Attack on Kuwaiti tourist: Complex Middle East dynamics
By Can Burgaz
In a recent incident that sent shockwaves through Turkey and Kuwait, a Kuwaiti tourist was violently assaulted during a routine outing in Trabzon. What initially appeared to be a minor altercation quickly escalated, sparking widespread debate and introspection about Turkey's complicated relationship with the Middle East. The incident serves as a microcosm, shedding light on the nation's increasing reliance on Arab tourism while grappling with rising anti-Arab sentiment that reflects a broader, complex dynamic in the region.
In a recent incident on Turkey's northern coast in Trabzon, a Kuwaiti tourist was the victim of a physical assault. What initially appeared to be a minor altercation quickly garnered significant attention in Turkey and Kuwait, ultimately highlighting the complicated nature of Turkey's relations with the Middle East.
Turkey's Black Sea coastal cities have seen a surge in Arab visitors, primarily from the Middle East, transforming the region into a thriving hub for Arab tourism. This juxtaposition with growing anti-Arab sentiment in Turkey is particularly noteworthy, especially in cities known for their staunch Turkish nationalism.
The dispute arose when Mohammad Ramm Alajmi, accompanied by his family, ate at a dessert shop and then purchased food from another establishment. The Syrian owner of the shop objected to this arrangement, and an argument ensued between Alajmi, who attempted to leave the shop, and the Syrian owner. Alajmi eventually contacted the police, only to be assaulted by someone mistakenly believed he was resisting authorities. He was subsequently hospitalized.
In response to the incident, Turkish police officials expressed concern about the potential negative impact on the flow of Arab tourists to the city. Pro-government media outlets denounced the attack, and Turkey's ambassador to Kuwait, Tuba Nur Sonmez, took a personal interest and contacted the victim.
The remarkable attention that this minor incident received from the Turkish authorities provoked a mixed reaction from the Turkish public. Many expressed concern about the country's growing economic dependence on Arab tourism. Umit Ozdag, leader of the far-right Victory Party, known for its anti-Arab stance, also weighed in on the incident.
Abdurrahman Kurt, a member of Erdogan's AKP (Justice and Development Party) government, expressed concern about potential damage to the tourism sector due to the perceived racist treatment of Arabs.
Meanwhile, the Kuwaiti public denounced the incident as racist and launched a social media campaign against Turkey. Many members of parliament (MPs) urged the Foreign Ministry to take action. MP Osama ez-Zaid stressed the urgency of the Kuwaiti Embassy in Ankara to hold the perpetrators of the "barbaric" attack accountable, given the presence of Alajmi's wife and children as witnesses.
Turkey's relationship with Arabs
Over the past decade, the Erdogan government has navigated a complex relationship with Arab states. On the one hand, Turkey has provided refuge to nearly 5 million Syrians fleeing the civil war in their homeland. While these refugees have not been granted permanent status, they are a bargaining chip in negotiations with European countries. Erdogan's pre-election promise that Syrians would return home was reversed after the election.
The dense Syrian population in Turkey has created social problems and fueled racist anti-Arab sentiments, leading to the emergence of far-right parties such as the Victory Party. Syrians, mainly concentrated in the metropolitan areas and border towns, have become an essential part of the labor force in various sectors.
At the same time, Turkey, which has been struggling with a currency crisis since 2018, has actively sought to attract Arab tourists, who contribute significantly to the country's tourism industry and prefer nature and shopping tourism. Rize and Trabzon, located in northern Turkey with strong nationalist sentiments and government support, have emerged as essential destinations for Arab tourists. These regions have experienced a surge in foreign tourist arrivals. Trabzon alone experienced a 79 percent increase over the previous year, welcoming 400,000 foreign tourists in the first seven months.
The extraordinary sensitivity of the Turkish authorities towards Kuwaiti tourists underscores the country's dependence on Arab tourism.