The Turkish metropolises are not only a magnet for refugees from the Arab region. Tourism from the Gulf monarchies and North African countries has also increased steadily in recent years. In Istanbul alone, more than 130,000 Saudis visited the city on the Bosphorus in one summer month this year. The coastal cities on the Black and Mediterranean Sea also recorded a 70 percent increase in visitors from Arab countries this year. Just last week, at the airports in Ankara and Istanbul, the author observed how many Hajj pilgrims made a two- or three-day stopover in Turkey before planes took them on to the holy sites in Mecca and Medina.
But not everyone in Turkey seems to be happy with this influx of visitors. There are now signs that many people do not want Arabs in their country. A 46-year-old Kuwaiti man was beaten by a Turk in September in the main square of the Turkish coastal city of Trabzon, where he was vacationing with his family. A video recording by an eyewitness documented the attack and his family’s screams can be heard. The video went viral on the Arabic Internet, and major news sites reported on it. Officials immediately tried to appease him, the perpetrator was quickly arrested, and the victim was visited by the local police chief as soon as he was released from the clinic. In a statement from the city administration, there was talk of a misunderstanding: the victim had argued with another tourist, and the perpetrator then assumed that the two had defended themselves against the police. A few days after this incident, another headline appeared in the Arab media, a brawl in Istanbul. Apparently tourists from Egypt were involved, who, according to media reports, complained about an incorrect restaurant bill, after which the situation escalated.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, aware of the economic and financial crisis in his country, is actually seeking proximity to the Arab ruling families. During his recent visits to them in the Gulf, he asked for their promise to invest more in Turkey. He wants to establish Turkey as a regional power center with Istanbul as a hub for trade and tourism. To do this, his country must remain open in all directions, to Europe as well as to the Middle East or Russia.
At the same time, and Turkish politics is partly responsible, nationalism is growing in Turkey, spurred on by pro-government nationalist groups such as the “Gray Wolves” or the Islamist “Milli Görüs”. In addition, the extremist Muslim Brotherhood has found a supporter in Erdoğan for a long time. The Turkish president’s recent statements about Hamas, the military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Palestinian territories, show this more than openly.
The increasing hatred of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan, but also of those foreigners who come to the country rich and are changing the real estate market, for example, is becoming increasingly stronger in Erdoğan’s empire. So it’s not just the refugees who are being attacked by politicians, but also by citizens; they are the main ones responsible for the miserable economic situation in the country. Rents have multiplied, and some neighborhoods in cities like Istanbul or Ankara are no longer cheaper than in major cities in Western Europe. For many Turks, it is rich Russians or rich families from the Gulf who are causing prices to skyrocket with their real estate purchases.
Where Turkey should orient itself has been a more or less unanswered question since the republic was founded 100 years ago. The guests from the Gulf and the Arabs living in the country are now also finding themselves in this disorientation. For millions of Arab guests, Turkey is still a peaceful holiday destination. In Turkish tourism and gastronomy, they are grateful that the Arabs are bringing them record numbers this year – alongside Russians and Europeans. But many in the country also see the Arab guests as a bad omen. Because Turkey under Erdoğan no longer just looks to the West. The president will have to be careful that the resentment in the Middle East doesn’t spread too much. This would also damage the image he strives for as the patriarch of all Muslims in the world.
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