Erdogan leads boycott of France joined by several countries

The European Union rejects this measure while Jordan joins the boycott. Morocco, Mauritania, Qatar, Libya, Iran, Kuwait, Palestine, Indonesia, Tunisia and the Taliban join the criticism of Macron
Erdogan y Macron

PHOTO/ADEM ALTAN Y LUDOVIC MARIN  -   Combination of archive images of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and French President Emmanuel Macron

The relationship between the presidents of France and Turkey, Emmanuel Macron and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has never been good. Their political dynamic encompasses insults, dialectical rivalries and threats that are often left unaddressed, particularly since last summer when Turkey began prospecting in the eastern Mediterranean beyond the exclusive economic zones of Cyprus and Greece.

Since the fateful news of the murder of the French professor Samuel Paty for showing the famous Muhammad cartoons from Charlie Hebdo magazine in his classes, tension has exploded, materialising in an economic boycott by Turkey of French products.

It seems that the measures taken by the French government after the attack on Paty did not please Turkey: France has tightened its surveillance on the Islamist sectors by closing a mosque and dissolving an Islamist grouping. This has made Erdogan very angry, and he has made very harsh statements that have been widely echoed in other Muslim countries.

AFP/ADEM ALTAN - The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"What problem does Macron have with Islam, what problem does he have with Muslims? Macron needs a mental care therapy", said the Turkish president during a congress of his party, the AKP, in the city of Kayseri, which was broadcasted live on NTV.

The streets of Turkey have been filled with anti-French demonstrators and several more mobilisations are planned this week. The Confederation of Public Employees' Unions Memur-Sen has sent the message to all provinces in Turkey where thousands of people are participating in marches in defence of Islam.

Erdogan has been accusing "the European leaders" of using the struggle against Islamic radicalism to cover up their own incompetence for several days. Meanwhile in Europe, attempts are being made to carefully nuance the message of brotherhood with European Muslims.  Islam and terrorism are two very different things, and this is what the authorities and the Muslims themselves in each community want to make clear.

"We may disagree with caricatures, but never violence, never hatred; respect for others and human life," Imam Hassen Chalghoumi, president of the French Imam's Conference, which last week called for a minute's silence in memory of Paty, told the press from the Drancy mosque.

The heads of government of Germany, Italy and Austria, among others, expressed their solidarity with the French President, as well as the European Union (EU) High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, who considered the Turkish President's expression "unacceptable".

Boicot a Francia en Turquía
AFP/BANARAS KHAN - Demonstrators shout slogans and hold up a poster with a photo of French President Emmanuel Macron with a print on his face during a protest following Macron's comments on the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, in Quetta on 26 October 2020
Echoes of the boycott of France spread to more countries

After several days of harsh criticism of Macron, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched a wager on Monday asking the country to boycott all French products, in reaction to what he described as a large-scale attack on Islam in France.

"Since they have asked not to buy Turkish goods there, I appeal to my people: do not buy French goods", Erdogan said in a speech, although no such boycott against Turkish products has been asked in France.

The Turkish president's speech was bold in stating that every day in Europe a Muslim temple is attacked. This fallacy repeated over and over again has had a strong impact on different countries that have decided to join the boycott. "Islamophobia is spreading in Europe like a plague", Erdogan criticizes.

The Ottoman president made these statements during the opening of a week dedicated to the religious festival of Muhammad's birthday. The date has been very well chosen and Erdogan's message has crossed borders. 

Boicot a Francia desde Turquía
REUTERS/MOHAMMAD HAMEDA - A shopping centre worker covers French products in protest against the French cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in Amman, Jordan, on 25 October 2020. The cover reads in Arabic: "In solidarity with the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, all French products have been boycotted".

The boycott has also been joined by Jordanian merchants, with some shop shelves in Amman appearing yesterday empty of products from France in response to a boycott campaign against France. "This is the least we can do to defend our prophet," Sofian Abbadi, one of the owners of Yasser Mall who was placing an ad on one of its shelves to ban the sale of French products, told Efe.

Boycott and criticism resonate across North Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Meanwhile, many Muslim countries with strong ties to France have criticised the defence of the cartoons as an offence against Islam. Morocco, Mauritania, Qatar, Libya, Kuwait, Palestine and Tunisia have officially stated their rejection of this art as "freedom of expression". 

The French ambassador to Pakistan, Marc Baréty, was also summoned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad to convey to him "concern about the blasphemous cartoons of Mohammed".

Social networks turned into viral hashtags in defence of Muhammad and several videos showing the withdrawal of products of well-known French food or cosmetics brands from supermarket shelves.

Boicot a Francia desde Turquía
AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI - A worker removes French products from the shelves of a supermarket in the Arab quarter of Beit Hanina, in East Jerusalem annexed to Israel, on 26 October 2020

Many people look with concern at Saudi Arabia, which is home to the two holiest sites of Islam. The authorities have been forced to reject any attempt to link Islam with terrorism. "Saudi Arabia rejects any attempt to link Islam with terrorism and condemns the offensive cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed or any other prophet," a source from the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement reproduced on Tuesday by the official Saudi agency SPA.

In addition, they condemned "all acts of terrorism, regardless of their perpetrator" and called for an end to "all practices and actions that generate hatred, violence and extremism," the brief note noted.

Other countries are not joining the boycott but are warning France. Like Mauritania, which yesterday showed its "indignation" at the reprinting of the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in France. In a statement, the Mauritanian foreign ministry described the publication of these cartoons as "incitement actions, carried out for some time, against Islam under the false pretext of freedom of the press".

The Taliban from Afghanistan have also wanted to get their message across against Macron. Yesterday, in a communiqué, they branded the French president's recent comments on Islam and his support for the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed as a defence of freedom of expression as "Islamophobes". "The Islamic Emirate (as the Taliban call themselves) condemns Macron's comments and considers them to be a stance against the nations. It would be better if he studied Islam carefully rather than making ignorant Islamophobic comments," the insurgents condemned in a statement.

Even Iran has wanted to speak out. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned on Monday that attacking Muslims and their religious figures only fuels extremism. "Insulting the 1.9 billion Muslims - and their saints - for the abominable crimes of such extremists is an opportunistic abuse of freedom of expression," Zarif said. The minister called on French chargé d'affaires Florent Aydalot on Tuesday to protest against statements by French officials in support of the cartoons insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Ministro Exteriores Irán
REUTERS/EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA - Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Before the end of yesterday, the Indonesian Council of Ulemas, the country's main Muslim body, also accused the French president of being "Islamophobic" and demanded that the government ask the French embassy to explain its claims that France "will not renounce" the cartoons of Mohammed.

France asks to resist the boycott and "not to respond to stupidity with stupidity".

For their part, France and the European Union do not hide their astonishment at the news. From France, Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, president of the French Medef employers' association, called on French companies, in the name of principle, to resist the boycott of their products in several Muslim countries and not to give in to blackmail.

"Our principles must come before the possibility of developing our business," Roux de Bézieux stressed in an interview with the RMC radio station in which he showed "full solidarity" with the French government's position.

The boycott, according to the president of the employers' association, "is bad news for the companies established there, in the food sector, in cosmetics, in luxury, but it is ruled out to give in to blackmail". In any case, he rejected the idea of applying a boycott to products or services from these countries, including Qatar, which has a visible presence in France, for example as the owner of the Paris Saint Germain (PSG) football team: "let's not respond to stupidity with stupidity".

Boicot a Francia
AFP/MOHAMMED ABED - A Palestinian man puts up posters on the outer walls of the French Cultural Centre during a demonstration against French President Emmanuel Macron's comments on the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in Gaza City on 26 October 2020

On behalf of the French government, the Minister of Culture, Roselyne Bachelot, reiterated her arguments in defence of the right to make cartoons of Mohammed as well, which many Muslims consider to be blasphemous. The minister insisted that the President, Macron 'has not made any speeches against Islam or against Muslims'. These words prompted the French decision to call its ambassador in Ankara for consultations, who returned to Paris on Sunday, a very unusual diplomatic gesture.

The French Foreign Office stressed that the positions defended by France "in favour of freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and the rejection of any call for hatred" had been distorted.

Apart from apologising and wanting to explain the message that he really wants to convey, the head of French diplomacy, Jean-Yves Le Drian, replied to Turkey on Sunday, stressing that "such behaviour is unacceptable, especially from an allied country".

As a curiosity, the Democratic Syrian Forces (DSF), an alliance led by Kurds and Syrians against the regime of the Syrian president, Bachar al-Asad, defended the French president amidst calls for a boycott of products from France.

Boicot Kuwait a Turquía
PHOTO/AFP - Young Kuwaitis raise banners expressing their anger against French President Emmanuel Macron at a rally in front of the country's National Assembly (parliament) in Kuwait City on 24 October 2020

"French President Macron has been involved in protecting Muslims from Daesh and has played a major role in defeating the organisation and protecting human values", the commander of the FSD, Mazlum Abdi, argued on his Twitter account.

Macron is doing its best to clean up its image. In a series of messages posted on his Twitter account in French, English and Arabic, the French President speaks in the first person of the plural to insist on his spirit of tolerance, conciliation and defence of universal values.

"We will continue. We will always be on the side of human dignity and universal values. We will continue. We respect all differences in a spirit of peace. We will never accept hate speech and we will defend reasonable debate".

This week we will see whether President Erdogan continues to attack France, a European ally of the Muslim world, and how these confrontations might lead to some of the potentially dire economic consequences.