Will Turkey and the UAE shape the future of the Middle East together?

Will Turkey and the UAE shape the future of the Middle East together?

 Will Turkey and the UAE shape the future of the Middle East together?

UAE greets Erdogan warmly

Turkey’s red flag illuminated buildings in the United Arab Emirates and flew high in a ceremony in Dubai on Tuesday as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spent a second day in the once adversarial country mending relations and deepening commercial ties.

The pomp and Turkish flag-waving cavalry that greeted Erdogan a day earlier for his meeting with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and de facto leader, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, continued on in Dubai, which positions itself as the UAE’s globally alluring tourism and finance hub.

Erdogan was greeted by Dubai ruler and UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum at the emirate’s multibillion-dollar Expo site to celebrate Turkish culture and history at the World’s Fair. Visitors at Expo were given Turkey’s red and white crescent-and-star flag to wave as Erdogan toured Turkey’s pavilion following a Turkish musical performance under the fair’s main dome. Standing before a select audience, Erdogan praised the UAE for being the first Arab country to host the World’s Fair.

Senior Emirati diplomat and advisor, Anwar Gargash, noted on Twitter that the warm reception Erdogan has received is a result of the “fruits of the hard work undertaken by the UAE to promote an agenda of stability and prosperity.”

The reset in ties was undertaken by the UAE following a Saudi-led rollback last year of an unprecedented and largely unsuccessful embargo of Qatar over its support for Islamists in the region and its ties with Iran. Qatar was supported by Turkey, which beefed up its troop presence in the country. Like Iran, Turkey rushed to support the tiny but wealthy gas-rich Gulf Arab state with essential imports in the first days of the economic and political boycott.

The rebuilding of ties with Turkey signals a wider UAE strategy to use economic cooperation, and its oil wealth, as a main tool to recalibrate its foreign policy posture, particularly in the face of continued tensions with Iran and a new administration in Washington seeking to re-enter nuclear talks.

For Erdogan, it comes as Turkey faces an economic crisis and a depreciating currency. Help could come in the form of more Gulf Arab tourists. Dubai’s low-cost carrier flydubai announcing Tuesday it would expand the number of flights to Istanbul from seven to 12 per week.

UAE Turkey agreements

The UAE and Turkey signed 13 cooperation agreements covering various sectors including defense and trade, during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s meeting with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Turkish state news agency Anadolu reported on Monday.

The signed agreements covered the following sectors: defense, health, climate change, industry, technology, culture, agriculture, trade, economy, youth, transportation, disaster management, meteorology, communication, and archive, according to Anadolu.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lauded his country’s investment advantages to business people in the United Arab Emirates as the two countries seek to build economic bridges after years of animosity.

“Our mutual goal is to carry our bilateral relations to much higher levels in all areas,” he told a business event on Tuesday. “Turkey provides very important advantages for investors looking for alternatives to Asia-centred production areas.”

Erdogan said the UAE is Turkey’s prominent trade partner in the Gulf region, and trade volume and buoyancy in private sector partnership were maintained even during a period of tense relations.

“I believe that we will make significant progress in a short time,” he said. “The UAE offers financial support and favourable investment opportunities to high-tech companies and startups. Turkey, with its dynamic and young population, is leading new global initiatives that develop advanced technology.”

On Monday, the UAE and Turkey signed a joint statement on starting negotiations for a bilateral trade and investment deal as well as several agreements, including on defence, according to state media. This follows investment accords worth $10bn signed when Sheikh Mohammed visited Turkey last November.

As the region’s trade and tourism hub, the UAE has said it wants to manage long-running differences with Turkey and Iran as it doubles down on economic growth after the pandemic.

“The UAE sees economic and developmental cooperation … as a key tool in wisely managing various issues to rid our region of continuous escalation,” Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the UAE president, said in a Twitter post on Erdogan’s visit to the country.

Erdogan also visited the Turkish pavilion at Expo 2020 in Dubai, where Turkey’s National Day was celebrated and met the city’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Incentives for reconciliation and the  path forward

The UAE and Turkey just a few months ago appeared to be on an unreconcilable path geopolitically, after several years of intense geopolitical rivalries, and supporting rival factions in Libya and the UAE strengthening military ties with Greece, Turkey’s neighbor with which it has tensions. The UAE has also been critical of Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, while Turkey frowned upon the Gulf state’s normalization of ties with Israel. Nevertheless, it appears that none of these divergences were large enough to keep the two ambitious and increasingly independent countries from reconciliation.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia’s normalization of ties with Qatar, Turkey’s strongest ally in the region, Turkey’s normalization talks with Egypt, and Turkey’s increasing openness to developing ties with Israel are all key factors in the facilitation of this step. However, perhaps the most important factor from the UAE’s perspective is the US’s step back from relations with the Gulf states, and the corresponding increasing Houthi threat to the UAE. The UAE needs a strong regional partner to counter the Iranian threat, and Turkey has proven to increasingly be a military giant in the region. The UAE also sees Turkey’s increasing geopolitical significance as undeniable and thus sees developing ties with the country as in its best interest. From Turkey’s side the UAE presents a vital economic partner that could help revive and grow its own economy after a rough period in recent years with the Lira dropping to its lowest in years and inflation rising high. Despite this, the UAE sees economic potential in investment in Turkey, as Turkey’s exports are reaching new highs, and investment in the country is rising.

With the main sources of tension on foreign battlefields effectively played out, and the ideological and ideational struggle over Islamism similarly resolved, at least for the time being, the main grounds for mutual suspicion no longer pose serious barriers to cooperation. Since the UAE and Turkey are among the overextended regional powers pursuing retrenchment and consolidation, seeking avenues of mutual benefit is logical and, it appears, not particularly difficult. Ankara gets to access important financial support at a time of need and a chance to pull back from some of its seemingly endless tensions and quarrels with neighbors. And Abu Dhabi can access important new investments and markets at advantageous prices while, perhaps, attempting to use investment and infrastructure to provide Turkey with positive incentives to moderate any possible future regional assertion.


Hazem Zahab

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