Alwaght- After years of wide-ranging rivalry and tensions between Turkey and the Arab countries, over the past few months Ankara relations with them saw signs of de-escalation. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's positions and policies indicate that he is adopting pragmatism in foreign policy. Watching the process of de-escalation, observers suggest that so far the Turkish leader has not been successful in his new approach and thus it seems that Ankara will have the lower hand in its efforts to rebuild ties with the regional anti-Muslim Brotherhood front that consists of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt.
From extensive opposite blocs making to de-escalation
After 2011, when Arab uprisings begun, it seemed that Turkey and the Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, can have areas of cooperation and coordination. However, rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2012 in Egypt set off the alarm bells to the Saudis and Emiratis. They arranged a military coup led by Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, then military chief, toppling Muslim Brotherhood-rooted President Mohammad Morsi. The coup ushered in a major regional confrontation between the Arabs and Turkey.
This polarization not only did not diminish over the past years but also has taken on more specific and complex dimensions in various areas, such as the Libyan crisis. On the one hand stand the conservative Arab countries which, influenced by the thoughts and policies of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, are deeply concerned about the rise of the MB in the region. On the other hand stands Ankara that supports the MB politically and even militarily. In general, it can be said that in recent years, alliances for and against MB have been active and shaping the regional face, with their currency being the developments in such countries as Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Syria.
But after years of growing tensions, Erdogan is now trying to improve relations with the Israeli regime, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In fact, he is trying, first, to thwart the possible US government pressures by taking advantage of proximity to the Arab countries, and, second, prevent anti-Turkish alliances at the level of geopolitical competition. As a backer of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region, Erdogan does not find entering into comprehensive tensions with Arab countries, regional rivals in the Mediterranean, and the US in the interests of Turkey. The recent meeting between Erdogan and the head of the UAE security adviser Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed on August 19 signaled they are breaking the ice of their relations.
UAE and Saudi Arabia stab Turkey in the back in Libya, Tunisia
Despite Erdogan's show of enthusiasm for mending ties with Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and Cairo, these three acted against Ankara policies and interests in more than one crisis. Recent Libyan and Tunisian developments bear witness to this fact. In Tunisia, President Kais Saied in a coup-like and surprising move sacked Prime Minister Hisham El-Mechichi and suspended the parliament. Saied's actions was a coup against the secular spectrum and MB face Annahda Movement led by Rached Ghannouchi, an Erdogan ally. Saudi Arabia and the UAE can be seen the main hands behind these developments. Upon suspension of the parliament, the Turkish ruling Justice and Development Party spokesman Ömar Çelik called the measure a "coup against political legitimacy" in the North African country.
Also on the very first day after the president's order,Ghannouchi accused the Emirati media of being behind the Tunisian events and targeting the Annahda.
"The UAE and Saudi Arabia promised the Tunisian president $5 billion for a successful coup," the Saudi whistleblower Mujtahidd said on Twitter.
In Libya, too, Arab countries appear to be seeking Turkey ouster. In fact, following Turkey's serious intervention in the Libyan civil war since June 2020 and the defeat of UAE-backed General Khalifa Haftar's forces, as well as the arrival of the warring sides to the city of Sirte as a vital point between them and warning of direct Egyptian military intervention, the warring parties declared a ceasefire and insisted on diplomatic solutions. It was after these events that dialogue went on— in October 2020 in Geneva and November 2020 in Tunisia. Finally, the two main rival groups in the Libyan civil war on June 5, 2020, agreed to form a new transitional government. Yunis al-Manfi, a diplomat from eastern Libya, was picked president of the Presidential Council and Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, a businessman, was named prime minister.
For the future, a general election is scheduled for December 24, to pave the way for a new parliament and a national unity government. But the important point is that by influencing direct election of a president in Libya, the Arab countries, led by Egypt, seek to impair and corner the MB factions in the power structure.
Erdogan's lower hand in de-escalation talks, new regional equations
As the Arab countries plan to get the most out of de-escalation with Turkey, Erdogan has a lower position compared to the other side and faces serious obstacles in his course to his goals.
Erdogan's new approach to the Arab countries has not actually brought economic benefits to Turkey. Turkey's economy is heavily dependent on large-scale foreign investment, but so far Ankara's efforts to defuse tensions with the Arabs have not brought Arab petrodollars to the Turkish economy. In the current situation, Turkish public and private companies have large debts and the debt-to-GDP ratio in this country is one of the highest in the world. The current account deficit of the Turkish economy makes annual $200 billion investment a must for Erdogan government.
Amid Erdogan's leniency towards the Arab countries and his efforts for closer relations to Biden government in the US, the Turkish national currency lira continues to depreciate despite the government's massive hard currency injection, and inflation in the country is rising rapidly and the economy is entering a recession. Weaker economy puts Erdogan in a lower place in dialogue with Arab countries.
Also, any Turkey's opposition to stances or demands of the Arab countries in the areas of conflict draw strong responses from the Arab rulers that can include suspension of dialogue. For example, following the Tunisian pseudo-coup, the Turkish dialogue with Arab world in general and Egypt in particular is on hold. Egyptian diplomatic resources said that Ankara-Cairo normalization is on "tactical hiatus." Such a situation put Erdogan in a specifically tight spot and made stripped him of the power for firm postures in various cases in dealing with the Arab states.