New “peace-making” winds are blowing on Arab-Turkish relations and helping to ease the tension in the search for common ground. Flattering messages are being exchanged between Ankara, Cairo, and Riyadh, and similar messages will inevitably follow from other Arab capitals if things go well. It seems that the various parties are exhausted by the rampant and prolonged proxy wars and that we are facing one of the dynamics created by Joe Biden’s victory in the US presidential election.
Ever since Cairo adopted a new approach in Libya, sent a high-ranking political and security delegation to Tripoli, and made sure that its foreign minister spoke with his Libyan counterpart promising to resume the work of embassies and airlines, it seemed that a new leaf was also about to be turned between Cairo and Ankara. The speculation has continued, with news of dialogue through security and diplomatic back channels between Egypt and Turkey. There have also been positive statements here and an offer to develop relations there until we have reached the point of calling for the demarcation of the maritime borders of the two countries. If this is actually done, or both parties begin to work towards it, the door will be opened to dispel the repercussions of the Turkish “military intervention” in Libya, and it may be a prelude to Turkey’s integration in the Eastern Mediterranean gas initiative, which was launched from Cairo.
As for Riyadh, it looks as if hosting (albeit online) the G20 Summit provided an opportunity for it to thaw relations with Ankara. The phone call between King Salman and President Erdogan opened the door to subsequent calls and a meeting between foreign ministers on the sidelines of an OIC conference. This is a step forward on a long and thorny road. Now, the flattery and pleasantries exchanged between the two countries are almost continuous, and the offers from Turkey, in particular, to restore relations between the two countries are still raining down on Riyadh.
Although we don’t know if they are facts or just rumours, the latest leaks mention an opportunity for Turkish-Saudi cooperation in Yemen, starting with a Turkish drone deal, which Riyadh seems interested in buying after the drones proved their effectiveness in Libya and Azerbaijan. Ankara and Riyadh both recognise the legitimacy of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi as President of Yemen, and both maintain varying levels of relations with the Islah Party, a friend of the Turks and a rival to the Houthis, who are being fought by the Saudi-led coalition.
Moreover, both sides are concerned about the Biden administration’s approaches, specifically in terms of human rights and the criticisms that the new US president has been directing at them. It is likely, say, observers, that bilateral cooperation to contain Washington’s new-found “fervour” for such rights may be an additional incentive for rapprochement.
Just as Libya was the gateway for Egypt to launch a public and secret dialogue with Turkey, the Gulf reconciliation has made Qatar this gateway for Saudi Arabia. In the steadily-improving climate of Saudi-Qatari relations, it apparently goes without saying that relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia are likely to calm down, and Qatar may play a role in this.
The improvement in Turkey’s relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia leaves the UAE facing one of two options: either follow the same path or uphold its old position towards Turkey and the latter’s role and relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood in the region. Nevertheless, even during the worst of its tension with Turkey, the UAE remained an important trade partner, valued at no less than $8 billion a year. Abu Dhabi has sent messages of its willingness to improve relations, wrapping them up with the need to dispel doubts and fears. These obstacles, and many others, did not prevent some improvement in Ankara’s relations with Cairo and Riyadh, and it is likely that they will not prevent similar improvements in relations between the UAE and Turkey.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Addustour on 10 March 2021
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.