Turkey’s parliament has passed a bill to close down thousands of private schools, many of which are run by an influential Muslim cleric embroiled in a bitter feud with the government.
The move is the latest blow struck in a rivalry between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his former ally Fethullah Gulen which has seen the Turkish government entangled in a graft scandal and shaken to its core.
In a late-night session yesterday, lawmakers in the 550-seat house voted 226 for and 22 against the bill which sets September 1, 2015 as the deadline to shut down the network of schools.
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Around 4,000 private schools in Turkey are run by Gulen, and provide a major source of income for his Hizmet (Service) movement, which describes itself as a global, social and cultural movement inspired by Islamic ideals.
Tensions have long simmered between Erdogan and Gulen, who once worked hand-in-hand as the conservative pro-business middle class rose at the expense of the military and former secular elite.
But they reached breaking point in November when government first floated the idea of shutting down the schools, which aim to help students prepare for high school and university.
Erdogan said at the time he wanted to abolish an “illegal” and unfair education system which he charged turned children
into “competition horses”.
“Those who benefit from these courses are the kids of rich families in big cities,” said the Turkish premier, who himself hails from humble roots and has tried to burnish an image as a man of the people during his term in office.
In mid-December dozens of Erdogan’s allies were detained in police raids on allegations of bribery in construction projects, gold smuggling and illicit dealings with Iran.
A Turkish court yesterday released the last five suspects detained in the corruption probe, including the sons of two
However the corruption crisis, which dragged down four ministers and prompted a cabinet shake-up, has posed the most serious challenge to Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted government since it came to power in 2002.