Saudi Arabia started an unofficial boycott against Turkish goods in early October. Since then, tweets with the hashtag ‘Boycott Turkish Products’ trended on Saudi Twitter. Many Saudi influencers and businessmen, too, shared tweets with hashtags that endorsed an embargo on Turkey.
For a long while, Saudi officials continuously denied the existence of a boycott against Turkey. However, reports show that businesses were informally advised against buying Turkish products by Saudi officials.
Following this, many major Saudi retail markets joined the boycott. Interestingly, Turkish exporters state that they have been experiencing increasing difficulties in doing business with Saudi Arabia for almost a year.
There are a few possible reasons for the growing support for the boycott on Turkish goods in Saudi Arabia. First, Turkey and Saudi Arabia align with opposite sides in different regional conflicts.
In Libya, while Turkey sides with the Government of National Accord, Saudi Arabia supports warlord Khalifa Haftar. Even though both Saudi Arabia and Turkey initially backed the opposition in Syria, the Kingdom altered its Syria policy and normalised relations with Bashar Al-Assad. After Turkish military operations in Northern Syria earlier this year, Saudi Arabia has furthered its support for Assad.
However, what further soured the Saudi- Turkish relation is the Turkish authorities’ disclosure of Jamal Khashoggi’s, a journalist of Washington Post, murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The Saudi businessman Ajlan al-Ajlan tweeted saying that ‘A boycott of everything Turkish, be it imports, investment or tourism, is the responsibility of every Saudi ‘trader and consumer’, in response to the continued hostility of the Turkish government against our leadership, country and citizens’:
Many Saudi supermarket chains like Othaim and Tamimi Markets have announced that they would stop carrying Turkish products after the existing stocks were sold. Some markets were seen attaching signs on Turkish goods to discourage their customers from buying the products.
International brands, such as Mango, were notified that the sale of products with the label ‘’Made in Turkey’’ is now banned, despite the continuous denial of Saudi authorities.
Turkey was Saudi Arabia’s 12th biggest trading partner according to its total import value. Saudi Arabia, however, is Turkey’s 15th largest trading partner by its total export value. Turkish exports mainly consist of grains, chemicals, furniture, textile and steel to Saudi Arabia.
Since the start of the year, Turkish exports made up around $1.91 billion in August, with a decrease of 17% since last year.
Turkey is not the only country Saudi Arabia boycotted in recent years. The Kingdom has also placed a trade and travelling embargo on Qatar three years ago due to a diplomatic crisis.
Additionally, Saudi Arabia, along with other Arab nations such as Qatar and Jordan, has called for an embargo on France. A Twitter hashtag that demanded the boycott of the French supermarket chain Carrefour became extremely popular on several countries’ Twitter in the region. This has happened following Macron’s statements on radical Islam after a teacher got killed for showing Prophet Muhammad’s caricature in class.
The tension between Turkey and Saudi Arabia is likely to ease by time. Although both Erdoğan and Mohammed bin Salman exchanged hostile speeches not so long ago, Biden’s victory might cause these leaders to reconsider their positions. Saudi Arabia is aware that the Biden administration will not take some of their actions (such as the Yemen War and the imprisonment of women activists) not that lightly. As a result, Saudi Arabia might choose to pursue a relatively friendlier rhetoric, as this is not the best time for a crisis in their bilateral relations. Last but not least, Turkey’s response to Saudi Arabia’s new approach can be positive due to the different crises Turkey is going through both at domestic and international levels. Not so surprisingly, Turkey already has problems with various actors in the international arena. Thus, the pragmatic thing Erdoğan would do is avoiding disputes with another actor in the Middle East to minimise the risk of new crises.
Author: Melisa Erol, based in Lund Sweden, is a student of development studies. She is mainly interested in working on Turkish politics and economics. As a Brexit victim, she is also a firm follower of British politics. Now working as an impact investment market analyst, she is looking forward to the day that she can travel again once the pandemic is over.