Will Turkey boycott the West?
The coup attempt may alter Erdogan’s foreign policy, but despite his impassioned speeches he remains a smart politician
The number of Arab Gulf tourists to Turkey does not exceed more than 200,000 a year, while the number of Russian and Iranian tourists is 4 million and 1.5 million a year respectively. These numbers help us understand ties between countries and what influences them. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently said he intends to reform relations with neighboring countries, which have been damaged due to disputes over Syria.
The economy is an important reason. Tourism in Turkey brings in about $30 billion a year. The first decision Russian President Vladimir Putin took after the downing a Russian jet that violated Turkish airspace was banning citizens from traveling there. This caused a huge and immediate crisis for Turkey’s tourism sector.
Without a booming economy, Erdogan cannot enhance his governance, and his party cannot resume winning the majority of votes in parliamentary and municipal elections. This means he will have to take into account Turkey’s relations with Europe, his country’s primary economic partner.
The commercial deal signed in the mid-1990s with the EU changed the face of Turkey and strengthened its economy. Turkey ranks 17th in the G-20 of major economies. Saudi Arabia ranks 14th.
The coup attempt may alter Erdogan’s foreign policy, but despite his impassioned speeches he remains a smart politicianAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Following the failed coup attempt, Erdogan can do whatever he wants domestically but cannot influence other countries much. His success and that of his party is due to economic prosperity - without it, threats and problems that are worse than the coup attempt will emerge.
This explains many of the contradictions of government policy regarding various activities. Turkey supported Iran the most when the latter was under Western economic sanctions, and was Iran’s number-one commercial partner. Ankara also has good relations with the Russians, who consider Turkey an important partner in Central Asia and a vital passage for their exports to Europe.
It is unlikely that anyone will be able to stop Erdogan eliminating his domestic rivals following the coup attempt if he chooses to do so. Western governments will not do anything significant, regardless of how harsh their warnings are.
However, it is highly unlikely that he will resort to holding accountable or boycotting major countries, as he threatened to do with the United States if it does not extradite his rival Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania and who Erdogan accuses of involvement in the coup attempt. Turkey’s military and economic interests would be greatly harmed - this is the price of economic success and international alliances.
The coup attempt may alter Erdogan’s foreign policy, but despite his impassioned speeches he remains a smart politician. For example, despite all his threats he has not directly entered the Syrian conflict, despite Russian and Iranian intervention. Instead, Turkey supports Syrian opposition groups. Erdogan is now willing to reconsider his disputes with Moscow and Tehran regarding Syria.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 20, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed
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