The Turkish economy is in freefall and the local currency dropped to its lowest ever exchange rate today, yes, despite this, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has invented a crisis by portraying Ankara as a “defender” against France’s “Islamophobia.” French President Emmanuel Macron has defended Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons that are offensive to Muslims, particularly one that portrays Muhammed, the founder of Islam. Portraying Muhammed is considered blasphemy in Islam.
Although the cartoon in question dates back to 2012, it came back to the forefront of international attention after Chechen-born Abdoullakh Anzorov, who lived most of his life and was radicalized in France, beheaded school teacher Samuel Paty on October 16 for showing the image in his class.
Rather than condemning the beheading, Erdoğan instead opted to try and create an uprising in the Islamic World against France’s famous secularism and freedom of expression that is protected by the 1789 Declaration of Human and Civil Rights. Turkey instead compared European Muslims to Jews before the Holocaust and called for a boycott of French goods.
Although Paty was a victim of Islamic extremism, this did not deter Turkey from accusing the teacher of Islamophobia. Macron quickly and harshly condemned the beheading and promised to crackdown on radical Islam that has been a problem in France for decades. With France not wasting any time in shutting down Muslim Brotherhood networks, which are mostly funded and backed by Turkey and Qatar, this prompted Erdoğan to say twice that Macron needs “mental treatment.”
France in response recalled its ambassador from Ankara on October 25.
Despite Macron being angered by Turkey’s provocations, Erdoğan’s outburst actually favors the French president as he begins his campaign to be re-elected in 2022 against right-wing opponent Marine Le Pen. Macron once tiptoed around the issue of radical Islam in France, but the situation has become so untenable and Turkey has been provoking the European country so-much-so that he has been pushed into taking a populist position or risk losing significant votes to Le Pen.
However, this conflict with France could also favor Erdoğan as he continues his survival policy of jumping from one crisis to the next. With the Turkish economy in catastrophic decline, whether it be with Artsakh (Nakorno-Karabakh), Syria, Libya, Iraq, Cyprus, Greece or France, Erdoğan must continually manufacture crises to distract the population. By continually referring to Europeans as “crusaders” and “Nazis,” and Macron as a “colonialist,” Erdoğan is attempting to galvanize the Islamic World against Europe. Turkey’s continual insults against Europe has received backing from the leaders of Pakistan and Iran, and resulted in protests in these countries, as well as in Palestine.
Erdoğan wants to show the Islamic World that he is the center of international attention. In this way, he wants to show Muslims that he can deal with multiple crises, despite them being artificially manufactured by him. However, the fact that he calls for a boycott of French products, which could actually do more harm to Turkey than France as it exports more to France than what it imports, shows that Erdoğan is playing a risky game in his attempt to disorientate the domestic public from the very big and real economic problem he has created.
Although Erdoğan calls Europe “racist,” he certainly has no problem with the EU providing Turkey more than €28 billion in aid during the past 13 years of his reign alone. Although the EU, or specifically Germany, Italy, Spain, Hungary and Malta are unwilling to pass sanctions against Turkey for its daily violations of Greek and Cypriot sovereignty, the latest outburst against Macron and calls to boycott French products will likely be the catalyst for the bloc to set aside their economic interests and pass sanctions in the scheduled December European Council meeting focussed on how to deal with Turkey’s continuous escalations.
In its own struggle against the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia has spearheaded an Arab coalition against Turkey and Qatar. In its rivalry with Turkey, Saudi Arabia for the better part of this month has conducted a successful unofficial boycott of Turkish products. Earlier this month, eight major Turkish business groups urged the Saudi government to intervene and resolve trade problems and warned from what they called “negative repercussions on trade relations.” Mango, a major Spanish fashion retailer with 55 stores in Saudi Arabia and manufacturing facilities in Turkey, decided to look for alternative manufacturers to keep its business operations in Saudi Arabia. The unofficial boycott of Turkey has reached such an unprecedented level in the Arab Kingdom that even local fast-food chain Herfy’s renamed one of its products from the “Turkish burger” to the “Greek burger,” while supermarkets are removing Turkish goods from their shelves.
With the Saudi success, Erdoğan has attempted to repeat the same against France. However, just mere days after Erdoğan’s call to boycott French products, his wife Emine was photographed with a $50,000 handbag from luxury French brand Hermès. There are of course many other issues, such as the fact that state-owned Turkish Airlines fly with Airbus planes, a mostly French-owned company.
Erdoğan’s calls for a boycott of French products cannot affect the European country’s economy as much as he might hope. France, just like Saudi Arabia, imports many Turkish products while not exporting much besides luxury goods and aviation related products. Turkish exports to France are easily replaceable with other cheap produce from other countries, while Greece and Cyprus, and surely France soon, are pushing to end the free trade agreement the EU has with Turkey.
Economist Stéphanie Villers told RTL radio that boycotts of French products in the Islamic World will only have a marginal impact on exports, and in fact U.S. tariffs on French wine was far more damaging. “If there was a real intent to hurt France’s economy, then all French products would be boycotted,” Villers said, observing that the more lucrative aerospace and luxury sectors have not been affected.
The Turkish President may already know that a boycott of French products will not be anywhere near as effective as the Saudi one against Turkey. Rather, it should be seen as a rallying cry for extremist Muslims, particularly those in Europe, to start becoming a security threat across the continent. This has received widespread condemnation across Europe, including from Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou. It is likely that Erdoğan’s constant provocations against Europe will result in limited sanctions and embargoes in December that will only result in a further decline in the Turkish economy. However, the Turkish president has effectively made a battle call against Europe which could see an increase in terrorist attacks and other related security risks.