of the parliamentary district of Kizilay with loo paper.
What’s behind the slew of arrests? In recent months, Prime Minister Erdogan has become embroiled in an ever-more apparent falling-out with the shadowy Gülen movement, a moderate Islamic network run by the former cleric Fetullah Gülen which is widely reputed to control much of the police and judiciary in Turkey. Erdogan and Gülen used to be friends; no longer. A month ago, Erdogan announced he would shut down all private dershane (study centres) in Turkey, many of which are run very profitably by Gülen. This was a characteristically rash move, and Gülen seems to have responded with impressive alacrity and force. Earlier today, the Deputy PM Bulent Arınç promised that nothing would be done to impede this investigation (the AKP has tried hard to promote a squeaky clean image throughout its decade of power); however, by the end of today, 29 police officers obliquely involved in the investigation, including the chiefs of the organized crime and financial crime units, were unceremoniously sacked. They were immediately replaced, as were two of the prosecutors in charge. According to government sources, the sacked prosecutors and police chiefs had “abused their power”.
Incidentally, today Turkey was named as having the largest number of imprisoned journalists in the world for a second consecutive year by the Committee to Protect Journalists; by this evening, one prominent journalist had been fired from a pro-government newspaper for saying that Erdogan should resign. Irony has been dished out with a heavy hand and without a trace of humour today.
Everyone was waiting to hear what Erdogan had to say about all this. For most of the day, he was tantalisingly silent. Late this afternoon, he broke out with an impassioned counter-attack: he claimed that recent events are part of a “very dirty operation” cooked up by those who are jealous of Turkey’s power, and most likely related to the Gezi crooks who sought to bring down the might of Turkey with malicious rumours and double dealing. The pro-government paper Yeni Safak is even more alarmist, hinting darkly at Mossad plots and international conspiracies. This has put the whole affair on a much more interesting footing; Erdogan is effectively saying “bring it on”, and we must wait and see what tomorrow will bring from his hidden opponents.