In August, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the National Security Advisor of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sheikh Tahnoun Bin Zayed met in Ankara. The meeting came as a surprise to most observers, as the relationship between Turkey and UAE has been tense, for years, over disagreements on regional issues, especially Libya and the Kurds on southern Turkish borders. As the two influential regional powers finally decided to sit together, will their cooperation, rather than confrontation, change the political dynamics that shaped the Middle East, over the past years?
During the Arab Gulf Crisis, which lasted from May 2017 to January 2021, Turkey chose to side with Qatar against the Arab quartet of UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt. Over four years, almost all involved parties in this Gulf fight used media tools to defame and discredit each other. Some observers claim that the UAE supported Turkish opposition parties and politicians to push the Turkish public opinion against the current political leadership. Despite this strong rivalry, Turkey and UAE decided, almost overnight, to sit and talk, last month. How this happened? Why now? Will this affect the relationship between Turkey and Qatar, in the future? Who is going to benefit or suffer from such convergence?
On one hand, Turkey is expected to benefit from cooperation with UAE. At least, several hanging regional disagreements between the two parties could now be openly discussed and hopefully settled. Also, this cooperation may participate in salvaging Turkey from its economic troubles; ranging from the severe drop of lira to the state spending on the consequences of the recent forest fires emergency. That could improve the position of the ruling party in the eyes of the public citizens, as the next general elections are already approaching. By ending years of confrontation with UAE, Turkey will at least mute the harm afflicted and activate an opportunity for UAE’s investments inside Turkey to refreshen state treasury, and allow the lira to recover.
After the meeting with UAE’s National Security Advisor, Turkish President Erdogan said that "Turkey and the UAE have made progress in their relationship," indicating that he may have a meeting with UAE’s President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed, to follow up on UAE’s promise to pour large financial deposits into the Turkish state treasury. Despite the tense relationship between Turkey and UAE, the trade exchange between the two countries maintained its level. At certain times, it even outperformed the trade volume between Qatar and Turkey, in spite of their good relationship. Turkey and UAE reconciliation is expected to further improve the economic relationship between them.
On the other hand, the UAE is also expected to benefit greatly from fixing its turbulent relationship with Turkey. Turkey and UAE are key players in most of the boiling conflicts all over the Middle East, Africa, and also Afghanistan. Cooperation between Turkey and UAE on these conflicts may expedite the processing of the unsettled files between them. The Emirati academic, Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Tarifi, commented on this by noting that “the UAE and Turkey are on the right track and that there must be a state of balance in the Gulf Cooperation Council region to combat the external threat."
In addition, the UAE has found in Turkey the perfect partner to compensate for their failure of maximally benefiting from normalizing relations with Israel, last year. The UAE, too, has an economic setback to worry about, especially after the recent sharp drop in oil prices. To resolve this situation, UAE needs to balance its relationships with regional and international powers. Turkey is a gateway to the European market that the UAE can use to expand its economic opportunities outside its borders and beyond the Middle East region. A good relationship with Turkey means faster progress for UAE on its endeavors to diversify its sources of income.
Finally, two question many observers have been asking since the meeting between Erdogan and Tahnoun; what about Qatar? And, what about the Muslim Brotherhood? The political and economic competition between UAE and Qatar is old and deep. This means they may get back to conflicting with each other again in the future. Also, the UAE and Turkey adopt strong opposite positions towards the Muslim Brotherhood. While Turkey supports and protects the group, UAE has been fighting against them worldwide. Most probably, the rapprochement between Turkey and UAE will not affect the relationship between Qatar and Turkey, in the time being. But, if a successful reconciliation is reached between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, that may represent a strong blow to Qatar. It will also be a strong blow to the Muslim Brotherhood.
In conclusion, the meeting between Turkish President Erdogan and UAE’s Sheikh Tanoun proved that states are more pragmatic than their people. Economic interests are playing a great role in reshaping the relationship between Ankara and Abu Dhabi despite all their political differences and regional rivalry. In no time, both countries managed to put aside their political and military fights and seek reconciliation for their common interest. A meeting like this promises stability for the region.