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When Foreign Policy Matters: The Gülen Movement’s Fight with the AK Party over Iran

It is widely accepted that identities are stable and they are one of the main motivations for alliance formations. The recent political rivalry between the AK Party and the Gülen movement, however, provides a rich case for those who claim the contrary. This article is a bold attempt to explain the role of power relations in this political rivalry with a special focus on the AK Party’s relations with Iran. Having discussed why identity and interest are not determining factors in the Gülen movement’s vehement opposition to the AK Party’s relations with Iran, the article argues that it is the power struggle between the party and the movement that largely shapes the latter’s imagination of the current Turkish-Iranian relations.

When Foreign Policy Matters The Gülen Movement s Fight with
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shaking hands with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Tehran on December 17, 2014. AFP PHOTO / STR
 

The last quarter of 2013 brought with it an unprecedented dramatic power struggle in Turkey. The ruling Islam-friendly party was challenged by an Islamic movement for the first time in the history of the Turkish Republic. Given the fact that the AK Party (Justice and Development Party) and the Gülen movement had been in cooperation against the tutelary role of Turkey’s state bureaucracy since the AK Party’s coming to power in 2002, the tug-of-war between these two actors is quite intriguing. Instead of explaining the roots of this power struggle,1 however, this paper will explore the conditions under which Iran emerged at the center of the conflict between the AK Party and the Gülen movement. Through this exploration, I aim to prove that foreign policy in Turkey is inextricably linked to domestic power relations.

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