Erdoğan finds advantages for Turkey in France boycott campaign

The increasing calls in Kuwait to boycott French products seem less a spontaneous action to defend Islam and its Messenger than part of a plan to thrust Kuwait into the centre of a boycott movement aimed at embarrassing Saudi Arabia and showing that its boycott of Turkish goods and products is unjustified.

It all comes when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying hard to portray himself as the “guardian and protector” of the faith.

On Monday, the Turkish president compared the treatment of Muslims in Europe to the treatment of Jews before World War II. “There is a campaign targeting Muslims, similar to the campaign against European Jews before World War II,” Erdogan said and accused some European leaders of being “fascists” and “Nazis”.

In a speech given in Ankara, Erdogan called for a boycott of French products.

Gulf affairs experts believe the Muslim Brotherhood circles, Turkey and Qatar to be behind this campaign, and that their real goal was to settle scores with Saudi Arabia for its painful boycott against Turkey. The strategy was to suggest that Saudi hostility towards Ankara is equivalent to standing with French President Emmanuel Macron, who refuses to order the withdrawal of the satirical caricature of the Prophet.

Turkish, Qatari and Muslim Brotherhood media are trying to explain French stances by anti-Islamic bias and disrespect for the Prophet. They ignore the completely different French viewpoint which sees the matter as essentially an issue of freedom of expression, and vehemently rejects any external pressures to force them to change their value-system ​​and their vision of freedom and human rights.

The Saudi Council of Senior Scholars said, on Sunday, that “Insulting God’s prophets and messengers, may God’s prayers and peace be upon them, will not bring them prejudice, but would only serve extremists who want to spread a climate of hatred between human societies.”

Such a position shows that Riyadh is well aware of the background of the anti-France campaign and of who stands to benefit from it. For that reason, the Saudi Kingdom made it clear that it will not go along with a campaign that plays in Erdogan’s hands. Analysts see the Turkish president as desperately seeking to restore the past glories of the Ottoman empire at the expense of the region’s security and at the expense of the Islamic religion itself, which he is using as a means to gain supporters.

Analysts see any Saudi involvement in the course of this Turkish escalation as providing a free service to the extremists who find in such a crisis an opportunity for polarisation at a time when the Kingdom is working to get rid of the legacy of extremism and replace it with openness to human values ​​through a moderate view of Islam.

The Saudis began viewing Turkey as an enemy that threatens their interests in the region ever since the Turkish regime invested heavily in politically blackmailing the Saudi kingdom over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It is also quite obvious that Turkey is vying with Saudi Arabia for the role of spiritual leader of Sunni Islam and of the Muslim world. This makes the Saudis very wary of Turkish moves in the region and of their underlying anti-Saudi strategies.

A senior Saudi official warned of the risks that countries of the region face as a result of Turkey’s hostile designs. “If you just consider the topic of threats (to the region), you’ll find that Turkey figures prominently there because it is everywhere,” he said.

Speaking to the Financial Times, the Saudi official did not exclude the Iranian threat, but stressed that the Turkish threat makes matters worse.

A Kuwait store boycotting French merchandise, in Kuwait City, Kuwait, October 25. (REUTERS)
A Kuwait store boycotting French merchandise, in Kuwait City, Kuwait, October 25. (REUTERS)

Observers point out that picking Kuwait in particular to start the campaign against French products carries a strong indication that the whole matter comes in the context of an organised plan to embarrass Saudi Arabia. Right now, the state in Kuwait is perceived as vulnerable due to the ongoing conflict between the government and parliament, and in light of the transition phase of transfer of power it is going through. In Kuwait also, one finds the strongest branch of the Muslim Brotherhood Organisation in the Gulf, a branch that is kept under silence and which has achieved wide infiltration of state institutions and civil society, by controlling a wide range of associations and charities.

Kuwaiti observers say that the Brotherhood’s network of associations has become like an octopus that controls the mood of the public opinion. It is this same Brotherhood that is behind the decision of the Union of Consumer Cooperative Societies to boycott French products. It is also behind the media campaign that exaggerates Erdogan’s role while accusing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of neglecting to defend the faith.

The boycott started a debate in the French media which revealed an awareness among the press that the anti-French campaign doesn’t find its roots in only a reaction to offensive cartoons or statements about the crisis of Islam, but that it is also steeped in a strategy to reach specific political and regional goals.

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, in a statement, that the past few days have witnessed calls in many countries of the Middle East to boycott French products, especially food products, as well as calls to demonstrate against France.

“These calls for a boycott are baseless and must stop immediately, as well as all attacks against our country, which are carried out by an extremist minority,” the statement said.

The ministry also called on the authorities in those countries to oppose these boycott moves, in order to help French companies and ensure the safety of French citizens.

French President Emmanuel Macron said in a post on Twitter, which he deliberately published in Arabic, that nothing would make his country “give in,” stressing that France respects all differences in the spirit of peace.

“We will never accept hate speech and we will defend rational debate. We will always stand for human dignity and universal values,” he wrote.

Whenever the storm of the crisis seemed to abate, Erdogan would release a provocative statement to lure Macron into a reaction and make statements that he (Erdogan) could use in the battle to establish Turkish influence in the region, whether in Libya, in the eastern Mediterranean, or in the Nagorno Karabakh region, an influence that France strongly opposes along with some Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.

Saudi activists say that Erdogan is deliberately confusing facts with the aim of showing that he is the only leader defending the faith, but their country will not be deceived by the “neo-Ottoman” pragmatism, they said, vowing to continue the boycott, which provoked Yassin Aktay, advisor to the Turkish president, into comparing the Saudi boycott of Turkish products to the boycott against Prophet Mohamed by the disbelievers of the Quraish tribe in Mecca.

Aktay wrote, “those with this mentality, who ignore that only God is the true provider of livelihoods, are the same who, not long ago, came hard on Qatar and boycotted it. It is the illusion of the power of money that makesthem think that they can tame whoever they want, do what they want and buy people’s virtues.”

Qatar was keen to show an ambiguous position regarding the calls to boycott French products, even though its media were promoting these calls on a large scale. A statement by the Qatari Foreign Ministry warned against “deliberately offending the person of the noble Messenger,” without mentioning France and its president, which observers considered a manoeuvre from Doha to distance itself from the crisis and preserve its interests with Paris.