There have been many major changes happening between the powers of the Middle East lately, as the relationship between the United Arab of Emirates (UAE) and Turkey entered a new phase. On the 24th of November, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MbZ), the de facto ruler of the UAE, met with the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Ankara. Bilateral relations between both countries were not at a good level for the last ten years. Hence, this visit is considered historical, by all means, and can lead to a major change in the future of the region.
The two countries have been taking different approaches in the last years, as they have been on different sides in the Libyan crisis and in the blockade of Qatar, which Turkey was supporting. However, these different opinions did not prevent them from sitting together and discussing further improvements for both countries.
The numerous media outlets that reported the news of the visit give us another clue on how important such meeting was. However, there was a buildup for it throughout the whole year. In January, the minister of state for foreign affairs in the UAE, Anwar Gargash, stated openly that the UAE has the desire to normalize relations with Turkey. Furthermore, there was the meeting between the Emirati National Security Advisor and Erdogan, where they discussed economic cooperation in the end of August. So, there has been a buildup for the big meeting the entire year, which raises for us the questions of what next to happen after all these years.
Examining the broader context of this meeting, we come to the result that both countries are benefiting from such cooperation. For the UAE, the reconciliation with Turkey is important and encouraging for various reasons. Since Turkey is suffering from multiple economic problems lately and the decline of the formal currency “the Turkish Lira,’’ it is a perfect chance for the UAE to buy massive assets in successful companies in Turkey. UAE might have played it in a way that when Turkey is back on its feet, the country’s money will be multiplied. So, it is a perfect chance to invest in the current state of Turkey.
Moreover, it is highly possible that the authority in the UAE had found out that pursing trade and utilizing relations with Turkey are much more effective than pursing political diplomacy. Given the fact that Turkey is currently one of the giants in the region, and two giants being friends rather than enemies is a step forward towards achieving a successful democracy.
Finally, Abu Dhabi can be preparing for a post-Erdogan period. Given the fact that there is a presidential election in Turkey, soon, Erdogan might lose his position. The UAE’s plan might be to create a financial clout in Ankara and create leverage. It is highly possible that these years are the last years for Erdogan, and planning for the period after is a politically smart move and high possible to be done from the UAE.
From the Turkish perspective, it was well known that the normalization of relations with the UAE and all Gulf countries are very welcomed. Regarding this point, In April, Ibrahim Kalin the Spokesman of the Turkish President, stated that Turkey welcomes good relations with the UAE. He hinted at the time for this meeting, and for a positive development. Turkey will benefit from this meeting especially in these times because of the depreciation of the lira. This economic downfall in Turkey is desperate for an urgent foreign investment and that is what the UAE have done.
The meeting details were mostly about economics and trade, as there was ten memorandums of understanding and agreements signed related to investment, finance, trade, energy, and the environment. The chairman of the Abu Dhabi development Holding set aside 10 billion dollars to invest in Turkey. So, it is expected to focus on economic cooperation with each other.
For the question of the future of Turkish relations with Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Turkey looks like it welcomes good relations with Saudi Arabia. However, it does not look like it is a mutual feeling. There are various reasons behind this, Firstly, the refusal of both sides to bypass the murder file of Saudi reporter Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi’s consulate in Istanbul. Secondly, the endeavors of Saudi Arabia to become a “superpower” in the region, and thinking that it does not need the alliance with Turkey. There is a clear clash between both authorities regarding this point.
Even though, there are clear improvements than the years before and the multiple initiatives for a Saudi-Turkey rapprochement to shift the balance of power in the region. Such thing cannot happen in the absence of personal engagement between the Saudi Crown Prince and the Turkish President and a meeting between them happening. Once they are on board with each other, the bilateral relation can come back.
Finally, let’s look at the Turkish-Qatar relations after the UAE reconciliation. Given the fact that even though Qatar has a wealthy economy, it does not outshine the UAE economy. However, it is expected that their relation will not be that much affected. Especially after the latest visit of the Turkish president on December 7th to the Qatari lands. Needles to mention, the Turkish military presence in Qatar means that their relation will not be affected as much, as that thing is no less critical than trade relations with the UAE.
In conclusion, there is a major change happening in the region, for a while. The UAE-Turkey agreement is a proof on how Turkey is changing its foreign policy towards the Arab Gulf countries, and how UAE is playing politics smartly. Erdogan highlighted this during his speech in Doha on December 7th where he said that “all Gulf countries are brothers to Turkey.” There is a shift in Turkey towards maintaining healthy relationship with all gulf countries. With the meeting between Erdogan and Mohammed bin Salman left and expected to be done, the region will be much more stable.