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The Media Line: Once Tense Turkey-UAE Ties See Thaw

Once Tense Turkey-UAE Ties See Thaw

At loggerheads for years, regional powers are repairing ties as US withdraws from region

By Mohammad Al-Kassim / The Media Line

A rare telephone call between the UAE de facto ruler and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan late last month furnished yet another sign that ties between the two Muslim countries are witnessing a major improvement following years of strain.

The call was preceded by a visit to Erdoğan by UAE national security adviser Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in the highest-level public visit by an Emirati official to Turkey in years.

The two countries have been at odds on several issues.

Last year, then-Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash blasted Turkey’s policy in the region and accused it of meddling in Gulf affairs, deploring Ankara’s “threatening behavior” and “colonialist delusions” over Libya.

Meanwhile, Turkey last year accused the UAE of bringing chaos to the Middle East through its interventions in Yemen and Libya.

Ankara and Abu Dhabi found themselves at the opposite end of several conflicts in the region.

Ali Bakeer, an Ankara-based political analyst and researcher, told The Media Line the two countries are reorganizing their policies.

“Obviously they are prioritizing their interests here. The UAE, in particular, is trying to cut its regional losses and find a place for it to play according to the new rules.”

Bakeer thinks the UAE policy shift toward Turkey is “definitely tactical.”

“However, from the Turkish perspective, Ankara never targeted the UAE or put Abu Dhabi high on its foreign policy agenda. On the contrary, Turkey has an interest to strengthen economic and diplomatic relations with all players,” he added.

At some point the two nations became ardent enemies, using their media outlets to relentlessly attack each other’s policies.

Their rivalry put them at odds on several issues, among them the Muslim Brotherhood; the conflict in Libya, where the UAE and Turkey have backed opposing sides; and Tunisia, to name a few.

At one point Ankara accused Abu Dhabi of backing what it called terrorist organizations that target Turkey.

And in 2017, Saudi Arabia imposed a blockade on Qatar, where the UAE joined in after accusing Doha of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and being too close to Iran. Ankara publicly supported Doha.

But observers say with a new US administration and Washington pulling out of the region, adversaries are now trying to restructure their relations.

Hussein Ibish, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, told The Media Line that he isn’t surprised by the recent developments in relations between the two countries.

“This dialogue is all part of what, since last December, I’ve been describing as a period of consolidation, retrenchment and maneuver in the Middle East for all the powers that try to project their influence regionally,” he said.

Ibish argues that governments that found themselves involved in several regional conflicts in an attempt to “expand their hegemony” didn’t fully achieve their goals and “are overextended and exhausted.”

“These regional conflicts are all either essentially won by one side or another, stalemated, or have otherwise passed the point of diminishing returns for outside powers,” he said.

It’s natural that Abu Dhabi and Ankara would “engage in dialogue since all regional powers are now seeing what can be accomplished through diplomacy, commerce and soft power,” Ibish said.

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