The Turkish press reacted harshly to US President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order halting the entry of Syrian refugees to the United States and temporarily barring entry to the citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Although federal courts ordered a stay on certain parts of the executive order, opponents of the US administration called the new policy a “Muslim ban,” an accusation Trump denies.
The Turks are not impressed. Turkey’s pro-government daily Yeni Safak ran on its Jan. 30 front page a damning headline: “Trump’s racist wall.” Yeni Safak’s story read, “The world met Trump-style racism. After barring entry to the citizens of [seven Muslim countries], thousands of people in Europe, Turkey and Arab countries could not board their flights. The world is reacting harshly to the unthinkable event.”
Karar, another daily that supports President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (though not necessarily Erdogan’s political ambitions), was equally blunt. Karar ran pictures of the chaotic scenes at US airports with images from the Jan. 29 massacre of six people at a mosque in Canada’s Quebec City under the headline “Trump hell.” While questioning why the Muslim world has remained mostly silent on Trump’s “Muslim ban,” Karar blamed the Quebec attack on the new American president’s anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric.
The “Muslim ban” has had a small but tangible impact on Turkey. The semi-official Anadolu news agency reported Jan. 31 that in the four days since the US presidential order, 58 individuals have been unable to board their US flights from Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport, the country’s main international hub.
The episode shows that Turks finally may be waking up to the reality of Trump. Like other Middle Easterners who were at first excited about the election of the celebrity New York businessman as US president, Turkey is getting wary of the new resident of the White House. Ankara had originally welcomed the Trump administration’s call for establishing a “safe zone” in Syria, but the possibility that the US-backed safe zone could cover Syrian Kurdish groups, many of which the Turkish government considers “terrorists,” could further upset US relations with Turkey.
To be sure, it’s not just the Turks who are shocked by Trump’s policies. As Al-Monitor’s Julian Pecquet reported Jan. 30, Israeli and Saudi Arabian leaders who were hopeful about turning a new page in their relations with Washington once President Barack Obama stepped down are concerned that maintaining close relations with the new US president could complicate their domestic and regional policies.
The good news for Turkey is that, although its Trump honeymoon may already be over, a complete breakdown of US-Turkish relations is unlikely precisely because of Trump’s business interests in Turkey. As Al-Monitor’s Pinar Tremblay reported in December 2015, after Trump had first floated his idea for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” many attacked Trump’s Turkish business partners. And yet, neither the Turkish government nor Trump’s Turkish partners asked him to abandon his Turkish interests. For many Turks, according to Tremblay, Trump’s anti-Muslim views reflect broader Islamophobic biases in the United States, so there was some appreciation of the honesty.
Perhaps most Turks now feel that US-Turkish relations could not get any worse.
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