An Analysis on Revival of Turkish-UAE Relations

2022/06/19 | Note, political, top news

Strategic Council Online - Guest Opinion: After a decade of cold relations, Turkey and the UAE are on the path to reviving bilateral relations. This new trend began in 2021 with a series of high-level diplomatic meetings and contacts, culminating in Mohamed bin Zayed’s November visit to Ankara. Recently, Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Abu Dhabi to offer condolences on the death of Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The trip also saw the signing of more than 10 agreements between the two countries, including a defense industry cooperation agreement. Seyed Hamed Hosseini - PhD student in international relations Motivations

Although the UAE and Saudi Arabia are aligned on many regional issues, the UAE is looking for new allies amid growing regional rivalry with Saudi Arabia. Riyadh wants to overtake Abu Dhabi as the trading hub of the Persian Gulf, while the UAE is challenging Saudi Arabia’s true leadership in the region. Turkey remains an important power in the Persian Gulf, despite tensions after Arab Spring with its neighbors, especially given its close alliance and military base in Qatar and security cooperation with Kuwait. For those reasons, Ankara has become an attractive potential partner for Abu Dhabi, as Abu Dhabi seeks to create an alternative axis. Those efforts for normalization is taking place in view of the consequences of the US military withdrawal from the region, which can be seen in Turkey’s recent diplomatic actions with regard to the Zionist regime.

Because from Turkey’s point of view, the growing focus on hard power to achieve its foreign policy objectives has isolated the country since the Arab Spring, and the UAE has close relations with Turkey’s close neighbors such as Greece and the Republic of Cyprus, Egypt and the Zionist regime, proximity to Abu Dhabi could be the first step towards normalization with its neighbors, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, which includes Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, the Zionist regime, Italy and Jordan.

Another point is that Qatar is Turkey’s closest Arab ally. Since the end of the Saudi-led siege of Doha in early 2021, Qatar has been normalizing relations with the Persian Gulf countries, especially Turkey’s main regional rival, Saudi Arabia. Despite Turkey’s ideological and security alignment with Qatar, Turkey has a key interest in expanding its ties in the Persian Gulf, which is visible in Erdogan’s visit to Saudi Arabia after years of strained relations with the assassination of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

The deteriorating economic situation in Turkey may also have been a factor in changing Turkey’s approach to the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf. Given that the Turkish lira is experiencing its sharpest devaluation this year since Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party came to power in 2002, such proximity could be an attempt to maintain and strengthen capital inflows into the Turkish economy. Turkey and the UAE signed 10 memorandum of understanding in which the UAE promised to invest 10 billion dollars in Turkey; the news which was welcomed by some but criticized by others as a cheap seizure of Turkish assets. Such normalization is certainly in the interest of the UAE, which wants to open a trade route to the Turkish port of Mersin through Iran, enter the Turkish market for economic diversification, and improve its financial capacity through agreements with the Central Bank and Istanbul Stock Exchange.

Reciprocal steps

Since the beginning of the resumption talks, the two sides have made significant efforts to build trust, and Turkey has lifted the ban on WAM and Al-Ain News agencies. The United Arab Emirates has also taken retaliatory measures by lifting bans on Anatolia (Anadolu) and other pro-Turkish news agencies. In addition, media organizations in both countries that have close ties to their respective governments have changed their tone from criticism, accusation, and even defamation to cooperation and agreement.

The UAE also blocked internet access for, who had previously released videos claiming to have exposed the illegal transactions of Turkish officials and politicians, which had been seen by millions in Turkey. Interpol, now run by former UAE Interior Ministry Inspector General Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi, issued a red notice to arrest Packer two weeks before Erdogan’s visit.

Obstacles

Turkey and the UAE continue to compete in Libya, Syria and parts of Africa, which could pose challenges for their future bilateral relations. For example, the UAE supports General Khalifa Haftar, while Turkey supports the Tripoli-based National Unity Government, which is recognized by the United Nations. The UAE has also established ties with the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while Turkish forces continue to control parts of northern Syria. However, after the compromise, Turkey and the UAE may refuse to make direct accusations against each other and instead continue their relations in the same way that Turkey cooperates with Russia despite a number of differences.

In addition, the proximity of the UAE with Turkey is a diplomatic initiative that goes beyond bilateral relations. While this initiative is important for the balance of power within the Persian Gulf, it also has direct consequences for US policy, as both Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have played a significant role in regional affairs; therefore, normalization of relations between the two allies facilitates the calculations of the United States in the region, as it does not have to prefer one ally to another. Abu Dhabi and Ankara will have a greater role in the Middle East as the United States reduces its involvement in the region, and reviving their relations could lead to better cooperation. On the other hand, since the UAE and the Zionist regime recognize each other and are building an alliance, Turkey’s rapprochement with those two actors creates an opportunity for the United States, because all of those countries are partners of the United States.

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