Strained relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia sees trade being impacted.
A Saudi Arabian fast-food company has decided to rename its “Turkish burger” the “Greek burger” in what is likely to go down as one of pettiest geopolitical spats in history.
There was nothing particularly Turkish about the patty burger other than its name, an Ottoman fez and a burly moustache. But Herfy, the company selling the burger, nonetheless felt that it was a “duty towards our great homeland” to change the name.
It even released a statement on social media clarifying its position.
One government employee even thanked the company for renaming the burger, given that it exemplified “patriotism, love for the country and its leadership.”
Others called it “the stupidest boycott campaign you can see in your life.”
The move is part of a broader attempt to manufacture a groundswell of support towards boycotting goods originating from Turkey.
There are reports that textiles, manufactured and perishable goods have languished in Saudi Arabian ports hindering trade between the two countries.
Saudi attempts to stall trade have been described as an unofficial boycott campaign with a nod of approval from Mohammed bin Salman's (MBS) palace.
In 2019, Turkey exported more than $3.1 billion worth of products to Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, according to the Saudi General Authority of Statistics, the country exported $3.4 billion worth of goods to Turkey. The Financial Times however puts the number at half that with $1.5 billion worth of goods.
In total, Turkey exported more than $180 billion worth of goods in 2019. While a decrease in exports may hurt some businesses, Saudi Arabia is one of many other countries that trades with Turkey.
The Turkish economy is also more diversified than its hydrocarbon reliant counterpart in Riyadh and many Saudi businesses are also likely to feel the squeeze as the country reels from lower oil prices as a result of the pandemic.
So who’s behind the boycott of Turkish?
So far, the Saudi government has publicly kept quiet about the unofficial boycott.
The head of the Saudi Chambers of Commerce, a purportedly non-governmental group, has urged businesses to boycott Turkish goods.
Gauging the popularity of the boycott in the absolute monarchy is difficult to estimate, as people can be arrested for freely expressing themselves.
Twitter is one place where people across Saudi society can speak to each other. That said, it is heavily monitored and subject to propaganda campaigns by a government seeking to get its message across.
By some estimates, Twitter has almost 10 million users in Saudi Arabia and MBS has been less than shy about weaponising it towards his perceived enemies.
In 2019, Twitter axed 88,000 spam and fake bots that were linked with the Saudi government and were mainly aiming to shape the opinion of users in the Arabic language.
Washington Post journalist, David Ignatius, who writes about the Kingdom, has said that Twitter is part of MBS’ ruling strategy.
“MBS began to realise that shaping the debate on Twitter, manipulating the debate, intrusively watching what people were writing and thinking, was going to be part of how he would control power,” Ignatius said of the Crown Prince.
Why does Saudi want a boycott?
The murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, has proved to be a turning point in relations between Turkey and MBS.
Turkey, the CIA and the UN have pointed the finger at MBS for giving the order to kill the outspoken journalist in 2018. MBS believes that Turkey has “politicised” the murder and is now likely seeking revenge.
With trade now in the crosshairs, relations between the two sides could reach new lows.