Thaw between Turkey and Saudi Arabia of the leadership of the Muslim world both countries are known for their different national outlooks.Turkey claims to be a Muslim power though it is tilted more towards the Western orientation and is desperate to become the member of the European Union. On the other hand Saudi Arabia is deeply conservative though its current leadership is equally desperate to convey the impression of changing its national orientation towards progressive modernism. Quite naturally the intentions of both these countries to lead the Muslim world collided with the result that plenty of bad blood was created between them. The situation was aggravated when the Turks viciously accused Saudi Arabia of killing Jamal Khashoggi on its soil creating a massive conflict during which the Saudi defacto ruler had to run for cover. Resultantly, both the countries were at daggers drawn exchanging barbs and plotting against each other.
Turkey under Erdogan continued increasing its sphere of influence that it has been pursuing since the beginning of the Arab Spring. Turkey had in recent years established military bases in Qatar and Somalia despite opposition from regional actors. Ankara’s positions on the conflicts in Syria, Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh and elsewhere, as well as the acquisition of Russian defence systems, have also caused friction with neighbours and NATO allies. Turkey’s aggressive foreign policy, its self-aggrandising perception created plenty of resentment in the region particularly Saudi Arabia that felt itself threatened by Turkish government’s policy of veering towards the conservative brand of Islam hitherto championed by Saudi Arabia.
Turkish leader Erdogan tries to play as widely as possible so that he can stay in power as his appetite for power is still strong after more than twenty years in power. He spotted an opportunity to take issue with Saudi Arabia and waged a strong campaign against the Saudi crown prince and categorically mentioned that the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government. The crisis prompted an unofficial Saudi trade boycott which slashed the value of Turkish imports by 98 per cent. Saudi Arabia also closed eight Turkish schools in the kingdom.
Turkey’s economy has been ailing for years and a lira crisis erupted late last year due to an unorthodox monetary policy backed by Erdogan. Ankara has since been looking for ways to alleviate the pressure via international rapprochements. With Turkey’s economy now facing deepening woes and tough elections looming, Erdogan is pushing to mend Ankara’s strained diplomatic relations. It is in this backdrop that Turkey has been trying to repair its troubled relationship with Saudi Arabia and an array of other countries in its region. Some media reports have claimed that Riyadh has made improved relations conditional on Turkey dropping the case against the Saudis.
In this connection, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited Turkey for the first time in years for talks with President Tayyip Erdogan aimed at fully normalising ties that were ruptured after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Earlier in April, Erdogan went to Saudi Arabia after a months-long drive to mend relations between the regional powers, including dropping the trial over Khashoggi’s 2018 murder in Istanbul. He held one-on-one talks with Prince Mohammed while there, raising the possibility of Saudi investments that could help relieve Turkey’s beleaguered economy. The visit is expected to bring a full normalisation and a restoration of the pre-crisis period and a new era will begin.
It is reported that negotiations on a possible currency swap line — which could help restore Turkey’s diminished foreign reserves — were not moving as fast as desired and will be discussed privately between Erdogan and Prince Mohammed. Agreements on energy, economy and security would be signed during Prince Mohammed’s visit, while a plan was also in the works for Saudi funds to enter capital markets in Turkey. Prince Mohammed is on his first tour outside the Gulf region in over three years including a visit to Jordan. Many observers consider this visit as one of the most significant visits to Ankara by a foreign leader in almost a decade. It is widely commented that Erdogan has swallowed his pride and wants to mend relations with Saudi Arabia. Though the Saudis appear to be hedging their bets but it is indicated that Prince Mohammed is also trying to see whether he can win broader backing ahead of a possible new nuclear agreement between world powers and the Saudis’ arch-nemesis Iran.
Ankara has since stopped all criticism and halted its murder trial in April, transferring the case to Riyadh in a move condemned by human rights groups and criticised by opposition parties for trading honour for monetary support. Turks expects that Saudi funds and foreign currency could help Erdogan shore up support ahead of tight elections by June 2023. The Turkish side is expecting that Saudi Arabia may be interested in companies within the Turkish Wealth Fund or elsewhere or in making investments similar to those by the United Arab Emirates in recent months. Both the countries are also looking to finalise sale of Turkish armed drones to Riyadh. TW