Over the past two weeks, a popular campaign to boycott Turkish products has gained tremendous momentum within the Saudi community, especially after the head of the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce, Ajlan Al-Ajlan, issued a direct statement urging Saudis to boycott Turkish products based on three No's: “No investment, no imports, and no tourism.”
Many major food markets have responded to popular demands, after Saudis took Twitter by storm voicing their support of the campaign. Let me note here that Saudis are among the world's heaviest Twitter users.
Truth be told, this call for ceasing all dealings with Turkey began about two years ago, especially with regard to the increasing risks of investment and ownership for Saudi citizens.
The question here is, why were the Saudis so eager to cut off all Turkish dealings, and will this campaign serve its intended purpose?
During the past two years, Saudi-Turkish trade exchange volume has dropped by 25 percent. It used to amount to $6 billion, during a time when Turkey’s hostility towards Saudi Arabia reached unprecedented peaks. In 2017, only one year before this shift, trade relations between both countries were flourishing, not only at the level of exports and imports, but also at the level of investments and commercial partnerships, which reached about 1,000 companies, most of them in fields related to contracting, construction, furniture manufacturing and others.
Saudi citizens are the top buyers of real estate in Turkey owning up to 30 percent of the foreign ownership rate, surpassing Germany, which is home to three million Turkish residents. Enormous amounts of money were pumped between the two countries, not to mention the presence of 100,000 Turkish workers in the Kingdom, and 200 Turkish companies operating inside Saudi Arabia. Turkish strategies were aiming to increase the volume of Saudi investments in Turkey to reach $ 25 billion, as well as increase the trade exchange volume to reach $ 20 billion by 2023!
It is only natural to be left wondering, what exactly stood in the way of these interests, why have attitudes shifted dramatically?
What happened to turn the impressive upward growth between the two countries into an accelerated regression?
Allow me to highlight the fact that this is not the first time that segments of the Saudi community decide to boycott a country as in protest to demonstrate their disapproval; however, this is the first time a boycotting campaign reaches this size in a very short time, and it is met with considerable support from the private sector.
The economic damage that will befall Turkey as a result of boycotting Turkish food products will not be major; for this reason, some believe that the campaign will fail to harm Turkey’s economy, given that the Saudi-Turkish economic ecosystem is based on deeper components such as partnership and investment. In my opinion, the implications of a campaign of this magnitude cannot be anticipated at this point.
In situations such as these, the greatest damage always falls on small and medium-sized enterprises such as restaurant chains or furniture and clothing factories. Meanwhile, Saudis who owned residential or land properties exceeding 1600 plots have also faced major problems in the last two years when documenting ownership or housing, forcing the Saudi embassy in Ankara and the consulate in Istanbul to intervene and warn against real estate investments in Turkey.
Saudi citizens have always been keen on monitoring the political scene, and they have noted the clear shift in the Turkish rhetoric towards their country. They have seen how official Turkish policies turned into outright hostility towards Saudi Arabia. Since they cannot take political action, Saudis felt that it is their duty to take this initiative to support their beloved country and stand against Turkey’s constant fluctuating positions especially after Turkey chose to antagonize the largest Arab Islamic country whether through declared statements by its president and members of his government, or through their actions.
However, the true advantage behind this boycotting campaign goes well beyond economic impact. It is much bigger than that. This campaign reflects the level of awareness, wisdom and understanding of the Saudi people. We have not seen this level of awareness from the Turkish president himself who openly exhibits delusions of Ottoman grandeur of reviving an Islamic caliphate under his rule.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hypocrisy has been exposed, revealing his true colors after nearly two decades of deceit. His nefarious ambitions have emerged after he witnessed several Arab countries collapsing one by one after the revolutions took the region by storm at the beginning of the decade. President Erdogan is directing most of his enmity towards Saudi Arabia and Egypt because they represent the Arab powers that are preventing him from achieving his goals. He stood against Egyptian interests by supporting members of the "Muslim Brotherhood" and militarizing the militias in Libya. He also believes that his military base in Qatar poses a threat to the Kingdom, not to mention his failed attempt to besiege Saudi Arabia from two sides through Sudan’s Suakin Island.
Personally, the least of my concerns is the damage that may affect Turkey’s economy due to this Saudi boycott, mainly because the Turkish lira has lost a third of its value during the current year, inflation has reached 20 percent, and the situation is already dire. What truly matters to me here, is how this boycott decision demonstrated the loyalty of the Saudi people and their sense of duty towards their country. It shows that the Saudis are willing to stand behind their country and their leadership against all those who wish them any harm. The true victory here is reaching a widespread consensus.
It is safe to say that the Turkish media campaigns against Saudi Arabia and its leadership are official campaigns since they contain statements from officials in the highest political ranks. Nevertheless, the Saudi government remained resolute and refrained from reacting to these juvenile measures.
Although many Twitter users have wondered why the Saudi government is refraining from taking an official position to boycott Turkey and close its embassy?
Saudi citizens seem to be well informed in this regard and they understand that there are many considerations that the government needs to take into account. For this reason, this campaign was launched as a purely popular decision by the people of Saudi Arabia.
As we all know, raising public awareness, and uniting public opinion is no easy feat. It is not often that we see citizens unite in support of their political leadership, especially in developing countries, yet we are currently witnessing a truly exemplary phenomenon that deserves to be examined.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Saudi Arabian outlet Asharq Al-Awsat.