Monday, October 18, 2021

From Rafale Jets To Airbus – How Will Turkey, Qatar & Egypt Manage To Boycott France?

French President Emmanuel Macron has gone all-out in his attempt to defend the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, which are considered blasphemous in Islam. He is now facing heat from several Muslim countries that have called for a boycott of French products. 

Reportedly, the social media campaign to boycott French products saw a lot of traction with hashtags like #BoycottFrenchProducts in English and the Arabic #NeverTheProphet were trending in Muslim majority countries including Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

“I am calling on the people, do not go near French goods, do not buy them,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said during a speech. He called on European leaders to “say ‘stop’ to Macron and his campaign of hatred.”

Several stores in Kuwait saw empty shelves where French products and brands were displayed earlier. A boycott campaign is also underway in Jordan, where some grocery shops hung signs declaring that they were not selling French goods, reported CNN.

Tensions in France were reignited after the killing of a teacher, Samuel Paty, in Paris for allegedly showing cartoons of Prophet Mohammad in one of his classes. Reportedly, caricatures used by Paty originally appeared in the magazine, Charlie Hebdo.

According to a BBC report, the magazine’s offices were fire-bombed in November 2011 when it published a provocative cartoon of Prophet Mohammad under the title “Charia Hebdo”. In 2013, Charlie Hebdo published a special edition featuring the cartoons. In 2015, gunmen massacred 12 people at Charlie Hebdo.

After the boycott calls from several countries, the French Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling the boycotts “unjustified” and demanding an “end immediately”.

“The positions defended by France [were] in favour of freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and the refusal of any call to hatred,” said the ministry. 

“These calls for boycotts are without merit and should stop immediately, as should all attacks against our country, which are being pushed by a radical minority.”

France to Muslims: Stop Protests, Boycott Calls

While the countries call for a boycott of French products, it is important to note that some of these countries share very close ties with France.

According to a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report, France is among the top five exporters of arms in the world trailing only after the US and Russia.

“French arms exports reached their highest level for any five-year period since 1990 and accounted for 7.9 per cent of total global arms exports in 2015–19, a 72 per cent increase on 2010–14. The French arms industry has benefited from the demand for arms in Egypt, Qatar and India,” said the report.

The common defence export between the three is the Dassault Rafale fighter jets. The 4.5 generation Rafale jets, deployed by the likes of Egypt, Qatar and France itself, have an impressive combat history in providing air superiority.

While France is already supporting Greece, who is at loggerheads with Turkey over the Argean Sea and has supplied its fighter jets to counter Ankara in case of a conflict. Furthermore, last year France suspended all weapon sales to Turkey over disputes in Syria.

Arguably, Turkey has a stronger defensive position than Qatar or Egypt. However, Turkey has a long-standing relationship with Airbus operating several military and civilian aircraft, making it highly dependent on France.

In theory, boycotting French products is one way to retaliate against Macron and his policies but the maintenance and upgradation requirements of these fighter jets, defence equipment and even the passenger planes may only mock the boycott call. 

While the governments of neither of the countries except Turkey have issued an official statement, countries owning French weaponry need to tread carefully on these issues, maintaining a balance in national security and its ideological and religious beliefs.

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