UAE sees potential in new ties with Turkey

The new relationship between the UAE and Turkey has major potential for the region.

 Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, November 27, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS)
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, November 27, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS)

The United Arab Emirates could see a “quantum leap in the relations of the UAE and Turkey,” Al-Ain media reported in the UAE on Monday. It could open a “new page,” said Turkey’s Anadolu media. Both reports indicate the governments’ official line on the important visit by Turkey’s president this week to the UAE.

This is because Turkey’s leading AKP Party and its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had in the past been harshly critical of the UAE. This even culminated in Turkey threatening to break relations with the UAE over the Abraham Accords. Turkey didn’t want the UAE and Israel to make peace. Now Turkey appears to be seeking out Abu Dhabi’s friendship.
The move comes as Turkey has felt isolated after former US President Donald Trump left office. During the Trump era, the AKP Party had close allies and lobbyists in Washington who had influence in the administration. Erdogan and Trump spoke often on the phone. Turkey felt empowered and began to threaten all of the countries in the Middle East. It embarked on a program of renditions and kidnapping dissidents abroad. It also took Syrian refugees and paid them to be mercenaries in Libya.
It recruited Syrians to extremist groups and unleashed them to ethnically cleanse areas in Syria, targeting the Kurdish and Yazidi minorities and Christians. All of this received a green light from the former US administration, including the invasion of Afrin and Tel Abyad. Turkey attempted to interfere in US elections, and its media was harshly critical of then-candidate Joe Biden.
With Biden in power, Turkey has shifted radically from confrontation to reconciliation, putting out claims it will reconcile with Egypt, Israel and the Gulf. It continues to have difficult relations with Greece but has backed down on its naval harassment of the country that was common in 2020.
 A MAN waves a giant UAE flag  outside the US ambassador’s  residence in Jerusalem, August 19,  2020. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) A MAN waves a giant UAE flag outside the US ambassador’s residence in Jerusalem, August 19, 2020. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Now, the UAE also sees a silver lining to the new relationship. One article from Al-Ain media argued, “Erdogan’s visit is a new station on the road to strengthening relations between the two countries, as it is expected to contribute to enhancing the volume of trade between the two countries, opening the way for new investments, in addition to supporting security, stability and peace and enhancing regional prosperity.”
That is a big menu of things that are set to change if this visit goes off as planned. How did this come about?The report says that Erdogan arrived in the UAE on Monday and that the visit comes after the “historic visit of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to Turkey in November.”
Erdogan has said that he looks forward to a new era of friendship that will last some 50 years. During the UAE leader’s visit to Turkey, “the foundations and rules were laid to start a new phase of partnership and promising relations between the two countries, in the interest of supporting the security and stability of the region and achieving prosperity and development for the two countries.”
The expected summit between Al Nahyan and Erdogan during the visit is the second in three months, while the talks that will take place during the same period will be the fourth, after they had phone talks in early December and February 8, the report says. The two visits represent the desire by the countries to work together. Turkey will also showcase its section of the Expo 2020 Dubai.
Erdogan’s visit to the UAE is his first outside the country after recovering from COVID-19, the report says. Turkey seems to want to accelerate the pace of rapprochement and cooperation with the UAE. This is a big shift since Turkey is also close to Qatar and together they have mobilized lobbies in the West, as well as willing media that collaborate with them, to push anti-UAE stories over the years.

THERE ARE groups that have emerged that are allegedly backed by Qatar to push “human rights concerns” regarding the UAE. Media backed by Qatar and Turkey have often slandered the UAE over the last several years. Now the shift is coming and it appears all criticism has stopped. The people paid to lobby against the UAE may also be getting the message to stop pitching op-eds to Western media slamming the UAE.

For the last several years, one message being spread was that the UAE was “authoritarian” in contrast to Turkey’s support of “democracy” in the region. This was largely a nonsensical narrative because Turkey is run by an authoritarian regime and has arrested journalists and dissidents. Nevertheless, this was a narrative pushed in the West to try to harm the UAE’s reputation. Now this propaganda may be reduced as Ankara shifts its media and quietly tells its friends in the West to quiet down.
The historic visit is being praised widely in the UAE. There are new agreements and memorandums of understanding between the countries. Al-Ain said that these agreements include “the UAE’s announcement of the establishment of a $10 billion fund to support investments in Turkey.” Turkey desperately needs the money because its economy has been in shambles in recent years and its currency has weakened.
“Soon, the results of that visit were translated into reality, and the two countries started a new page in relations,” the report says. Many positive signs have been seen in the relations, including statements from the ambassadorial level about the strengthening of bilateral relations in various fields that unite the two countries.
There has also been talk between the speaker of Turkey’s parliament who also visited the UAE and met his counterpart. Reports say that Tugay Tuncer, the Turkish ambassador to the UAE, also held several meetings in more than one field to enhance cooperation between the two sides.
Mohammed bin Ahmed Al Bowardi, UAE Minister of State for Defense Affairs, received him in his office at the Ministry of Defense, Al-Ain says.
“During the meeting, they discussed ways to develop defense and military cooperation relations to serve the common interests of the two countries.”
It looks like the countries are now moving full speed ahead, and there haven’t been any major hurdles in the reconciliation. Turkey’s Anadolu media noted that Anwar Gargash said on Twitter that Erdogan’s visit to the UAE, “opens a new positive page in bilateral relations between the two countries.”
Gargash said the visit “is in line with the UAE’s direction toward strengthening bridges of communication and cooperation aimed at stability and prosperity in the region.” Ahead of the visit, the Turkish flag and the word “Welcome” in Turkish were projected onto the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the UAE, Turkish media said. Turkey is proud of the warm welcome for their president, the reports say.
The new relationship between the UAE and Turkey holds major potential for the region. With the history of Turkey’s threats now shifting to reconciliation, there are many things that could happen. This could help resolve the Libya crisis, where Turkey and the UAE were on opposite sides. It could also be tied to Turkey’s ruling party's desire to reconcile with Israel, a narrative Turkish media has pushed. As with the UAE, Turkey has been a harsh critic of Israel.
Turkey’s leader even compared Israel to Nazi Germany at the UN and Turkey has backed Hamas extremists. The UAE, meanwhile, opposes the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkey’s ruling party has roots in the Brotherhood. These are important issues and reconciliation will have to come along with Ankara toning down its rhetoric and its attempts to undermine governments like Egypt, with whose leadership it has disagreed. It remains to be seen if the UAE pivot also will involve Saudi Arabia. While the UAE is trying outreach to many countries, Riyadh is more cautious. Riyadh is also cautious about Turkey’s attempt to put a new face on relations with the region.