Cumhuriyet, one of Turkey’s oldest and most prestigious newspapers, reported on Monday that growing pressure on businessmen in Saudi Arabia to not engage Turkey has evolved into a formal trade embargo.
The article did not quote any Saudi officials or cite any declaration making the move official. Instead, it cited Turkish business leaders who stressed Riyadh was no longer accepting their goods and that, for months, Saudi officials had let Turkish goods stagnate on the border and in airports.
Cumhuriyet, a secularist newspaper founded 94 years ago, has openly opposed Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and regularly publishes unfavorable reports about the Erdogan administration. It is the only major anti-establishment media outlet left in the country after Erdogan purged over 100 newspapers, magazines, and television stations in 2016 and Erdogan cronies bought up centrist properties like Hurriyet Daily News.
If true, a Saudi embargo on Turkey could accelerate the freefall of the Turkish economy in recent years, greatly exacerbated in the last few months by the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. As Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the holiest sites in Islam, its government carries much diplomatic weight in the Muslim world, potentially resulting in other Gulf states following suit.
While, according to Turkish government statistics, Turkish-Saudi trade had declined in the latter half of the past decade, the two enjoyed $4.96 billion in trade volume in 2018, the most recent year for which the Turkish Foreign Ministry has published numbers. According to Cumhuriyet, Saudi Arabia is Turkey’s 15th largest export market, sending furniture, produce, and textiles to the Arab nation.
“The Saudi Embargo on Turkey Became Official Today!” a Cumhuriyet headline blared on Monday, reporting that the full embargo would take effect in October and would apply on all “made in Turkey” products.
“Our customers got used to Turkish products, they are satisfied. However, they cannot buy our goods anymore. They say send them to us via a third country,” an unnamed Turkish businessman is quoted in the newspaper as saying. “Small and medium-sized businesses are very anxious, especially as exports from southeastern provinces such as Hatay, Gaziantep, and Diyarbakir come to a halt.”
“Saudi Arabia is our most important market, but my Saudi customer doesn’t buy goods anymore,” another unnamed trader told Cumhuriyet. “Because the government warned him, he is afraid. At the end of this month, trade stops. We do the last deliveries. We are confused about what to do. They are depressed.”
Cumhuriyet claimed that an “unofficial” embargo had been in place for two years, largely in response to the killing of Saudi opposition journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi disappeared during a visit to the Saudi embassy in Ankara; Erdogan’s government immediately accused Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) of personally ordering Khashoggi’s assassination.
A Saudi court convicted eight people from the embassy of killing Khashoggi this month. Unsatisfied, Turkish prosecutors are reportedly preparing new indictments against six Saudi nationals for the Khashoggi killing. Ankara has not yet revealed what charges the indictments would levy against these individuals or if they are different from the eight convicted in Saudi Arabia.
The newspaper noted that Saudi Arabia raised a value-added tax on Turkish products ten-percent in the aftermath of the killing and have pressured businesses to move trade elsewhere. Outside of policy, Saudi customs officials appeared to simply prevent Turkish products from entering the country for months.
“They don’t want anything with a ‘made in Turkey’ stamp,” the Turkish newspaper Dunya claimed in July.
The Emirati media outlet Ahval also noted this week, in response to the Cumhuriyet claim, that “Saudi business groups including the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry have called for a complete boycott on Turkish products.” The Saudi government has also actively discouraged travel and tourism to Turkey.
Erdogan blocked Ahval from visibility in Turkey in 2018, amid growing tensions between both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). UAE and Saudi Arabia are close allies. While Saudi and Emirati outlets have been shut out of Turkey, Yeni Safak, one of Turkey’s most belligerent pro-Erdogan newspapers, has regularly published columns hinting at a war with Saudi Arabia. The newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Ibrahim Karagül, called for Saudi Crown Prince MBS to be “dethroned immediately” following Khashoggi’s death. Ignored, Karagül has continued to encourage the Arab world to turn against Saudi Arabia.
“Will the Arab nations, the Arab world be able to accept the plan of United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to pawn the whole Arab region and the Arab people’s fate off to Israel and give it up as hostage?” Karagül asked in a column this month addressing peace deals between the UAE and Israel and Bahrain and Israel.
“However, the UAE administration, Mohammed bin Zayed and Mohammed bin Salman (Saudi Arabia) are forcing the West into a Crusade. We encountered Crusader Wars numerous times. We will do it again. We fought the West for seven centuries. We will do it again,” he warned.
Despite Saudi Arabia’s long history of fostering radical Islam, MBS — a 35-year-old who became crown prince in 2017 — has argued publicly that the global jihadist threat is emanating not from Saudi Arabia, but from Turkey.
“The contemporary triangle of evil comprises Iran, Turkey, and extremist religious groups,” Mohammad bin Salman said during a visit to Cairo, Egypt, in 2018. At the time, the prince accused Erdogan of attempting to recreate the Ottoman Empire. Erdogan has since then converted the Hagia Sophia, one of the most important historical Christian cathedrals in the world, into a mosque.