Gulen Schools Worldwide

Gulen Schools Worldwide
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Friday, December 8, 2017

(Hizmet) Gulen Schools in Senegal, Africa closed - Maarif Foundation

One Saturday evening last January, hundreds of children and parents gathered in the schoolyard of Collège Bosphore in Senegal’s capital, bouncing to the sounds of a hip-hop concert being broadcast on national TV. Despite the festive mood of the crowd, they weren’t celebrating. They were protesting the influence of a political leader thousands of miles away—Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
‘“We are independent, we will not accept to be under a foreign dictatorship,” the concert’s host, Senegalese singer Fou Malade, told the crowd.
For months, Erdogan had been pressuring Dakar to close schools like Collège Bosphore, which are linked to Hizmet, a moderate Islamist religious movement that has grown since the 1960s out of the teachings of Turkish Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. Also known as the Gulen movement, Hizmet has established branches and schools all around the world, including Senegal. Fou Malade’s concert protested Dakar’s recent decision to hand over the management of the schools to the Maarif Foundation, an umbrella organization created by the Turkish government in June 2016 ostensibly to oversee Turkish Islamic education abroad. Since Erdogan’s political split with Gulen a few years ago, Maarif has taken over several Hizmet-affiliated schools across the world, while others were simply closed.
In January, students, parents, and teachers gathered in Collège Bosphore’s schoolyard for a concert to ask President Macky Sall not to change the management of Yavuz Selim. The slogan: "Don't touch my school."
In January, students, parents, and teachers gathered in Collège Bosphore’s schoolyard for a concert to ask President Macky Sall not to change the management of Yavuz Selim. The slogan: “Don’t touch my school.”(Stéphanie Fillion)
Nine months after the concert, Dakar appears to have caved. Senegal’s Hizmet-affiliated schools were shut down in October, leaving 500 staff and 3,000 students in the dust. “Turkey has asked for more than three years to close the schools for reasons of instability and the alleged activities of the [Gulen] movement,” Senegal’s president Macky Sall told a local newspaper in October. “Senegal initially refused, and we asked our Turkish partner to do their part. But then, there was a coup.”

Caught in the middle

The first Hizmet-affiliated school opened in Senegal in 1998 with only eight students. Eight others followed, forming the private school network Yavuz Selim (link in French.) The battle over the control of the schools is a part of a much larger struggle between Erdogan, president of Turkey since 2014 and Gulen, who has been in self-imposed exile in the US since 1999.
Erdogan accuses Gulen’s followers of being behind an attempted coup d’état in July 2016—a charge which Gulen has denied—and calls Gulen’s movement FETÖ, for “Gulenist Terror Group.” After the coup, Erdogan enacted a large purge against the movement, dismissing or suspending over 100,000 public officials and civil servants. He labelled 28,000 teachers alleged Gulen supporters and terrorists, according to Human Rights Watch, and accused affiliated schools of radicalizing students.
The preacher and politician were one-time allies. Over time, the Gulen movement has come to represent a major counter-power to Erdogan’s control of Turkey. With about 1,500 schools affiliated with the movement in 170 countries, this struggle over the future of power and religion in Turkey has repercussions across the world. And it threatens the education of an estimated 15, 000 students in at least 30 countries in Africa.

Yavuz Selim

Nineteen-year-old Betty Kane graduated last year from Collège Sultan, an all-girls school that is part of Senegal’s Yavuz Selim network. She is from Kaolack, 125 miles from Dakar, and attended the boarding school on a scholarship given to her for her good grades. “My mother wanted me to come here because it has good results and is one of the best schools in Senegal,” Kane said.
The closure of Yavuz Selim schools isn’t just a blow for its students, but also for the state of education in Senegal, a country where about one-third of children remain out of school, and the literacy rate hovers at 57.7%. The schools had a reputation for excellence, ranking for years among Senegal’s best. Students got top scores in national exams, and went on to study at international universities, often in Turkey, until the failed coup.
Most students at Yavuz Selim are from wealthy Senegalese families and have been transferred to other private schools in the wake of the closure. Others are scrambling to find places to attend. Out of 3,000 students in the Yavuz Selim network, about 300 were on scholarships—at 80,000 CFA ($130) a month for elementary school, and 125,000 CFA ($204) a month for high school, the schools were among the most expensive in the country. “We’re still trying to find a solution for them,” said Naffissatou Cissé, a school administrator at Collège Bosphore.
Yavuz Selim’s schools were known to be quite moderate, and Gulen’s teachings were not part of the curriculum (Senegal’s population is predominantly Muslim, but religious classes are not required by the national curriculum.) Female students were not required to cover themselves and many did not wear headscarves. The Hizmet schools provided bilingual education in French and English, with mandatory Turkish classes.
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