Turkey has a long history of anti-Arabism dating back to the Ottoman Empire, which has risen significantly in recent years because of the Syrian refugee crisis.
According to research by the International Organization for Migration, nearly half of the participants saw the Syrians as a “less talented race” and one-third of them stated that they believe that Syrian refugees are not victims of war. Syrian Arabs are the most frequent targets of discrimination and hostility in Turkey, as they are associated with economic problems and unemployment.
This situation could have serious consequences for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been trying to cultivate closer ties with the Arab world and present himself as a leader of the Muslim world.
Erdogan has supported the Arab Spring uprisings, mediated between rival factions in Libya and Syria, and denounced Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. However, his efforts could be undermined by the growing resentment and mistrust of Arabs among his own people.
Some analysts argue that Erdogan’s foreign policy is driven by pragmatism rather than ideology and that he is willing to change his alliances depending on the circumstances. For instance, he recently reconciled with Egypt and Saudi Arabia after years of animosity over their support for the coup against Mohamed Morsi in 2013 and their opposition to Qatar in 2017. However, others contend that Erdogan’s outreach to the Arab world is motivated by his ambition to revive Turkey’s regional influence and challenge the hegemony of Iran and Israel.
Regardless of his intentions, Erdogan faces a dilemma: how to balance his relations with the Arab world without alienating his domestic constituency. He may have to address the racism and discrimination against Arabs in Turkey, which is not only a human rights issue but also a potential threat to his political survival. If he fails to do so, he could lose the trust and respect of both his Arab partners and his Turkish supporters.