Turkish intelligence at the service of political Islam
Official news agencies portrayed the chief of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation, Hakan Fidan, as the man who engineered the counterattack against the Turkish coup of July 15, 2016. Fidan directed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to address the Turkish people after the coup attempt, saying: “We will fight them to death but you must go down to the street and stay there with the people.”
Erdogan followed Fidan’s advice and remained “among the people” for several days, doing nothing but giving fiery speeches night and day until he was allowed by the deep state to return to his normal political life.
While everybody’s attention was focused on Erdogan’s speeches and threats, which sometimes bordered on insanity, Fidan was executing the largest political purges conducted inside Turkey since Kemal Ataturk’s own coup. This time, however, the coup was not named after Fidan but was called “resisting the coup.”
In just a few days, Fidan fired more than 100,000 civil servants and arrested thousands, including hundreds of judges, military officers, journalists and university professors. It seemed that the blacklist had already been drawn and Fidan and his services were waiting for the opportunity to lay their hands on these people.
Fidan’s life is shrouded in mystery and conflicting information. One incident, however, is quite clear. In 2015, just a few months before the coup, Fidan suddenly resigned as head of the intelligence services and sought be to be a candidate of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party in legislative elections. Erdogan was irked by the move.
Less than a month later, Fidan withdrew his resignation and was back on the job. He consolidated internal and external intelligence services under one centralised agency, which he headed. Many security and military officers were angered by Fidan’s moves. He would, of course, get rid of them in the purge campaign.
Given this background, Fidan must be considered the most powerful man in Turkey. He is the shadowy sultan. His public appearances are rare and calculated. Even the satellite channels, which show only what appears on the surface, do not show him.
All that is known of his background is that he had graduated from Turkish and American universities, then worked for various international organisations until his appointment as deputy director of Turkish intelligence services under Emre Taner.
When Taner retired following the crisis produced by the disastrous Mavi Marmara incident in 2010 off the coast of Gaza in which nine activists were killed, Fidan took the helm of the intelligence services at the age of 42, the youngest chief in the agency’s history.
In the past two years, Fidan has been instrumental in wiping out the so-called parallel state in Turkey, referring, of course, to followers of Fethullah Gulen’s movement. Gulen and his religious movement were accused by Turkish authorities of being behind several attempts at destabilising Turkey, the latest of which was the 2016 coup attempt.
In Turkish history, the character of Fidan is emblematic of the political alliance between Turkey’s military intelligence and political Islam. In other words, and contrary to popular belief, the military has always been in control of the wheels of the Turkish state, whether during the Ottoman Empire or during the Ataturk period and continues to be so under Erdogan. Labels might change but the product is the same.
Perhaps by appointing Field-Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, former Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi wanted to consecrate the fateful alliance between military intelligence and political Islam and replicate Turkey’s experience in Egypt. Sisi had been head of the Egyptian Military Intelligence and Morsi had absolute trust in him until the last hours of his regime.
Even more intriguing is the thought of there being similar attempts elsewhere to reproduce the Turkish experience, with slight modifications, of course.