How Turkish and Egyptian Islamist groups fell from power to persecution - analysis

The swift fall from power of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood echoes the sharp decline of a Turkish Islamist group that was for years allied with Turkey’s ruling party, said an analysis at The Conversation. 

Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, held office for a year before he was ousted in a mid-2013 coup and his organisation declared a terrorist outfit. 

By that time, the followers of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen had built a global network and placed members in key positions in Turkey’s police, judiciary, and armed forces. 

“His movement had millions of supporters worldwide, as well as media institutions and schools in over 100 countries, including some 150 charter schools in the United States,” Ahmet Kuru, political science professor at San Deigo State University, wrote for The Conversation. 

But after a failed coup in 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared the group a terrorist outfit and purged more than a hundred thousand public servants suspected of links to the movement. 

“Both groups were victims of the same dangerous combination: an authoritarian state, Utopian ideas about Islam and unreliable friends,” said Kuru. 

“Both the Muslim Brothers and the Gülenists have since their founding had a well-founded fear of persecution,” Kuru added, pointing out that their leaders thought the group’s could not survive without gaining control of state institutions. 

Gülen’s followers see themselves as nonpolitical, while the Muslim Brothers have an explicitly political agenda, but both envisioned a perfect society based on Islam, according to Kuru. In their quest to achieve that vision and gain control of institutions they alienated secularists and upset other Islamic groups who saw themselves being marginalised.

“Their efforts to capture the state institutions were initially so successful that they created a backlash. Political elites in Turkey and Egypt turned against these powerful groups, designating them enemies of the state,” said Kuru. 

Neither was very good at choosing friends, he said. 

Soon after taking office, Morsi promoted the head of Egypt’s armed forces, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, to defence minister. Within a year al-Sisi had ousted his boss in a coup, thrown him in jail and labelled the Brotherhood a terrorist group. 

Around 2006, the Gülenists made an alliance with Erdoğan to eliminate Turkey’s secular establishment. But even before the coup attempt, Erdoğan had consolidated his power and begun to turn against his former allies. After the coup the Gülenists became public enemy number one, hunted by Ankara around the world. 

“A few years ago, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Gülenists were powerful enough to imagine that their Utopian goal of remaking society in their image was within reach. Today their leaders are exiled, dead and jailed,” said Kuru. 

“The downfall of these two Islamic organisations is a cautionary tale for other religious groups with political ambitions in the Muslim world.”