The beginning of the developments known as the Islamic Awakening and the Arab Spring in late 2010 and the subsequent developments caused a deep rift between the countries of the region and the redefinition of alliances and coalitions. In fact, because some countries evaluated the developments in countries such as Libya, Egypt, Syria and Yemen in line with their interests, they supported it, and some other countries, because they had different assessments, opposed the developments.
As a result, conflicts of interests between regional countries were inevitable. Turkey played a very active role in this field and, by supporting the development process, imagined that the necessary ground had been prepared to use and exploit the developments to its own advantage and in line with strengthening Ankara’s regional position.
Turkey practically defined its policy by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and its branches in countries involved in political developments and crises. Such a position by Turkey was accompanied by one of the richest countries of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC), that is to say Qatar and its famous television network, Al Jazeera. In implementing this policy, Ankara not only did not suffice to support the Brotherhood’s currents in Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and to some extent Yemen, politically and militarily, but also explicitly and openly opposed countries against the Brotherhood.
The positions adopted by Ankara and Qatar was opposed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates from the very beginning. Although they supported the removal of the heads of state such as Muammar Gaddafi in Libya or Bashar Assad in Syria, they did not want the Brotherhood to take power in the Arab world.
In fact, they saw the rise of a revolutionary movement such as the Muslim Brotherhood in conflict with the conservative spirit and nature of their policies, and assessed it as a challenge to their national security. For this reason, they did not sit idle and took practical actions.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia supported an army coup against Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian President of the Brotherhood, in 2013 and, unlike Turkey, immediately recognized the government of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Saudi Arabia and the UAE also supported the secular movement in Libya and provided political and military support to Khalifa Haftar.
In Yemen, too, the two countries launched wars against reformist currents such as the Houthis and branches of the Brotherhood. In Syria, despite Turkey’s high interests with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the two Arab states refused to support extremist Islamic factions and gradually moved closer to the United States, supporting a Kurdish-Arab alliance east of the Euphrates which Turkey strongly opposed.
The dispute between Turkey and the UAE escalated when Ankara accused the UAE of supporting the 2016 summer coup against Erdogan. Also, following the siege of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and its allies such as the United Arab Emirates in 2017, Turkey announced its political-military support for Qatar, which itself further strained relations between Turkey and the Arab countries bordering the Persian Gulf. Tensions between Riyadh and Ankara escalated following the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 and Turkey’s use of it against the reputation of the Saudi family and Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman himself.
The above-mentioned series of developments, which clouded Turkey’s relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, is fading today, and this factor has paved the way for the resumption of relations between the two sides. In fact, the severe repression of the Brotherhood in Egypt has completely discouraged Turkey from their gaining power; therefore, contrary to initial assessments, not only the Brotherhood did not succeed in the developments of the Islamic Awakening, but their position has become much weaker than before the 2011 developments.
This factor has made the UAE and Saudi Arabia no longer have the same concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition, Erdogan’s position has become much stronger since the 2016 coup, and he is no longer concerned about the coup and the policies of the coup supporters.
Meanwhile, not only has the siege of Qatar ended, but Qatar and other PGCC countries have moved towards de-escalating and normalizing relations with each other.
In addition, sensitivities about Khashoggi’s murder are over and there is nothing left for Turkey to take advantage of; therefore, it should be said that the main reason for the normalization of Turkey’s relations with the UAE and Saudi Arabia is primarily political; because the series of developments that caused tension in their relations became completely ineffective today, and the political ground has been prepared for the normalization of relations between them. In this regard, two other factors can be mentioned.
The first factor is the new policies of the UAE, which seeks to normalize relations with all countries. Not only has the country withdrawn from the war in Yemen, but it has also pursued a policy of normalizing relations with Qatar, Iran, Syria and Turkey, and intends to focus solely on the comprehensive development of the country.
The second factor is the constant pragmatism in Turkish foreign policy, which can change 180 degrees when necessary. This pragmatism prompted Turkey to normalize relations with Israel, Egypt, and the Persian Gulf states following Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election and for the fear of US sanctions. This pragmatism can help prevent the escalation of the economic crisis in Turkey.
In conclusion, it should be said that the main reason for the normalization of relations between those countries is political factors that can have positive economic consequences for the parties. The fact is that the costly crises in the Middle East have caused various countries to try to distance themselves from further involvement in those crises, and Turkey, along with Saudi Arabia, and especially the UAE, is among those countries.