Erdogan’s visit to UAE confirms change in relations and aid to Turkish economy

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Abu Dhabi as part of his visit to the United Arab Emirates on February 14, 2022 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Presidential Press Office | dia images via Getty Images

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in the United Arab Emirates to a warm welcome this week, praising the renewed ties between the two regional powers after years of proxy competition, unofficial boycotts and accusations acrimonious.

Erdogan and the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, former adversaries, signed some 13 agreements in the fields of defence, trade, technology, agriculture and others sectors, as well as significant investment commitments from the United Arab Emirates. Dubai’s iconic Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, was lit up with the colors of the Turkish flag and the words “Hos Geldiniz”, Turkish for “welcome”.

Just over a year earlier, Dubai-Istanbul flights had been suspended for months and Turkish state news websites were inaccessible from the UAE without a VPN.

“During this visit, we aim to build on the momentum we have harnessed with the UAE and take all necessary steps to return relations to the level they deserve,” Ergodan told local media on Monday. , ahead of a visit to Expo Dubai on Tuesday. “Dialogue and cooperation between Turkey and the United Arab Emirates is of great importance for peace and stability in our entire region.”

Former UAE Foreign Minister and Presidential Advisor Anwar Gargash tweeted: “President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to the UAE…opens a new positive page in bilateral relations between the two countries.”

Less than two years earlier, in a 2020 interview, Gargash called on Europe to join forces against what he called Erdogan’s attempt “to revive the Ottoman Empire”.

Years of acrimony

The decision to reconcile is a big deal.

For years, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have been pitted against each other in regional conflicts due to deeply conflicting ideologies. In the years following the Arab Spring, Erdogan and his pro-Muslim Brotherhood AK party have supported Islamic political movements in many countries, which is seen as a threat to Gulf monarchies like the United Arab Emirates.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the media after a cabinet meeting in Ankara, Turkey, December 8, 2021.

Murat Cetinmuhurdar | Reuters

In their competition for regional influence, Ankara and Abu Dhabi have backed opposing sides in Libya’s bloody civil war, which has now turned into a stalemate. Turkey has violently opposed the blockade that the UAE and other Gulf states imposed on Qatar from 2017 to 2021, and Erdogan previously accused the UAE of funding the coup attempt Turkey’s military in 2016.

“Less threatening than before”

A number of key factors have led to the recent change.

“The most important factor is the collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood project in the Arab world, which has been the main basis for tensions between Turkey and the United Arab Emirates over the past decade,” said researcher Hussein Ibish. principal at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. .

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan met on February 14, 2022 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Photo by Presidential Press Office via dia images via Getty Images

Indeed, the political power of the Muslim Brotherhood, which only really remained in Tunisia, Libya, Gaza and parts of Yemen, was considerably impoverished last year with a coup in Tunisia and a indefinite constitutional suspension in Libya.

Turkey was seen in the UAE “as a leader, in cooperation with Qatar, of a potential network of Sunni Islamists across the region that could rival or even surpass Iran’s network of armed Shiite gangs in the neighboring Arabs,” Ibish said. “But that didn’t emerge. Instead, the Brotherhood all but collapsed as a viable political project, so Turkey looks far less threatening than before.”

The administration of US President Joe Biden, which has signaled that it is no longer giving carte blanche to its Gulf allies, is likely another factor. But the economic needs and the apparent withdrawal of the two countries from regional conflicts in favor of diplomacy and trade relations are more evident.

“I think on both sides we are seeing the re-emergence of pragmatism after years of confrontation and adventurism in the Trump era,” said Ryan Bohl, Middle East and Africa analyst at Rane Risk Intelligence. . “It’s partly because there’s a new [U.S.] the presidential administration, but I think most of it is driven by their own changing imperatives caused by the pandemic. »

money talks

Turkey’s economy is in crisis, with inflation at 48.7% and its national currency, the lira, having lost around 48% of its value last year. Meanwhile, the UAE has pushed to further diversify its economy away from oil and rebound from the economic hit of Covid-19.

“The UAE is looking to invest money. Turkey needs invested money. It’s a natural fit,” Ibish said. And the timing means the Emiratis are in for a bargain, thanks to the low price of the lira.

In January, Abu Dhabi’s public investment vehicle, the ADQ, pledged $10 billion in investment in Turkey, saying it was the “right time” to buy with the significantly weakened currency and that he took a “long-term view”. And during a visit by Mohammed bin Zayed to Ankara in November, the first in many years, the ADQ and Turkish investment agencies and firms signed memorandums of understanding worth billions of dollars. in sectors such as energy, technology and logistics.

“For the UAE, Turkey is becoming a major new conduit to new markets in Asia, and particularly in Africa,” Ibish said. “Turkey also offers entry into certain commercial areas and Turkish real estate is potentially a bargain, if all goes well.”

Iran and Israel

Turkey is also seeking to renew ties with Israel, officially a friend of the United Arab Emirates since the announcement of the Abraham Accords in August 2020. Israeli President Isaac Herzog is due to make an official visit to Turkey in March, despite the fact that the Turkey in 2020 threatened to sever ties with the United Arab Emirates over its normalization deal with Israel.

The rapprochement comes amid heightened tensions in the region as Iran’s nuclear development advances and following a series of drone and missile attacks on the UAE, mostly claimed by rebels. Houthis from Yemen, who are supported by Iran.

“The new American administration and the policy of Western countries towards Iran, and Turkey’s new diplomatic approach towards Israel … are some of the reasons for this new page” in the relations, said to CNBC a former Turkish diplomat with experience in the Gulf, speaking anonymously due to professional constraints.

“For the Turkish side, the increase in economic and trade relations will be very important. On the side of the United Arab Emirates, [having] Turkey as a trusted ally vis-a-vis Iran will be the advantage,” the diplomat said.

Yet the coalescence of mutual interests does not mean that the ideological differences between the two countries have been resolved.

“At the moment, it looks like both sides are nursing their wounds and reassuring themselves because the costs of the showdown have become higher and higher for them,” Rane’s Bohl said. “But that does not mean that they have reached substantial agreements and therefore conflicts and competition may one day return.”

In the meantime, it is time for all countries that are “overwhelmed” in the regional fight “to take a break from confrontation”, Ibish said, “that is, diplomacy, politics and trade as a means secure their interests and project their influence”.

Sharon P. Juarez