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Turkish president finds solidarity with his people in a boycott on the iPhone and other U.S. products

Turkish president finds solidarity with his people in a boycott on the iPhone and other U.S. products
A potential customer at an Apple Store in Istanbul, Turkey. (Chris McGrath / Getty Images)

One video shows a man smashing iPhones with a hammer. “This is for our president,” he declares.

Another shows men burning dollar bills or using them to blow their noses.

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Both videos have been shared widely on social media in Turkey as the country’s trade war with the U.S. escalates and ordinary citizens and Turkish businesses express solidarity with their government. The sentiment has been boiled down to a meme trending on Twitter: “Don’t let the U.S. earn money.”

Economists are doubtful that Turkish consumers can do much damage, given their reliance on American products. But that didn’t stop President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from calling on them to boycott U.S. goods this week. He singled out the iPhone.

The trade battle started in June, when the Trump administration announced it was raising tariffs on steel from China, the European Union and Turkey by 25% and tariffs on aluminum from those countries by 10%. Turkey, the world’s eighth-biggest steel producer, responded with tariff increases on U.S. coal, paper, almonds, tobacco, rice, automobiles, petrochemicals and other products.

Then last week Trump announced he was doubling the tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum in an effort to apply pressure on authorities to release Andrew Brunson, an American pastor being tried in Turkey on terrorism charges.

The 50-year-old evangelical pastor from North Carolina had long been based in the coastal city of Izmir. Arrested in 2016 after a failed coup, he is accused of being allied with Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric based in Pennsylvania who Erdogan says masterminded the attempted takeover by the military. Some political analysts have suggested that Erdogan is holding Brunson to put pressure on the U.S. to extradite Gulen.

The new tariffs caused the Turkish lira to plummet.

Erdogan retaliated with his call for a consumer boycott, and then on Thursday issued a decree raising tariffs on U.S. cars to 120%, alcohol to 140% and tobacco to 60%.

Online campaigns have offered local alternatives to U.S. products: Torku food products instead of Nestle, iskender kebab in place of McDonald’s and Uludag soft drinks over Coca-Cola.

Turkish Airlines — 49% of which is owned by the government — announced this week it would stop advertising on Google and other U.S.-based platforms. The Ministry of Environment and Urbanization, which oversees government development projects, said it would ban the use of construction materials from the U.S.

At Instanbul’s Dogubank shopping center, home to some of the country’s biggest cellphone stores, retailers announced they would heed Erdogan’s call for a boycott and cancel orders for iPhones for the coming month. They said those orders would have amounted to $50 million.

One retailer, Emre Ergul, said the boycott came as a relief of sorts, because the drop in the lira, which lost nearly half its value, was making it harder for him to make money on iPhone sales anyway.

He said that before the crisis he sold as many as 500 iPhones a month — too few for a trillion-dollar company like Apple to even notice.

“But we have to do what we can,” Ergul said. “The U.S. and Turkey need to understand this crisis is hurting ordinary people like me, and the U.S. especially needs to understand they cannot deal with my country this way, and that it will eventually hurt them as well.”

Nurullah Gur, an economics professor at Istanbul Medipol University, said the resentment against Trump in Turkey stemmed from the belief that he imposed the tariff’s for political rather than economic reasons.

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Turkey and the U.S. are entangled economically in more ways than their leaders seem to realize, Gur said.

One example is the F-35 fighter jet. Trump this week signed a defense budget bill that blocks transfers of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey until the Pentagon issues a report on the country’s relationship with the U.S. within the NATO alliance.

He made no mention of the fact that the consortium of global companies building the F-35 includes key Turkish firms, including Ayesas, the sole supplier of the cockpit display and a missile-guidance system.

Istanbul is home to the 39-story Trump Towers, which feature hundreds of luxury apartments and several U.S. retail shops.

Erdogan’s son-in-law, Minister of Finance Berat Albayrak, is a graduate of Pace University in New York City, and his two daughters, Esra and Sumeyye, studied at Indiana University.

In his call for a boycott, Erdogan suggested people use phones from the Turkish companies Venus and Vestel.

But during the 2016 coup attempt, when he appeared on the Turkish CNN affiliate and asked supporters to take to the streets, he was speaking over FaceTime on his iPhone.

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