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Realignment in the Middle East? Turkey's Erdogan to visit UAE to mend ties

At the core of their tensions was Turkey's support for the Muslim Brotherhood

Turkey Syria Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan | AP

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he plans to pay a visit to the United Arab Emirates in February 2022, as the two countries move to put years of tense relations behind them. This is significant in more ways than one. Erdogan had, on November 24, hosted Abu Dhabi's powerful crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates sought to repair their tense relations and increase economic cooperation. The visit by the crown prince, seen as the de-facto leader and the force behind the UAE's foreign policy posture, is his first official trip to Turkey since 2012, and the highest-level visit by a Emirati official since relations hit a low over a series of regional tensions.

The visit was crucial in more ways than one. The falling out between Ankara and Abu Dhabi had reverberations across the Middle East, resulting in a proxy conflict in Libya, as well as tensions in the Gulf and in the eastern Mediterranean. 

This could result in a recalibration of relations in the Middle East. Erdogan told journalists that Turkey plans to mend with other regional powers, including Egypt and Israel in the same way that it is with the UAE, and would reappoint ambassadors to those countries.

What was cause for tension?

At the core of their tensions was Turkey's support for the Muslim Brotherhood in the region, which the UAE and other Arab nations see as a top national security threat that could upend their hereditary rule and tight grip on decision making. Ankara, for its part, suspects that the UAE backed a network led by a US-based Turkish Muslim cleric which Turkey accuses of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016.

Al Nahyan and Erdogan later oversaw the signing of almost a dozen cooperation agreements, including in trade, energy and the environment, as well as deals allowing direct investments and cooperation between the two countries' stock exchanges and central banks.

The prince's visit to Turkey is viewed as part of a wider effort by the UAE to recalibrate its foreign policy following an unsuccessful attempt to isolate fellow Gulf state Qatar in 2017. Turkey, an ally of Qatar, rushed to support Doha amid an embargo imposed by the UAE and three Arab states. Turkey has since deepened its military ties with Qatar. The Arab quartet at the time demanded a series of reversals by Qatar, including the expulsion of Turkish troops, but Qatar rejected the demands as violations of its sovereignty. The dispute was resolved earlier this year with an agreement signed in Saudi Arabia.

-Inputs from agencies

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