After years of regional rivalry and hostile statements, officials and diplomats say that a truce between Turkey and the UAE is leading to a reduction in tension that fueled some conflicts, including the Libyan war.
Armistice between Turkey and the UAE
But at a time when political differences remain deeply rooted, there are expectations that the two countries will focus on building economic relations and easing an ideological dispute that has led to a deeply polarized state in the Middle East, according to a Reuters report.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, last week following contacts between intelligence and government officials in the two countries.
Erdogan, who said a year ago that Turkey might cut diplomatic ties with Abu Dhabi over establishing ties with Israel, also discussed Emirati investment in Turkey with Abu Dhabi’s National Security Adviser.
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An Emirati official said, “The UAE is interested in exploring prospects for strengthening relations,” referring to trade and investment opportunities in the fields of transport, health and energy.
The process is moving at a fast pace
The talks followed earlier efforts by Turkey to de-escalate tensions with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, allies of the UAE.
A delegation from Cairo is scheduled to arrive in Ankara on Tuesday. These contacts have not yielded little results so far, but some believe that the Emirati track is moving more smoothly and quickly.
A diplomat in the Gulf said the process was “quick paced, faster than many had thought. They have turned the page of the past.”
A senior Turkish official described the phone call between Erdogan and Sheikh Mohammed last week as a very important step towards overcoming the differences that have soured their relations, saying that the two countries can work together in the Middle East.
“Steps will be taken first with regard to the economy,” the official added, explaining that other issues “have not been agreed upon, but there is a desire (to address) the bulk of these problems.”
The price of competition
The rift was born out of the Arab uprisings, when Turkey took a stand in support of the Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist allies who challenged the authority of autocratic rulers from Tunisia to Syria.
The Turkish position has alarmed the rulers of the Emirates, who see the Brotherhood as a political and security threat.
In the Gulf dispute, Turkey stood in the same trench with Qatar against the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, while the support provided by Ankara helped the UN-recognized Libyan government repel UAE-backed forces trying to seize the capital, Tripoli.
The two countries accused each other of meddling and exerting influence outside their borders, and Erdogan once described the UAE foreign minister as rude and spoiled by money when the minister retweeted a tweet criticizing the Ottoman forces, the predecessors of modern Turkey.
Syria, Somalia and the struggle for influence
In Somalia, Turkey and the UAE are vying for influence. In Syria, Turkey continues to provide support to the armed opposition against President Bashar al-Assad, while the UAE, which previously supported the opposition, has opened an embassy in Damascus.
Turkish officials and Gulf diplomats say that both countries have become aware that they are paying an economic price for the geopolitical tensions between them, and the situation is exacerbating the burdens of the Covid-19 pandemic.
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But the sense of this price is clearer with Erdogan in Turkey, where the inflation rate has reached 19 percent and has led to a rise in the cost of living and forced state banks to sell 128 billion dollars in foreign reserves last year to support the depreciating lira.
“The cost of strained relations in the region is unbearable with regard to Turkey, the UAE and Saudi Arabia,” said another Turkish official, who asked not to be named.
And disappeared from the scene of events, a leader who encouraged the regional interventions of the two countries when former US President Donald Trump lost the presidential election in the United States.
Although no investment agreement has been announced, the two countries already have an economic foundation on which to build.
In contrast to Saudi Arabia, which adheres to an unofficial boycott of Turkish exports, the UAE says it remains Ankara’s largest trading partner in the region. Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth funds have recently invested heavily in Turkish online grocery home delivery service Geter and retail platform Trendyol.
On the political front, the differences will be more difficult to overcome, given the insistence of Egypt and its Gulf allies that Ankara withdraw its forces and the Syrian fighters it supports from Libya, a demand that diplomats describe as of paramount importance to Cairo and its allies.
However, a full decade after the “Arab Spring,” most of the revolutions ended and the Muslim Brotherhood’s forces collapsed, which naturally leads to the easing of two main sources of tension between Abu Dhabi and Erdogan, who provided strong support to the symbols of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“This file is no longer in the same place as a priority for Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” said Galip Dalay, a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin.
In its gesture to Cairo earlier this year, which was also understood in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, Turkey asked Egyptian opposition channels, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist-oriented channels, to tone down criticism of Egypt.
Turkey continues to block the websites of some Emirati organizations, including the state news agency, but the government has halted what was previously an uninterrupted barrage of criticism aimed at the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
“The desire for calm exists on both sides and we will see what happens,” Dalay said.
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