Turkish burgers off the menu in Saudi Arabia as trade boycott bites fast food industry

James Rothwell
·3 min read
Saudi supermarkets urge customers to boycott Turkish products - Reuters
Saudi supermarkets urge customers to boycott Turkish products - Reuters

With its spicy sauce and Ottoman-themed packaging, the “Turkish burger” is one of the more exotic choices on the menu at Saudi Arabian restaurant Herfy.

Or, at least, it was. This week, the Turkish patty has vanished from the menu and been replaced with an identical “Greek burger,” the latest casualty of Saudi Arabia’s unofficial boycott of Turkish products.

“It’s the same thing,” one Herfy worker, Mahmood Bassyoni, told customers as he offered them a taste of the burger, according to Bloomberg news agency. “Just the name changed.”

The boycott reportedly began after Recep Tayyip Erdogan outraged Riyadh, one of its main rivals in the Middle East, by claiming that “Arab countries in the Gulf will not exist for long but Turkey will always remain powerful.”

Tensions have also simmered over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate and differing attitudes towards Islamist groups in the region. 

Mr Erdogan has accused Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, of ordering the murder personally, something that he vehemently denies. 

The Telegraph approached Herfy for comment on whether the rebranding was related to the boycott but had not received a response at the time of publication.

According to Arab News, a Saudi news website, the boycott has been gaining steam in recent weeks, with major supermarket Al Sadhan Group expressing support for the campaign.

This was followed by supermarket chain Tamimi Markets adding its voice to the backlash against Turkish goods, along with a number of online fashion retailers.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan  - AFP
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan - AFP

And earlier this month, the boycott won the backing of Saudi Arabia’s Chambers of Commerce, Aljan al-Ajlan. 

“A boycott of everything Turkish, be it imports, investment or tourism, is the responsibility of every Saudi ‘trader and consumer’, in response to the continued hostility of the Turkish government against our leadership, country and citizens,” the Chamber’s leader wrote on Twitter.

Saudi commentators with close links to the Kingdom’s ruling family have sought to present the boycott as a citizen-led campaign, rather than one sanctioned by the government.

“A true citizen doesn’t wait for a decision from the government,” wrote Salman Aldosary, a Saudi newspaper columnist, on Twitter. 

As Turkey only exports around $2.6bn (£1.9bn) in goods to Saudi Arabia, making it the country's 15th largest export market, the boycott is unlikely to have a devastating impact.

Trade mostly consists of carpets, chemicals, textiles and furniture, though it appears that burgers can now be added to a growing list of Turkish products no longer welcome in the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - Reuters 
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - Reuters

And according to Reuters, neither country has seen a significant fall in bilateral trade this year, while imports to Saudi Arabia actually increased from June to July by around $5m (£3.8m).

Saudi Arabia’s government has denied claims by Turkish businessmen that their products are being delayed or turned away at the border.

There are early signs that the boycott may have been picked up by other Middle Eastern countries.

Morocco has reportedly imposed restrictions on Turkish supermarket goods and significantly increased import taxes.

Though Morocco is a major export market for Turkey, they too have clashed with President Erdogan over a bilateral deal signed in 2006, which Rabat now claims is damaging their own economic interests.