To ease Turkish pressure on Saudis over Khashoggi murder: US mulls hand-over of dissident Gulen to Turkey | Sunday Observer

To ease Turkish pressure on Saudis over Khashoggi murder: US mulls hand-over of dissident Gulen to Turkey

Is the Donald Trump administration secretly plotting to hand over long-time Turkish cleric exile Fethullah Gulen to Turkey as a favour to the Saudi monarchy? The US media is accusing the White House of quietly moving to appease the ebullient Recep Erdogan regime by handing over the ‘wanted’ Gulen to persuade Ankara to reduce its current pressure on Saudi Arabia over the brazen murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi on Turkish soil.

But President Trump himself is, again, pre-occupied with the special police probe into his election campaign dealings with Russian subversive agents and, was unable to focus on world affairs last week. US media commentators last week were pointing to a new storm of Twitter abuse of FBI special prosecutor Robert Mueller by the US President as Trump’s reaction to the first direct queries addressed to him by the FBI about the Russian subversion. Already, the Trump presidential election campaign chairman, deputy chairman, and nearly a dozen other senior political aides and even the Trump Cabinet’s National Security Adviser have been indicted in the FBI investigation and Donald Trump Junior, the President’s eldest son, has recently been publicly hinting that even he might be indicted soon.

Meanwhile, the UN says starvation is growing in embattled Yemen and, more Palestinians died last week after days of Hamas rocket firing into Israel and Israeli air force and army strikes on the besieged Gaza Strip. Gaza is a population suffering from over a half-century of crippling economic blockade under Israeli occupation. And, in Bangladesh, nearly half a million Burmese Rohingya refugees are now declining repatriation to Myanmar for fear of more ethnic cleansing by the Myanmar authorities egged on by ethnic supremacist Buddhist monks and Myanmar Buddhist hardline civilian groups. The Rohingyas are Muslims and for long have been treated as aliens by the Myanmar-Buddhist majority population with restrictions on their citizenship rights.

In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Theresa May’s 600-page Brexit draft deal with the EU is causing a political storm even before it is tabled in Parliament. Already, three junior Conservative government ministers have resigned after seeing the draft Brexit document last week. Once more, May’s premiership is being tested as former UK foreign minister and pro-Brexit party heavyweight Boris Johnson and other political rivals revive their pressure against her leadership. Many UK commentators feel that this draft deal facilitating a smooth British exit from the European Union has little hope of success given the political quagmire in which the whole Brexit initiative is caught up.

Even if the small Northern Irish Protestant party now propping up May’s government in Parliament approves the draft deal, the main Opposition Labour Party has already hinted that the current draft is unacceptable to it and, the Scottish nationalist groups are threatening to oppose it as well. With many in her own Conservative Party also hostile, this first draft may be sent back for re-negotiation with the EU even though the statutory deadline for formal EU exit is only months away.

American news media has long accused President Trump of unduly favouring the Saudi regime because of his family’s close business ties with the Saudi monarchy. Riyadh was the first foreign capital visited by newly elected Trump although US Presidents normally make Europe, the US’ principal geopolitical ally, their first diplomatic destination after entering White House. Significantly, Trump has paid more attention to Riyadh (and Tel Aviv) than to any other even more staunchly pro-US regimes in West Asia such as Jordan and Egypt.

Traditionalist Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen was once a close ally of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) helping consolidate the equally Islamic traditionalist AKP’s hold on power in Ankara. But after Erdogan’s political success, the charismatic Turkish leader became suspicious of perceived political ambitions by Gulen’s faith-based social movement and, the equally charismatic cleric fled to the US where he has been granted political asylum for the last two decades.

Given Ankara’s stridently independent posture vis-à-vis NATO military ally US, in recent decades (previously, military regimes in Ankara had been cosier with the West), Washington had been content to host the exiled preacher as a kind of bargaining chip with Turkey. Thus, when Erdogan accused Gulen of masterminding a coup attempt against him three years ago and demanded his extradition to stand trial and possible execution for treason, the then Barak Obama administration politely brushed it aside. In any case, Ankara has yet to provide an adequate legal case for Gulen’s extradition, although the sweeping purge after the suppressed coup attempt primarily targeted tens of thousands of Gulen movement adherents in the military, bureaucracy, media, academia and other sectors.

Now, US news media reports that the White House has quietly asked the US Justice Department to find reasons to extradite Gulen.

The newly resurgent Opposition Democrats are already questioning the move. The charge is that the Saudi monarchy, currently feeling the global heat over the brutal assassination of Saudi Arabian dissident Jamal Khashoggi (also a political exile resident in the US), has sought the help of their business partner Trump to appease Erdogan who has, naturally, been incensed over the brazen Saudi assassination operation inside a diplomatic facility in Istanbul.

Ankara has been relentless in its pressure on Riyadh to come clean over the whole macabre drama, something that the Saudi monarchy is reluctant to do since it will likely reveal that this barbarity is the modus operandi of a ‘royal family’ that claims custodianship of Islam’s holiest shrines. Of course, Ankara-Riyadh relations have never been warm.

Turkey’s centuries-long Ottoman imperial dominance over most of Arab West Asia and Egypt has not been forgotten in Riyadh. The Saudi tribal princely family were among other Arab clans that helped the Western powers’ defeat the Ottoman Empire when the Ottomans were allied with Germany during the First World War.

Since the Second World War, Turkey emerged as the most modern and developed Muslim-majority society and became the principal geo-political balance to Riyadh’s conservatism in West Asia. With Iran’s emergence, Ankara has found a friend that helps it retain its political independence from the Western powers who had earlier propped up successive military regimes in Turkey to ensure that nation’s continuation as a key NATO member state.

Today, egged on by the US, Riyadh is stridently anti-Iran, and Trump, perhaps prompted by his own business interests, seems ready to go the extra mile to appease the Saudis even if this means betraying a political refugee – Gulen - who has sought safety on American soil.

Ironically, there are persistent rumours that Washington may have already betrayed the trust of another political exile in America – the murdered Saudi Arabian dissident Khashoggi.

Some US opposition politicians are calling for an investigation of the handling of Khashoggi by the US intelligence services after indications appeared that American spy services had known about Saudi plans to kidnap and possibly eliminate Khashoggi but had failed to warn the dissident publisher-activist before he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

This whole twisted tale of intrigue, bloody vengeance, and geo-political betrayal only adds to the bizarreness that sometimes can be seen to characterise real-life human affairs. Fact is, indeed, often stranger than fiction.