Saudi Arabia’s embargo against Turkish products was quickly overshadowed in the Arab world as a result of the boycott Muslims have launched against French President Emmanuel Macron’s Islamophobic discourses.
The impact of both campaigns in Saudi Arabia and the world present important clues as to the power and respectability certain countries possess in the eyes of the people.
If you look carefully, the campaign Saudi Arabia launched against buying and selling Turkish goods is not a boycott call that has been left to the reason, discretion or will of the people. On the contrary, it serves as an unnamed embargo, which has directly turned into a ban aimed at preventing Turkish exports to the country.
The call to “boycott” by Ajlan bin Abdulaziz al-Ajlan, the head of Saudi Arabia’s Chamber of Commerce, and the “boycott everything Turkish” campaign led on social media with the participation of those close to the Kingdom does not end here. All the companies doing business with Turkey were called one by one by state officials and warned to sever their dealings. Those who have investments in Turkey were asked to withdraw their investments, even if this was at their loss. Everybody in Saudi Arabia is well aware of the consequences they will face if they oppose such a demand from the state.
Suddenly, numerous Saudi companies started competing against each other in adopting a stance against Turkish products on social media in the name of solidarity with the crown prince. It is crystal clear that these companies, especially the ones that have had good trade ties with Turkey for years, feel forced to make these declarations.
A major company that posts a celebratory message featuring a mosque image every Friday, had shared a picture of Turkey’s Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque in his last celebratory post. Obviously, upon a warning, they not only hastily removed this post, but also made a statement that the post was accidentally shared, and thus had to apologize to the king and crown prince.
You may already know and even have an idea today. Above anything else, such a campaign is not one that the Saudi public is happy with. The people of Saudi Arabia have an extremely deep and strong love and respect for both President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Turkey. Hence, had such calls remained at the level of boycotts alone, it is certain that nobody would have paid any attention to them – as a matter of fact, the demand for Turkish goods would have boomed. As they know this, the call was not left to the reason or will of the people, but in fact, they resorted to force as well.
The state of those declaring, one after the other, their participation in the boycott concerning Turkey, is a perfect representation of the situation described by late Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi had said, “Freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia has, much beyond having the freedom to express what one thinks, regressed to the extent of having to say what one does not believe. In other words, you cannot say what you think. Nothing will happen to you anywhere else, but here, you will be forced to say what you do not believe. You have to speak against Qatar and approve the legitimacy of the blockade. Despite all the violations of human rights in Yemen, you have to praise the coalition’s operations there. If you keep silent, then you are the enemy.” Much like the way everybody is coerced into speaking against Turkey and Erdoğan now.
In contrast to this embargo, which the people are not satisfied with, Erdoğan’s call against French goods, on the other hand, is creating an impact not only in Turkey but also worldwide and in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi public is unable to buy Turkish goods because of the state’s physical embargo, but by boycotting French goods of their own free will, they are virtually responding to the embargo applied on Turkish goods.
Indeed, Turkish products are high in demand by the Saudi public. The most important factor underlying this is the unquestionable quality of Turkish products. The boycotts that states implement against such quality products are doomed to remain as “desperate campaigns.” Turkish products are now competing with European goods in terms of their quality and appeal. Under these circumstances, the people’s demands may be temporarily thwarted, however they cannot be resisted for too long.
Nobody in Turkey is forcing anyone with respect to buying or boycotting the goods of others. Therefore, Erdoğan’s call remains as an extremely legitimate, civil, and democratic reaction, and even in this case, it has led to a strong reaction in the entire Muslim world.
This is because Erdoğan believes and trusts in his rightfulness, the rightfulness of the Muslim world he represents. The masses in the world joining his call are also boosting his representation power.
The legitimacy and representation Erdoğan relies on is so forceful that it pushes Macron to take a step back.
Let us see if Saudi officials will learn the necessary lesson regarding the distinction between a boycott and an embargo?