Turkey seeks to realign policies with Saudi Arabia
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is set to embark on a one-day trip to Saudi Arabia on Feb. 28 to meet new Saudi King Salman, who assumed his post last month. Erdoğan had attended the former king’s funeral, along with other world leaders, and is now paying an official visit to Riyadh.
The timing of the visit is very significant, with the whole of North Africa and the Middle East on fire. Libya and Yemen have been brought to the brink of division because of civil war. Both countries are home to jihadist terrorist organizations that are causing troubles for their immediate neighboring countries, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as exporting terrorism to the European continent.
Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are apparently seizing more control in the region, with no prospect that the ongoing international military campaign can deal meaningful damage to them.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries were successful in stopping the Arab Spring wave in Syria before it reached the Arabian Peninsula. By lending enormous political and financial support to Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who toppled Mohamed Morsi, the Arabian alliance was able to get rid of the threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood.
With hopes fading for a more democratic region in which people have a say in their future, control of the Middle East has now passed to the hands of ISIL and similar terror organizations. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are both partly responsible for the current unpromising picture - on different levels and from different perspectives.
Turkey, for its part, ignored the growing threat of jihadists in 2012 and failed to take necessary measures against the threat. For example, it could have toughened border security to stop the infiltration of foreign fighters before the mid-2014 kidnapping of its consul-general in Mosul and 48 consulate personnel. There is no need to give details here, it is clear that Turkey’s overall Syria policy has collapsed and is also causing the deterioration of its relationships with other regional countries.
Erdoğan’s visit to Saudi Arabia could well turn into an opportunity for Turkey and Saudi Arabia to review their differing policies in the region and seek a new realignment. However, the two countries’ most important disagreement is over Egypt, and therefore the Muslim Brotherhood.
For Saudi Arabia, Egypt stands as one of the assurances of the continuity of the kingdom and the status quo in the peninsula and therefore the Muslim Brotherhood will not be a part of negotiations with Erdoğan. On the contrary, Saudi Arabia can strongly press on Turkey to recognize the current leadership in Egypt for the sake of regional balances.
It’s premature to talk about an effort for mediation from Saudi Arabia to mend Turkey’s ties with Egypt, but this will obviously be on Riyadh’s agenda. We will see whether Erdoğan’s meeting with King Salman will launch a process of Turkey shifting its policies.