Abu Dhabian crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan will be visiting Turkey for the first time in years, as the two states continue to repair tense relations. An anonymous Turkish official stated that no date has been finalized yet for the meeting, but the visit is supposedly scheduled to occur on Wednesday, when he will meet Turkish president Tayyip Erdoğan.
This past August, Erdoğan spoke to Emirati National Security Adviser Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Tahnoun is a brother to the Crown Prince, who is the current de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, and two weeks after his talk with Erdoğan, Tahnoun spoke to the Crown Prince himself through phone. Ever since the Prince’s stroke in 2014, Tahnoun and a close circle of advisors have largely taken over most Emirati policymaking in foreign and internal affairs. At their November meeting, another anonymous Turkish official said, Erdoğan and the Crown Prince will discuss bilateral ties, trade, regional developments, and investments. These recent improvements all point to a possible repair of relations after a history of rivalry.
Only a year ago, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates disagreed over a variety of issues surrounding the Middle Eastern and North African regions. In fact, tensions rose so much that the rivalry was deemed a regional “cold war,” and varying interests in Libya, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Horn of Africa, and even the Caucasus pitted the nations against each other. In 2020, Turkey accused the U.A.E. of intervening in Libya and Yemen, causing unnecessary turmoil in the Middle East. Turkey and other states have also criticized the U.A.E.’s military actions. The recent thawing of relations is part of broader attempts by the United Arab Emirates to alleviate its current overextension and reconsider its foreign policy approaches.
However, there have also been previous attempts to repair relations. In 2016, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates initiated a conversion in order to increase cooperation. The Turkish Foreign Minister also visited Abu Dhabi in April 2016, and that May, a new Emirati ambassador to Ankara was appointed. Furthermore, the U.A.E. made efforts to support Ankara in foreign lands by extraditing Turkish officers who were suspected of planning a coup and by declaring the Gülen Movement a terrorist organization.
The roots of Arab-Turkish rivalry can be traced back to the Arab Spring in 2010, when Islamist movements overthrew several Arab regimes. Turkey supported the movement, while the U.A.E. saw it as a threat, resulting in conflicting political and ideological standpoints from there on out. The Muslim Brotherhood of 2013 marked a near-breaking point for relations between the nations, as well as the 2017 Gulf Crisis. Although relations never formally ended, the Emirati ambassador to Turkey was quietly called back in 2018 and never replaced.
Any attempt to bridge the political and ideological gap between Turkey and the U.A.E. must be understood in the context of international relations. Ever since the United States withdrew its presence in the Middle East, the two nations have been competing to fill the power vacuum, with respective competing visions for the region. Similarly, the two countries are highly entangled with regional Middle Eastern relations as well. To further repair relations between them would mean continuing to accept each other’s indirect peace offerings, forming formal relations, and increasing communication while keeping regional and global impact in mind.
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