ANKARA: As part of Turkey’s recent normalization efforts, the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the UAE is expected to herald not only a new era in ties but also bring more stability to the region as a whole.
Monday’s visit was the first high-level visit from the Turkish side since 2013, as both countries passed through several crises that were linked to regional conflicts and gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean.
In a bid to bring a silver lining to this new relationship, the Gulf oil exporter is aiming to double or triple its trade volume with Turkey and reach the rest of the world’s markets by using the logistical advantage and supply chains of its new ally.
A day before the visit, Erdogan also wrote an op-ed for the UAE-based daily Khaleej Times, in which he underlined the importance of deepening bilateral cooperation in order to achieve regional peace, stability and prosperity.
He also noted that Turkey wants to boost cooperation on diverse aspects such as climate change and water and food security.
In late November, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed paid a visit to Ankara as the first high-level visit in nine years, during which UAE earmarked a $10 billion fund for strategic investments in cash-strapped Turkey’s energy and health sectors.
During that visit, the two countries also signed several security, economic and technological agreements.
Beyond its contributions to foreign investment flows, the rapprochement between the two countries is likely to ease the regional isolation of Turkey if Erdogan’s visit goes off as planned.
Samuel Ramani, associate fellow at the Royal United Service Institute, thinks that Turkey and the UAE are both trying to reduce the number of regional rivalries they are entangled in.
“Turkey’s efforts to de-escalate with the UAE mirrors its approaches toward Saudi Arabia and Israel, while the UAE has been trying to present itself as a regional power that relies on diplomacy and economic strength rather than hard military power to achieve its goals,” he told Arab News.
According to Ramani, the risk of heightened tensions in the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean for Turkey, as well as the newfound threat of the Houthis/Iran in Yemen to the UAE, might also explain the timing of the de-escalation moves, even though they have been in the works for some time.
Ahead of Erdogan’s arrival to Dubai, Burj Khalifa’s façade lit up with the colors of the Turkish flag, with the Turkish national anthem playing in the background.
Experts also anticipate an untapped potential for bilateral cooperation in Syria and in Libya, with the latter passing through a political transition period after years of internal conflict.
“Although the alignment of policies on Syria and Libya would not appear as a pre-requisite for the normalization of ties, these two topics will be part of the bilateral agenda,” Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based political analyst, told Arab News.
“I think that Turkey will quickly give the green light for such a cooperation, which will relieve it from a serious burden and give it a chance to reap the economic benefits of its presence in Syria,” he added.
Sezer thinks that Turkey and UAE are likely to initiate investment efforts for the infrastructure projects of Syria and Libya.
“It will also provide Turkish companies and skilled labor with an opportunity to take part in technical assistance. On the other hand, the ongoing rapprochement between Turkey and the UAE completely ended political confrontation in Libya and shifted toward a win-win relationship for the region,” he said.
Instead, Jalel Harchaoui, a researcher specializing in Libya, thinks that over the last few years, Turkey has accomplished a lot of what it wanted to accomplish — mostly through the use of military force — in both Syria and Libya.
“Turkey is not eager to see its influence recede but, at the same time, it cares about the overture of the UAE,” he told Arab News.
According to Harchaoui, Turkey is willing to accept a slightly messier reality in Libya and Syria as long as its effort is somewhat reciprocated by the UAE and full-blown war — as seen in 2019 and 2020 — is avoided this year.
“Turkey and the UAE continue to have irreconcilable interests in Syria and Libya. Syria is unlikely to be a hot theatre of UAE-Turkey competition. It never has been aside from over the issue of recognizing [Bashar] Assad, but as Libya tries to uneasily progress toward elections, Turkey and the UAE will continue competing,” he said.
However, Ramani also added that, for now, even in Libya, a lower intensity competition based on securing political influence and favorable economic deals seems more plausible than a hot military conflict or proxy war.
The oil-rich North African nation, which currently has two prime ministers, is already in political limbo and has not ended the decade-long instability and power vacuum, as elections have been postponed indefinitely.
The schedule of the new electoral process is expected to be announced this week.