Gulen, who rarely makes comments in public, accused the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of a clampdown on civil society in an opinion piece published in the New York Times.
The comments came after Turkish authorities arrested dozens of Gulen’s supporters in Turkey in recent months. They were suspected of seeking to overthrow Erdogan, who has dominated the country for over a decade.
“The AKP’s leaders now depict every democratic criticism of them as an attack on the state,” Gulen wrote in the piece entitled “Turkey’s Eroding Democracy”.
“By viewing every critical voice as an enemy —- or worse, a traitor —- they are leading the country toward totalitarianism.”
He said that an “historic opportunity” for Turkey to become a progressive state with a real chance of EU membership had been “squandered” in the AKP’s crackdown on civil society and the media.
Pennsylvania-based Gulen has lived in exile in the United States since 1999, a time when the secular authorities charged him with seeking to destroy the state.
For several years he was seen as a close ally of the Islamic-rooted AKP and Erdogan. But in 2013 the authorities blamed Gulen for corruption allegations that rocked Erdogan and the ruling elite, and launched an all-out war against him and his supporters.
The opinion piece identified Gulen, 73, who rarely emerges from his well-guarded compound, as an “Islamic scholar, preacher and social advocate.” He did not identify Erdogan by name in the article.
Gulen leads a broad movement known as “Hizmet” (Service) believed to be supported by millions of Turks, and which has established hundreds of schools across the world.
Erdogan accuses the movement of being a “parallel state,” but Gulen said that Hizmet members “have never formed a political party nor have they pursued political ambitions.”
He said the rhetoric used by the AKP to crack down on the group was “a pretext to justify their own authoritarianism.”
Gulen acknowledged that Hizmet once supported the AKP, but said its members were now victims of a “witch hunt”.
A newspaper and television channel loyal to Gulen had been targeted by police raids in December, prompting the European Union to accuse Ankara of eroding press freedoms. -AFP