Popular Boycott of Turkish Goods

Symbol used for the “Boycott Turkish Goods” campaign on Twitter

This all kicked off with a speech from Turkey’s President Erdogan to the Turkish parliament on October 1, which included reference to:

The rulers of some countries in the region [who] pursued, in self-denial, policies that do not comply with wisdom, logic, and conscience, are further deepening the crisis. Some of these countries target us because we express the truth and stand by the oppressed and the equity. It should not be forgotten that the countries in question did not exist yesterday, and probably will not exist tomorrow; however, we will continue to keep our flag flying in this geography forever, with the permission of Allah.

This was followed by a tweet (one day later) by a tweet from the head of the Saudi Council of Chambers (i.e. the umbrella organization of all the chambers of commerce) and the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce directly – Ajlan al-Ajlan.

The boycott of everything Turkish, whether on the level of import, 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, our country and our citizens.

In case anybody missed his message, Ajlan followed up with another broadside two weeks later (in addition to several television interviews on the subject)

I say it with certainty and clarity:
No investment
No imports
No tourism
We, as citizens and businessmen, will not have any dealings with everything Turkish. Even the Turkish companies operating in the Kingdom, I call not to deal with them. This is the least response to us against the continued Turkish hostility and insult to our leadership and our country.

Ajlan is certainly well-connected, and the family firm he heads up is the largest domestic manufacturer of “classic menswear” in the GCC.

This has kicked off a two-week-plus “popular campaign to boycott Turkish goods” in the Kingdom.

There’s also been support from Prince Abdulrahman bin Musa’id, a prominent (and fervently nationalist) Twitter influencer, though he denied responsibility for the campaign per se:

More than one newspaper and TV channel in Turkey attacking me and talking about me as if I was the reason for the popular campaign to boycott Turkish goods, and despite my great support for it, it is a popular campaign that began with Saudis who love their country and supported them in it .. The campaign is a result. Instead of attacking me, look at the reason, which is the policies and abuses of your president.

(Update 10/22 – The Prince also has a thread criticizing Erdogan for subverting democracy, with the caveat that Saudi Arabia never claimed to be a democracy but rather achieves justice in its own way.)

While some of the “usual suspects” of nationalist Twitter mobilization have employed some intriguing methods to boost the profile of the hashtag (not exactly what you’d expect if somebody sitting in a control room wanted to do it with the click of a button).

In the name of of Allah the Merciful: A prize of 1,000 riyals for the best publication (drawing) for boycotting Turkish products included under this tweet. The choice is based on the number of likes and tweets for the post. Participation is open for everyone and from anywhere, so we start in the name of God #الحمله_الشعبيه_لمقاطعه_تركيا

As with every “popular” movement in Saudi Arabia right now, it is hard to tell where encouragement from above ends and whether and when enthusiasm from below takes over. Determining whether any mobilization that aligns with the government is a grassroots efforts vs. astro-turfing would require an awful lot of digging, even if Jessica Weiss has made the case for this kind of mobilization being nominally independent of the government (if selectively tolerated) by China.

A few things to highlight with respect to the present campaign:

  • At a minimum, there is an effort to ensure that this campaign does not appear to be state-led, regardless of whether it actually is. P
    • Prominent in-contact-with-the-palace commentators like Abdulrahman al-Rashed are nowhere to be found when it comes to op-eds on this campaign (focusing instead on addressing questions related to Gulf relations with Israel).
    • Even when Turkey has come up in op-eds for, say, Al-Sharq al-Aawsat, reference to the “popular campaign” has been minimal.
    • Very-online media figures like Adhwan al-Ahmari have at least been keeping up with events

The campaign to boycott Turkish products has resonated abroad. A successful action against Erdogan’s constant transgressions and provocations, and his frivolity that exceeded the limits. The Turkish lira is collapsing, and the boycott of goods is a message that insults cannot be kept silent. If the state had not eliminated the Brotherhood’s gang [I assume a reference to the Saudi state’s crackdown on Islamists of any kind], we would have found them opposed to harming their master’s economy [i.e. anybody opposing this is a traitor].

Update (10/22) Others like Salman al-Dosary who often come to provide a semi-official perspective on events have been vocal on Twitter but with no print-media commentary so far. Still, some rhetorical distance (emphasis added) between the writer and those agitating against Turkey.

For everyone who underestimated their strength in defending their homeland for all those who repeated the absurd saying:

We boycott if the government boycotts and we refrain if the government refrains

And everyone who thought this hostility would pass without a price.

These Saudis reply in their own way to exact a price from whoever targets their country: Don’t mess with Saudi Anger.

Al-Dosary’s son, prominent in English-language ultra-nationalist commentary, has not held back at all (at time of posting this the son had changed his avatar to the boycott logo, but not the father).

  • Permitting “authentic” nationalist outrage online (or stoking them to begin with) is becoming a part of Saudi international relations – though perhaps some officials have learned that having the government lead these campaigns openly (as was the case in severing diplomatic relations with Canada) attracts the wrong kind of attention
  • As a few people have pointed out, Turkey has very much replaced Iran as the predominant bogeyman of Saudi media at present
  • Despite fairly hostile rhetoric from Turkey towards the UAE of late, there has been only limited engagement from Emirati commentators – a sign of either tighter control over nationalist mobilization or a different view on the wisdom of such moves among Emirati leadership

Some more thoughts on the campaign, in no particular order (as I need to get back to my dissertation and publish a ton of articles before the academic job market fully collapses).

Early on in the boycott (i.e. October 2-14) there wasn’t much in the way of high-level media coverage of the “popular boycott” given the focus on other topics such as Bandar bin Sultan’s (then upcoming) series of interviews. The Independent Arabia ran one article that was mostly an interview with Saudi economist ‘Abd al-Aziz al-Muqbel – assuring readers that the Saudi economy could replace any Turkish imports:

The Saudi market depends on multiple sources of products, some of which are local, and others are imported from abroad, and with the state stimulating local content and global economic conditions and countries’ desire to export to major markets, such as the Saudi market, Turkish products will find it difficult to compete for their share.

Providing alternatives for Turkish products is easy from local suppliers or obtaining an alternative from global markets. Turkish products currently on the market are not complex technical products, precision devices, or heavy industries, but are limited to some food products, tissues and some basic construction materials.

The prevailing belief now appears to be that Saudi consumer power and tourist dollars, if denied, can be a potent form of economic coercion against Turkey.

For a summary of the logic, see Hamood Abu Talib, in a column called “Take it from the Saudi People, Evil-Dogan” (the pun sounds similar in Arabic) – Khalid al-Suleiman had a somewhat similar article.

The Turkish people have begun to realize that the policies of the dictator Erdogan, who governs according to his paranoia , will cost him a lot and will push the Turkish economy to further deterioration. This after it is at risk of losing important markets for its exports, especially the Saudi market, which has entered the phase of “boycotting Turkish products” with an enthusiastic popular initiative…

Turkish business groups in various fields, exporters’ associations and the Federation of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges issued a statement calling on the Turkish government to improve its behavior with countries that represent an important market for its exports, as well as tourism… This is especially the case for the Kingdom, whose businessmen pumped billions of dollars into real estate investment and whose tourists spend huge sums every year… Turkish businessmen and Turkish financial and economic institutions have the right to object to the follies of their ruler obsessed with restoring the Ottoman colonial history, while the treasury The Turkish government has become dependent on the Qatari financial infusion, which will not last.

Okaz, 10.15.2020

As a writer who reflects on internet mobilization without necessarily egging it on, though, Hamood’s follow-up column focused more on ensuring the quality of exports writ large – including from the UAE! – rather than the importance of the Turkish boycott per se.

This drew on a tweet from Twitter personality Dr. Jasir al-Herbish (update: which was not itself related to the Turkish boycott messaging in any way, but rather some folks on Twitter highlighting the fact that Saudi Arabia was importing products from the UAE that were labeled not suitable for consumption inside the UAE).

I believe in the fairness of the following fraternal demand in the name of the Saudi consumer: that nothing should be exported to the Saudi market from the Jebel Ali region except what the sisterly Emirati government allows for consumption by its citizens in its domestic market. [i.e. complaining about inferior products being sent to the Kingdom from the UAE’s export zones]

The bulk of Saudi nationalist Twitter chatter, though, was/is focused on pressing the boycott case against Saudi importers of Turkish goods and demonstrating the effectiveness of the boycott in forcing concessions from Turkey. These users in turn claimed that any mention of Jebel Ali was an astroturf operation designed to distract from the focus on Turkey.

When the honorable people raised the hashtag “Boycott Turkish Goods” the traitors from among us raised a hashtag to #support Turkish products And because they know the power of the Saudi Twitter user, they tried to distract some fools by returning to the old hashtag of Jebel Ali, as they do not dare to fight the homeland directly, so they went to war through an ally.

Unsurprisingly, the most strident support for the movement in Saudi print media came from the Okaz writer perhaps most in tune with online nationalist sentiment, Muhammad al-Sa’id.

The spontaneous popular movement that the Saudis made regarding Turkish goods is not a boycott of a few varieties of biscuits, cheeses and the famous sweetness of Turkish delights. Rather it is a cultural break with a colonial state with in the memory of the Saudis still carries bad memories… The sons of the three Saudi Kingdoms have faced a bloody history and horrific Turkish massacres that cannot be accepted or surpassed.

Okaz, 10.19.2020

Any statements from Turkish politicians warning about the economic impact of Erdogan’s foreign policy are being picked up by Saudi influencers as well (and dubbed or subtitled in Arabic).

The “popular boycott” has forced public acknowledgements from a number of Saudi companies that they will steer clear of Turkish products. Herfy Burger, for example, announced on Twitter that they wouldn’t be purchasing any more Turkish ingredients for their food offerings.

As did furniture store Al Kaffary Group:

While other influencers have passed around lists of companies supposedly observing the boycott, including major grocery stores like Al Othaim, Danube and Tamimi Markets:

Other users started calling out entities that had been insufficiently anti-Turkish like (at the time of this Tweet) the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce:

Once influencers encountered companies that seemed to be promoting Turkish products – like Al-Saif Gallery, a furniture store that made the mistake of advertising Turkish porcelain mugs – and turned the hashtag on them.

This hashtag from Saudis, for every company that does not boycott Turkish products.
We’ve been silent so far that that you did not announce a boycott of these old Ottoman products. Now you come to provoke the Saudi people, why?!

Until they joined in too

There has been no comment in the somewhat establishment daily editorial of Al-Riyadh, though the paper ran this not-too-subtle political cartoon and a few articles have cast the rejection of Turkey in populist terms.

Update (10/22)

Making things even more complicated, some Saudi Twitter influencers have cast doubt on the campaign by suggesting a contradiction with the Crown Prince’s statement (a few years back) that there is an “unbreakable bond” between Turkey and Saudi Arabia:

“Many are trying to exploit the Khashoggi affair to drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. But they will not succeed as long as there is a king named Salman and a crown prince named Mohammed bin Salman.”

Muhammad bin Salman, 10.24.2018

In this tweet, for example:

This campaign is suspicious.

It goes unremarked despite the warning signs that that:

1: It is an invitation for a crowd action, even hypothetical, and this is a dangerous matter.

2: No official statement has been issued indicating anything about this, before or after. The last thing we know is what we heard about His Highness the Crown Prince, as attached.

Those behind such a suspicious campaign and similar ones are foolish nationalist pretenders.

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