News Middle East Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Gulf, the triumph of realpolitik

Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Gulf, the triumph of realpolitik

Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Gulf, the triumph of realpolitik

Recep Tayyip Erdogan concluded a three-day visit to the Gulf on Wednesday. In Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the Turkish president has concluded a series of trade agreements and signed a rapprochement with these petromonarchies with which he has had tense relations for years, against a backdrop of economic crisis in Turkey.

Smiles, hugs and the signing of big contracts: after three days in the Arabian Peninsula, the hatchet seems to be buried between Turkey and the petro-monarchies. The years of estrangement and conflict are no longer relevant, realpolitik has won. Driven by the necessities of an economy, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has chosen reconciliation with his former Arab enemies.

The stated objectives of this tour for the Turkish president: to strengthen commercial ties with the Gulf countries, and above all to attract investment to Turkey. The Turkish economy is indeed in crisis, and inflation continues to be high, although it slowed in June to 38.2 % over one year, its lowest level in eighteen months, according to official data published in early July. Ankara is also fighting against the devaluation of its currency against the dollar.

One of the stages of this tour was particularly awaited. Saudi Arabia, and more precisely Jeddah, on the shores of the Red Sea. President Erdogan met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – nicknamed MBS – there, the de facto ruler of the Wahhabi kingdom. An important sequence in the context of a Turkish-Saudi rapprochement initiated several months ago. A rapprochement far from certain, occurring after a period of strong tension between the two countries.

The disputes between the two States relate to President Erdogan’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood – hated and considered a terrorist organization by Riyadh –, the race for leadership of the Sunni world, and also divergent positions on, for example, the conflicts in Libya and Syria.

But the most burning issue stay undoubtedly the tragic assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. The latter worked at the Washington Post and was a critic of Saudi power. Recep Tayyip Erdogan then castigated the responsibility of the Saudis, and that of the crown prince had been pointed out by experts from the United Nations and the CIA. Saudi Arabia, however, has always denied ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Reconciliation with Saudi Arabia

The year 2022 will have been that of appeasement and rapprochement between Turkey and its Saudi regional rival. At the end of April, President Erdogan visited Saudi Arabia and met Crown Prince MBS there. Some three weeks earlier, Turkish justice had returned the file concerning Jamal Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia. In June, Mohammed bin Salman visited Ankara.

The Turkish-Saudi rapprochement has also been reflected at the economic level, with in particular a deposit, in March 2023 – two months before the Turkish presidential and legislative elections – of five billion dollars at the Turkish central bank in order to help the country’s economy. Remember that a few weeks earlier, Turkey and Syria had been hit by a deadly earthquake which claimed more than 50,000 lives. In both countries, the majority of them in Turkiye.

“There is on the part of Erdogan the desire for a rapprochement” with Saudi Arabia “essentially for economic reasons”, explains David Rigoulet-Roze, editor-in-chief of the journal “Orients Strategiques”, and associate researcher at the Institute of international and strategic relations (Iris). He argues that the Turkish president wants to “consolidate his re-election by improving the economic situation” recalling that “the success of the AKP was based on Turkey’s economic growth during the decade 2000-2010 and the constitution of a Muslim middle class.”

For the specialist, the rapprochement between Turkey and Saudi Arabia “closes a very turbulent sequence since the beginnings of the Arab spring because Turkey has supported the movement of the Muslim Brotherhood, A nightmare of Saudi Arabia and even more of the United Arab Emirates”.

“Erdogan takes note of the fact that this sequence of support for the ‘brotherhood’ movement in favor of the Arab spring is coming to an end. Without explicit denial, he feels the need to renew links, in particular economic ones, with these regional partners which are the petro-monarchies of the Gulf”, explains David Rigoulet-Roze.

On the Saudi side, the researcher believes that the rapprochement with Turkey also allows Mohammed ben Salmane “snubbed by Westerners” after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi “to show that he is developing a performative diplomacy, in particular by getting closer to the one who had dedicated him to the scorn”.

Sale of Turkish drones, the “empowerment” of Riyadh

During his visit to Jeddah on Monday July 17, 2023, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, among other things, obtained the signing of contracts for the sale of Turkish drones to Saudi Arabia. Neither the name of the drones nor the amount of the agreements signed were given.

On Twitter, Saudi Defense Minister Khaled bin Salman said that “two acquisition contracts have been signed” between the Saudi Ministry of Defense and the company BaykarTech under which Saudi Arabia “will acquire drones, with the aim of improving the readiness of the Kingdom’s armed forces and strengthening its defense and manufacturing capabilities”.

In another tweet, the CEO of BaykarTech, Haluk Bayraktar, refers to the “largest export contract in the field of defense and aviation in the history of the Republic of Turkey”. Note that BaykarTech is the company that manufactures the Bayraktar TB2 drone, flagship of the Turkish military industry..

Read alsoErdogan’s tour of the Gulf: the Turkish president has signed several agreements with MBS

Regarding the drones that the Saudis are preparing to acquire, “it would be the TB2 Bayraktar”, indicates David Rigoulet-Roze. He recalls that “the TB2 Bayraktar made a kind ofshow of strength in Ukraine, since it was bought massively by the Ukrainians and was very effective at the beginning of the war”. For him, the fact that Saudi Arabia do the acquisition of Turkish drones, “it is also the sign on the part of MBS of a form of autonomy in relation to its historical military suppliers, in this case, the United States”.

Qatar, Ankara’s best Arab ally

Second leg of the Turkish President’s tour of the Gulf: Qatar. President Erdogan was received in Doha by Emir Tamim beh Hamad al-Thani. Qatar has been one of Turkey’s great Arab allies for several years. It is for example in this small gas state that Turkey’s first permanent military base was opened outside its borders, in 2014. Turkey had also supported the emirate in the face of the blockade put in place by Saudi Arabia and other Arab States in June 2017. An episode that has been called the “Gulf crisis”.

An image that no doubt illustrates the closeness between the two leaders, the conservative Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak relayed a scene showing the Emir Tamim beh Hamad al-Thani handing President Erdogan the ball for the World Cup final which was played in Qatar last year. Certainly knowing that the Turkish president is a football fan, who dreamed of becoming a professional footballer during his youth.

In the Emirates, agreements worth more than 50 billion dollars

Finally, the last stop on the Turkish president’s tour: the United Arab Emirates, another regional power with which Turkey has been at odds for many years. Just like with Riyadh, a rapprochement between Ankara and Abu Dhabi was in progress for many months. He To However started before the one carried out with Saudi Arabia, in 2021.

“When he came to Ankara on November 24, 2021, Mohammed bin Zayed (then Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, editor’s note) announced nearly 10 billion in investments, which could only please Erdogan. February 22, 2022.”, recalls David Rigoulet-Roze.

On Wednesday July 19, after being received by Mohammed bin Zayed – nicknamed MBZ, and who became Emirati president – ​​the two countries signed a series of agreements and protocols worth an estimated amount of more than 50 billion dollars, according to the official Emirati news agency WAM.

For David Rigoulet-Roze, the Emirati rapprochement with Turkey has above all a regional goal. ‘From MBZ’s perspective, it’s all about fostering’a development environment in the words of Anwar Gargash, MBZ’s diplomatic adviser, aimed at ensuring stability and prosperity in the region”.

An objective that would now be shared by Turkey. ATAt the regional level, “there are economic opportunities expected” from President Erdogan, but also a “form of stabilization is sought”, says the researcher.

Source: France 24

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