Why are the enemies of Turkey and Saudi Arabia forging relations?

The murder of Saudi journalist and columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 by Saudi agents in Istanbul sent an already strained and precarious relationship between Turkey and Saudi Arabia into a tailspin.

Fast forward 3 and a half years later, it looks like Turkey and Saudi Arabia are trying to build a bridge and move on.

On his first trip to Saudi Arabia in five years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan embraced Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and sipped traditional Arabic coffee with King Salman ahead of a state dinner and face-to-face talks. took place until the early hours of Friday.

Here is an overview of what underlies the rapprochement between the two Sunni Muslim powers:

What’s behind Turkey’s diplomatic pivot?

Turkey’s diplomatic push coincides with the country’s worst economic crisis in two decades. Having wealthy Gulf Arab states as allies can help attract investment. Turkey has also taken steps to improve its relations with Egypt and Israel.

After mending ties with the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi announced a $10 billion fund to support investment in Turkey and took other steps to support the economy.

Official inflation stands at a staggering 61% while the lira fell 44% in value against the dollar last year. These figures do not bode well for Erdogan, whose grip on power could be threatened by the country’s economic difficulties. Turkey is due to hold elections next year.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is having an exceptional economic year with its foreign exchange reserves expected to increase. Rising energy prices are expected to generate more than $400 billion in revenue this year for the kingdom. In other words, Saudi Arabia has capital to invest in Turkey.

In this photo released by the Saudi Royal Palace, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, accompanies Saudi Arabia’s King Salman ahead of a meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, April 28, 2022.

What about Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia’s U-turn comes as the kingdom seeks to expand its alliances at a time when relations between Riyadh and Washington are strained.

The Crown Prince has yet to have a direct call with President Joe Biden since taking office more than a year ago. A number of Biden’s Democratic Party lawmakers have openly called on him to get even tougher on Saudi Arabia, calling the kingdom the wrong strategic partner as it sticks to an OPEC-led pact with Russia. which critics say deepened an oil supply crisis amid the war in Ukraine.

The moment of reconciliation also makes more sense now. Saudi Arabia has ended a years-long embargo on Qatar over its support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist opposition groups. Although relations have been restored between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, they have not yet been settled with Qatar’s staunch ally, Turkey, until now.

Perhaps the strongest impetus for reconciliation is that the crown prince wants to put a definitive end to the Khashoggi murder scandal that hangs over him and has tainted his reputation.

Prominent Western investors and politicians stayed away from Riyadh after the murder, although some have since returned to do business in the kingdom.

Khashoggi had written articles in the Washington Post praising the crown prince’s social reforms while expressing concern over high-profile arrests of perceived critics. The Post’s billionaire owner Jeff Bezos later commissioned an investigation which concluded his phone had been hacked after receiving a message from the Crown Prince, although many questions remain unanswered.

How was Turkey pressuring the crown prince?

Turkish authorities have stoked global outrage and suspicion directed at the crown prince. Turkey has shared audio of the horrific murder with Western intelligence agencies, a signal that the Saudi consulate where he was killed had been bugged. US intelligence later concluded that the operation could not have taken place without the green light from the prince. Crown Prince Mohammed has denied any involvement.

Without ever naming Crown Prince Mohammed, Erdogan said the operation that killed Khashoggi was ordered by the “highest levels” of the Saudi government. Khashoggi had entered the consulate in October 2018 by appointment to obtain papers allowing him to marry his Turkish fiancée, who was waiting for him outside. He never emerged and his body was never found.

Turkey had an open case against 26 Saudi suspects in absentia, but three weeks to the day before Erdogan landed in Saudi Arabia, the Turkish prosecutor ended the case by transferring it to the kingdom, which had already held firm highly criticized trial. No official overseeing the operation has ever been convicted.

What happened when the ties were strained?

Saudi Arabia has launched an unofficial embargo on Turkish exports, drastically reducing around $5 billion in bilateral trade. The kingdom has also temporarily banned the airing of very popular Arabic-dubbed Turkish soap operas on affiliated satellite TV channels. These soap operas have helped to strengthen the cultural weight of Turkey throughout the Middle East and have attracted tourism and investment to Turkey among viewers.

Prior to Khashoggi’s murder, Saudi investments had reached around $2 billion and Turkish investments in Saudi Arabia were valued at around $660 million. More than 200 Turkish companies operate in the country, according to the Turkish Foreign Ministry. A year before the murder, Saudi citizens had purchased more than 3,500 properties in Turkey.

What are the wider implications now?

After years of upheaval in the region, the Muslim Brotherhood group has been largely crushed by authoritarian states. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are once again concerned about Iran, which is moving towards a nuclear deal with the United States that could lift major sanctions.

Turkey and Iran, although not rivals, have competed for power in Syria and Iraq, although they have economic relations and share a border. Turkey’s close alignment with Gulf Arab states could increase pressure on Iran.

A detente could also defuse tensions in Libya, where proxy battles have been fought between the United Arab Emirates and Turkey. It could further inaugurate a more pragmatic approach to Gulf Arab states’ foreign policy and help ease the diplomatic isolation that Turkey faces from some Western countries.

Yet distrust is almost certain to linger below the surface between Crown Prince Mohammed and Erdogan.

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