Single title

The New Turkish Presence in North Africa: Ambitions and Challenges

Mediterranean Dialogue Series no. 33

The paper aims to identify the main goals of Turkey's new policy toward North Africa, analyzes how states of the region perceive the new presence of Turkey in the region, and addresses the major challenges facing this Turkish strategy.

Turkey and North Africa have been linked for centuries by political and cultural ties. But since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, Turkey had isolated itself from its traditional spheres of influence, including North Africa. After the end of World War II, Turkey sought to strengthen its relations with the West and refrained from paying attention to Arab issues. With the rise of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to power in 2002, under the leadership of Recep T. Erdogan, Turkey has gradually become more interested in North Africa again. In the post-2011 Arab uprisings, Turkey's foreign policy towards North Africa has seen a massive turning point. This period witnessed a growing influence of Islamist political movements, which might be potential allies of Turkey in the region. Turkey has sought to strengthen its influence through economic, political, and cultural means, and recently by military presence. However, there are many obstacles and challenges to Turkey's quest to revive its historical influence in the region.
In this new Turkish strategy, North Africa is considered as a goal and a means at the same time: it is a target for Turkish trade and investment, as the region represents a huge market with about 200 million consumers, and a source for potential strategic alliances. It is also a gateway to sub-Saharan Africa. President Erdogan announced during his official visit to Algeria on January 26, 2020, that Turkey is seeking to increase the trade volume with Africa in the near future to 50 billion dollars, which reached 26 billion dollars in 2020.
Turkey initially relies on two basic mechanisms to return to the region: First, the economic factor (trade and investment), in which the private sector is playing an important role. Second, tools of soft power (soap operas, films, channels, cultural and educational exchanges, and attraction of foreign students...), by employing cultural, religious and historical ties to improve its image and present itself as a model for the Islamic world.