Saudi Influence on Islamic Institutions in Turkey Beginning in the 1970s

By Köni, Hakan | The Middle East Journal, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Saudi Influence on Islamic Institutions in Turkey Beginning in the 1970s


Köni, Hakan, The Middle East Journal


This article investigates the influence of Saudi Arabia on aspects of Islamic social, political, and economic life in Turkey. Since the 1970s, long before the rise of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of today, Turkish-Saudi Arabian relations have been characterized by an increasing degree of cooperation, solidarity, and partnership centered on certain economic, diplomatic, social, and cultural activities with a good deal of Islamic content. Turkey's orientation toward the Middle East in general and Saudi Arabia in particular traces to the global oil crisis that started in 1973 and its severe effects on the Turkish economy; it also stems from some of Turkey's foreign policy goals with regard to the Cyprus issue and its relations with regional and global actors. Examples of Saudi influence have included the involvement of Saudi-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and multinational corporations (MNCs) in Turkey, Turkey's membership in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and Turkish labor migration to Saudi Arabia, with a spillover effect in a wide range of other arenas. This particular aspect of Turkish-Saudi Arabian relations is analyzed using the theory of complex interdependence, which underscores the importance of economic, social, and cultural issues in international relations in addition to that of traditional political, diplomatic, and military goals.

Islam in Turkey has usually been studied with a focus on its various political, social, cultural, and economic aspects. A systematic examination of some extraneous factors that have impinged upon these aspects throughout the Turkish Republican era can offer a new perspective. Some of these extraneous factors, all of which have influenced Islam in Turkey, include the Cold War and the bipolar global political structure; US support for religious movements to fight against communism; the establishment of a Jewish state in the Middle East and the Palestinian Intifada; the 1973 oil crisis and Saudi Arabian international Islamic activism; the Iranian Revolution and Iranian international Islamic activism; jihadist movements in Afghanistan and the Caucasus; and labor immigration to Europe and the Middle East. The purpose of this article is to offer a theoretical and empirical analysis of the Saudi Arabian factor, among others. What are the main arenas of Islamic life in Turkey in which Saudi Arabia has been involved, and in what ways has this constituted a major variable? Who are the main actors? Has Saudi Arabia promoted "Islamic fundamentalism" in Turkey as it is sometimes claimed?

This article analyzes these issues from the perspective of the theory of complex interdependence, which argues that international relations is not only driven by security matters, but also by various economic, social, cultural, ecological, and other concerns in varying degrees, as influenced by a plethora of actors that may include members of diplomatic missions, transnational and trans-governmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations, individual persons, etc., and which may take place through official and unofficial channels. Turkish-Saudi Arabian relations have been characterized by an increasing tone of rapprochement, cooperation, and solidarity beginning in the 1970s, with occasional fluctuations, and relying on some commonly shared historical and cultural values in addition to the awareness of shared economic and diplomatic interests related to the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and ensuing global oil crisis, the Cyprus issue, and problems of the Turkish population in Bulgaria, as well as the questions of the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Intifada. A common theme in most of these areas is the shared Islamic identity of Turkey and Saudi Arabia. While the aforementioned issues led to closer relations in the 1970s and 1980s, the growing cooperation has remained in effect to the present.

The Theory of Complex Interdependence Explained

"Complex interdependence" offers a refinement and synthesis of traditionalist (realist) and modernist (idealist) theories of international relations, with an argument that neither of these two schools presents a complete picture of global politics and that in a progressively more sophisticated global political environment, a more accurate view could be developed through their amalgamation.

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