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Saudi Arabia closes Turkish schools amid unofficial boycott

Eight Turkish schools in Mecca and Medina were shut down in 2020, as Riyadh reportedly continues unofficial sanctions against Ankara over Khashoggi probe
Students from the Mecca International Turkish School celebrate Turkey's Republic Day in 2019 (Screenshot)
By Ragip Soylu in Istanbul

Saudi Arabia reportedly closed eight Turkish schools in the cities of Mecca and Medina last year, as Turkish exports to Riyadh have plummeted amid an unofficial Saudi boycott.

Two Turkish Ministry of Education officials told the Turkish parliament last week that, despite their best efforts, they couldn’t overcome Saudi bureaucratic obstacles to keep the schools open.

“They were de facto closed at the end of 2020. We are trying every possible means through diplomatic channels to reopen these schools,” said Ahmet Bilgili, director-general for overseas education, during a parliamentary briefing.

Another Turkish official, Burcu Dalkiran, said that tensions over the schools have been slightly eased since a phone call between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Saudi Arabia's King Salman last November.

'We are trying every possible means through diplomatic channels to reopen these schools'

- Ahmed Bilgili, Turkish Ministry of Education

In a separate statement to Turkish news agency Anadolu on Monday, the Turkish Ministry of Education said that 26 other Turkish schools in Saudi Arabia were still operating, and that efforts were underway to reopen the others.

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Last year, Riyadh ramped up its efforts to target the Turkish economy after a Turkish court’s decision to accept two separate indictments against Saudi officials said to be involved in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October 2018.

Relations between the two regional powerhouses have been at a low point since the murder of the Saudi journalist, whose killing is believed by the CIA to have been ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself.

Since October, the Saudi government has been systematically pressuring local businesses not to trade with Turkish companies and to remove Turkish goods from their shelves.

Big fall in exports

Turkish exports to Saudi Arabia dropped by a remarkable 92 percent in February, from $290m to just $21m year-on-year, according to data released by the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TIM). In January, Turkish exports had also suffered another 92 percent drop.

The statistics indicate a steady slowdown in Turkish exports since October. As a result, Turkey’s annual exports to Saudi Arabia decreased by 24 percent in 2020, from $3.1bn to $2.3bn.

Erdogan last year tried to remedy the situation by talking to King Salman, and both agreed to hold consultations on the issue.

However, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s first meeting with his Saudi counterpart, Faisal bin Farhan, in November ultimately failed to change the situation.

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