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Are Turkey–UAE Relations Reformable?

Al-Ula Declaration, signed in January between Qatar and Arab quartet countries, has marked the beginning of reshaping main alliances and centers of power in the Middle East. Most of the rifts between important countries in the region were cracked during the chaotic aftermath of the Arab Spring revolutions, which erupted ten years ago. Most of the tensions in relations between the main regional players were mostly due to Turkey’s support to political Islamist groups, which Arab countries viewed as a threat to their national security.

These days, Turkey is sincerely working on fixing ties with Arab countries, on several levels. Some of these relations are already developing in a positive direction, such as Turkey’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Egypt. However, the relationship between Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is still stuck in a tight corner.

Al-Ula Declaration was signed in January between Qatar and the Arab Quartet countries – Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain – who had previously decided to boycott Qatar diplomatically, politically, and economically. The Arab boycott of Qatar, in mid-2017, was justified by pressuring Qatar to end support to the Muslim Brotherhood group and the deliberate use of media in targeting the security and stability of the Arab quartet states. Since the signing of the Al-Ula Declaration, Qatar's relations with Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been quickly developing in a positive direction.

In Egypt, for example, Qatari investments have returned after they were frozen for years due to the boycott. Meanwhile, diplomatic and political meetings between senior officials in Egypt and Qatar are also returning to normal frequency. In April, the Egyptian President Al-Sisi had a phone call and received a message from the Qatari Prince Tamim, within only two weeks. This has not happened in more than six years.

Qatar, also, began to play a tangible role in converging views between Arab countries and Turkey, in an attempt to return the favor to Turkey. During the difficult years of the Arab boycott, Turkey provided great support to Qatar, especially on trade, political, and military levels. The Turkish support helped Qatar to avoid the isolation that Arab countries tried to impose. These days, Turkey is also facing political and military tensions with its European and Mediterranean neighbors. These tensions are putting great pressure on the domestic economy of Turkey. Reforming its relations with Arab countries is important for Turkey to avoid the political and economic isolation that Europe is trying to corner Turkey in.

On the flip side, Arab’s alliance with Turkey is crucial for the security and stability of the Middle East region, especially after the United States announced its decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq. Arab-Turkey alliance may also help with serving the economic interests of the countries of the region, as it will enable an uninterrupted and less complicated trade flow from Asia to Africa, Europe, and Eurasia regions.

The form in which Turkey's alliances with certain countries in the Arab region will determine the new centers of power in the Middle East, which will eventually have an impact on the future of Africa and Europe, as well. That is particularly true, given the fact that Egypt as the gateway to Africa, and Turkey as the gateway to Europe, are two indispensable parties within such alliances. It seems that the Egyptian-Turkish rapprochement, at present, will accelerate the formation of these alliances, especially since Turkey is already trying to fix ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

So far, Turkey has succeeded in attracting Egypt and Saudi Arabia to its side. However, the most difficult challenge for Turkey remains to restore positive relations with the UAE. Egypt and Saudi Arabia may not be able to establish permanent and stable relations with Turkey, if their third sister, UAE, is at odds with Turkey. Yet, the differences and disagreements between Turkey and the UAE are very intense. The Turkey-UAE disputes started more than eight years ago, because of Turkey's announced support for the Arab Spring revolutions and the fall of some Arab regimes as a result. UAE stood strongly against Arab Spring revolutions and this worsened its relations with its immediate neighbor Qatar, which supported the Muslim Brotherhood to replace falling dictatorships in Arab Spring countries.

As years went by, the UAE’s dispute with Qatar and Turkey developed into a serious conflict, highlighted by targeting the immediate interests of each other. The normal media war between the three countries grew into lobbying campaigns against each other in Washington and Brussels. In the past year, the immediate conflict between Turkey and UAE took a serious form as it extended to military threats and show of military power in the Mediterranean.

The phone call that the Turkish and Emirati foreign ministers had, in late April, aroused hope for easing the tensions and opening a new page in relations between the two countries. This is very important for the sustainability of the Arab-Turkey relations. The foreign minister's phone call coincided with H.E. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, visit to President El-Sisi in Cairo. There is no doubt that the topic of Egypt-Turkey reconciliation was at the heart of the issues discussed in this meeting.

But still, nothing can tell that UAE and Turkey are determined to fix their torn relations in the near future, and whether this is possible given UAE’s growing relations with Greece.


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