Turkey deal part of UAE efforts to rebuild regional relationships - analysts

Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan’s meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday is part of a United Arab Emirates’ policy of rebuilding relations in the region, according to Al Arab newspaper.

The crown prince’s visit, while coinciding with a sharp decline in the value of the Turkish lira, had been in the works for some time, Al Arab said.

“We had fruitful discussions focusing on ways to strengthen relations between our countries,” Sheikh Mohammed said on social media following the meeting.

At a subsequent press event, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told reporters that he would be visiting Abu Dhabi in December.

Relations between Turkey and the UAE have been strained for nearly a decade over Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, its close ties with UAE rival Qatar, and differing policies in Syria, Libya, and the Mediterranean.

Figures in Turkey’s pro-government media have previously accused the UAE of sponsoring the 2016 coup attempt against Erdoğan’s administration by financing members of the Turkish military with links to Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based Islamic cleric Ankara says masterminded the failed military takeover.

The claim was first published by Middle East Eye’s Editor-in-Chief David Hears in July 2016 but never substantiated by further evidence. It was repeated by Turkish government officials, including leading ministers, until earlier this year. 

Moves to repair relations began with UAE National Security Adviser Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed’s visit to Ankara in August, Al-Arab said. This was followed by a phone call later that month between Erdoğan and Sheikh Mohammed which paved the way for Wednesday’s visit, according to sources in Abu Dhabi.

In Ankara, the two leaders signed investment agreements worth $10 billion, including for projects planned more than a decade ago but delayed due to increased “political dissonance between the two countries”, Al Arab said.

The visit aimed “to help create the economic foundation by promoting trade and commercial partnerships, and achieve successful and sustainable investments”, the newspaper cited UAE Industry and Advanced Technology Minister Sultan bin Ahmed al-Jaber as saying. 

The UAE and Turkey share a commitment to peace, stability, and prosperity for the entire region, and will together address global challenges including “climate change, energy, food and water security”, the minister added.

Speaking to Al Arab, an unnamed Turkish official said Turkey had put its issues with the UAE behind it. “We are entering a period entirely based on cooperation and mutual benefit,” they said.

The thaw in relations comes amid a turbulent time for the Turkish economy, which has seen foreign investors increasingly withdraw their money over concerns about rising inflation and Erdoğan's opposition to the central bank raising interest rates. 

UAE funds “may buoy Turkey’s floundering economy at a time when its years-long currency crisis has picked up speed,” analyst Tamara Qiblawi wrote for CNN. The repaired relationship could be a “much-needed lifeline” for Erdoğan, she added.

The Turkish lira recovered to 11.92 against the dollar following Erdoğan’s meeting with Sheikh Mohammed, rising from Tuesday’s record low of 12.82.

After almost two decades in power, the Turkish president’s support has fallen significantly in recent months, with some polls putting his ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) below 30 percent of the vote share ahead of crucial elections scheduled to take place in 2023. 

Erdoğan has “stayed in power due to the economy”, Yusuf Erim, editor-at-large of Turkey’s state broadcaster TRT, told CNN. “A weaker economy before the 2023 elections is definitely something he doesn’t want,” he said. “And Emiratis have the money to be able to provide a booster shot for the Turkish economy.”

Meanwhile, the UAE is shifting its foreign policy as the United States moves away from the Middle East and towards Asia, according to Qiblawi. “The UAE is trying to consolidate its regional influence and it is trying to project itself as a peacemaker from now on,” the analyst cited Emirati political science professor Abdulkhaleq Abdalla as saying.

“Regional players seem to have decided that they can no longer outsource their security to the U.S.,” Qiblawi added.

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