Turkey or Türkiye is a sovereign parliamentary republic that is located in Eurasia. Its largest portion is in the Western Asia while the smaller segment is in Southeast Europe. Iran, Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Syria, Iraq, and Azerbaijani Exclave border the nation. Hence, Turkey must establish strong multilateral relations with these nations and other proximate states to guarantee sustainable economic prosperity that is established on multilateral cooperation.
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One of such nations is the UAE. Indeed, Turkey has had strong history of cooperation with the UAE, dating back to 1980s when the UAE opened its embassy in Ankara. The two nations share strong political, economic, cultural, and military ties. Turkey constitutes one of the leading partners of the UAE with an approximate of $9 billion trade volume per year (“Turkey Financial News” par.2).
Turkey and the UAE cannot afford to abandon their historic good diplomatic relationships due to their tensions because of Turkey’s undisputed support for the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization that seeks dogmatically to establish its caliphate state, ignoring the security priority of the region, which the UAE is unwilling to bargain. This paper claims that Turkey’s rapprochement with GCC countries, including the UAE, may lead to the abandonment of Turkey to Muslim Brotherhood.
This claim is backed up by the recent visit of Turkey’s FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to Abu Dhabi on 25th of April, including how the UAE returned its ambassador to Turkey on 7th of May following three years of cold relations. Accordingly, it is in Turkey’s interest to reconsider its position concerning the issue of Muslim Brotherhood if it is to maintain a prosperous relationship with the UAE and the GCC.
Background to Turkey Relations with the UAE
The UAE and Turkey relationship is founded on mutual respect that has ensured long-term friendships through dialogue in various fields of shared interest between the nations. Strategic partnerships between Turkey and the UAE can be traced back to1979 when the UAE established its embassy in Ankara. Later, Turkey reciprocated by opening its embassy in the UAE in 1983 (Ann par.1). Over the years, Turkey and the UAE have developed diplomatic relations to support their political economic and cultural heritages.
To support such diplomatic relationships between the nations, high-profile leaders from both nations have conducted diplomatic meetings. For example, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan made an official visit to Turkey in 2008. The two nations were committed to reducing restriction of the mobility of their citizens to and from each nation.
The above goal was achieved through a memorandum of understanding, which ensured mutual exemption from visas for diplomatic, special, and service passports since the end of 2008 (Press service and Public Information and Relations Department par.11).
Efforts to solidify diplomatic and trade relationships between the UAE and Turkey translated into an official visit to the UAE by the former Turkish President Abdullah Gul in January 2012 (“Middle East News” par. 1). This visit was then followed by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s trip to Turkey in February 2012 (“Press service and Public Information and Relations Department” par.13). In April 2016, Turkish foreign ministers visited the UAE. While these visits have helped to reinforce the commitment of the two nations to continue supporting the area of mutual interest, this exchange plan has occurred at time when tensions have been high between the countries.
Turkey relied on its economic partners in the GCC and across the world to attain its 2013 economic growth. The nation falls short of gas and oil reserves. Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO), a state-owned company that extracts the resources, does not produce at adequate levels, which makes the nation not self-sufficient in the supplies of such resources. Consequently, Turkey is a net importer of the commodities, which are mainly imported from the GCC states.
Nevertheless, it is anticipated that the nation will become self-sufficient in oil and natural gas production following several discoveries of oil in its border with Syria, Iraq, and North Anatolia among other regions (“TPAO” par.7). Globally, Turkish economy is ranked 27thin terms of its exports. It exported roughly $114 billion worth of goods and services in 2010 (Çakanyıldırım and Haksöz 1). This finding shows that the country has a negative balance of trade, since its imports exceeds its exports. Therefore, the nation cannot afford to operate without maintaining positive economic partnerships with GCC states. Even though the nation imports from other nations outside the GCC zone, the imports pass through these nations.
Turkey had strong economic ties with the UAE. By 2010, Turkey became a leading regional trading partner with the UAE. Marsili who is the author of ‘The Islamic State: A clash within the Muslim Civilizations for the New Caliphate’ supports this assertion by adding that trade volume of imports from Turkey amounted to $ 4billion by 2010 (86). In turn, exports from the UAE to Turkey stood at $3.3 billion. As shown in Table1, the size of imports and exports for Turkey and the UAE has been growing as years go by.
For example, by 2012, the trade volume hits almost the $12 billion mark. However, as shown in Table 1, Turkey’s foreign trade volume with the UAE began to decline in 2013, a trend that was experienced through 2015.
Turkey constitutes an important strategic business partner for the UAE, especially in the construction sector, which has various Turkey-based firms. In 2010, Turkey-based construction firms were undertaking projects that amounted to $7 billion in the UAE. The number of Turkish companies operating in the UAE totals about 511. The UAE is also a target market for the Turkish produced materials, including steel products, iron, and other construction items. The UAE imports agricultural commodities such as fruits, animal products, and vegetables. For this reason, the UAE’s authority emphasizes the need to improve and maintain relations with Turkey in different fields (Telci par. 2).
Table 1: Yearly Comparison of Trade Volumes between Turkey and the UAE
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|Turkey’s Foreign Trade with the UAE ( million $)|
The Beginning of Tension
From 2013, the relationship between Turkey and the UAE began to sour, which resulted in the reduction of the trade volumes between Turkey and the UAE, as shown in Table 1. This observation implies that trading relationships between Turkey and the UAE correlate positively with the diplomatic relationships between the nations. In July 2013, tensions increased as sections of the media reported on Turkish position about the toppling of the Egyptian ex-president Morsi. However, Turkey incredibly criticized the uprising, and supported the Morsi, while the UAE held a different view towards Morsi and his Islamist agenda, which was supported by Turkey.
Turkey supported the Muslim Brotherhood plan, as it had interests in restoring the Islamic ruling, a goal that was vigorously pursued by Muslim Brotherhood (115). Muslim Brotherhood sees Turkey as the basis for protecting the Islamic nation (Kader par.9).Turkey has faced criticism for hosting Emirati activists, who support Muslim Brotherhood. This criticism has been supported by Turkey’s Position that has clearly failed to regard the members of Muslim Brotherhood and their sympathizers as terrorist organization.
The emerging political tension has led to a three-year period of cold relations. Such a period has also influenced the countries’ economic relations. For example, referring to Table 1, the difference between the trading volumes for the 2 nations in 2012 and 2015 is 5.082 million dollars. Although the trade balance for the two years does not vary greatly, the difference in trading volume shows almost 50% reduction in trading between the nations.
Is It a New Era for Turkey–UAE Relations?
The situation of deteriorating relations between Turkey and the UAE has not yet eased. Does this imply that the two countries have now transitioned to a different era of relations? Majority of the Turkish people contend that Gulf member nations are supporters of the ruling party, AKP, and its president Erdogan. Gulf member states invest heavily in foreign direct investments in Turkey. This situation has the implication of helping to improve the economic performance of Turkey.
For example, Mitchell who is the author of ‘Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks’ asserts that the Gulf States have huge investments in the real estate sector, in which the Turkish president has a particular interest (154). Although Turkish people believe that all Gulf nations are supporters of Turkey, the situation is not necessarily true for the case of UAE due to the political stance Turkey has taken (Bektas par.2).
Tension had been high between the UAE and Turkey, as evidenced by the UAE’s reluctance to appoint its ambassador to Ankara. The UAE constitutes an incredibly important market for Turkey. It is the second market for Turkish products and goods in terms of its size, while Iraq comes first (Çakanyıldırım and Haksöz 16). Turkey cannot lose this trading opportunity by continuing to have hard lines with the UAE on matters that may not be significantly important to it, especially noting that its exports have been falling, while its economy has been experiencing shrinkages (Mitchell 154).
This situation is significant since, despite the UAE being the second most important and attractive market for Turkey, exports into the UAE have been falling in the past three years. The same case also applies in the tourism sector. Turkey is now experiencing the spillover challenges related to opinion differences with the UAE, including some other Gulf member nations, on matters of groups such as Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas (Tol and Gumusluoglu par.3), as these groups have now been associated with terrorism.
Although Turkey may have interests in such groups such as attempting to gain regional leadership by supporting the establishment of Islamic ruling in the region, such efforts are too expensive for it. The country may soon face isolation from trading partners, including Israel, which is also having problems with Turkish’s policy towards Israel’s long-term adversaries, like Hamas. Israel claims that Hamas is having a safe haven in Turkey.
Multinational Turkish companies are finding it difficult to use the UAE as the trading hub for the Middle East and/or even reach the Asian markets. In the Gulf nations, this challenge is statistically significant to mark a new era for new relations between Ankara and Abu Dhabi. For example, by 2013, Mitchell reports that Turkey exported $12.8 billion to Gulf regional nations (154). This figure fell to $9.1 billion in 2014. It further fell to $8.8 billion in 2015.
This trend brings serious concerns for the Turks. The decline has led to the emergence of new problems to most Gulf nations. Iran is now returning to play economic role in the global arena. Saudi Arabia is receiving this new progress with cautious. Countries that are equally worried by Iran’s return to the global politics are pushing for the resolution of the stalemate between Turkey and GCC, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This situation urges both countries to reconsider starting good relations with Turkey anew. However, a challenge to this possibility rests on the conditions that the Gulf countries will put on Turkey. The UAE might place a requirement for Turkey as a price for restoring their relations, which is to denounce links with Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, or any other groups that are labeled as terrorist groups.
Erdogan’s Foreign Policy toward the GCC, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE
Turkey is fully aware that it cannot operate sustainably without the cooperation of the member states of the GCC, including the UAE, and Saudi Arabia (Khan par.1). Through his foreign policy towards GCC, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, president Erdogan clearly indicates his intention to resolve issues. These countries are already setting a way forward for aligning their interests in some key issues that are of mutual benefits, despite Turkey’s proclaimed support for various Islamic parties.
In April of this year, president Erdogan entered pacts with King Salman through Turkish foreign minister and the Saudi foreign minister seeking to enhance bilateral cooperation between the two countries, establishing a council for strategic cooperation. President Erdogan and his Saudi counterpart attended the conference, where the signing of these pacts was made.
President Erdogan’s alternate policy towards the UAE was later marked by the visit of the Turkish foreign minister to the UAE on 26 April 2016 (Khan par.3). This policy marked the first diplomatic visit by a high-profile Turkish politician since tensions between the two nations broke out in 2013 (Khan par.3). The foreign minister arrived in the UAE to hold talks with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince. This visit indicated Turkey’s new policy towards the UAE, which led to the UAE announcing its deployment of its ambassador to Ankara a day later after the meeting.
President Erdogan recognizes the importance of collective power of the GCC nations, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Turkey ex-prime minister made an announcement on 28 April 2016, stating that Turkey had deployed its military in a newly established base in Qatar. Indeed, this military base is the first for Turkey in the area since the Ottoman Empire. Ankara categorically claims that it wants to have not only secure, but also stable region, since it shares threats that are similar to those of the Gulf countries.
Although Qatar and Turkey are much closer friends compared to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, President Erdogan is making progressive steps towards strengthening ties that seek to bring the Gulf countries together. However, the following two questions are important to determine Turkey’s position:
- Where do the threats that Turkey refers to come from?
- Is Turkey ready to withdraw its support for Islamic parties and groups that are recognized as a threat to the region’s stability?
Such open and committed denouncing is the only platform that can help to highlight Turkey’s true commitment to ensuring collective security of the region and joining the GCC, especially the UAE, and Saudi Arabia to address key political issues, such as the rising of Iran as a global political economic power.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and other GCC members began having sour relationships with Turkey, since its support to the Islamists, whom it thought they would be of great asset in terms of Turkey gaining influence in the region. Nevertheless, such support backlashed against Turkey, and it could not have any influence due to the failure of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Indeed, instead of achieving its previous policy, zero problems with its neighbors, president Erdogan achieved zero neighbors without any trouble. The recent changes in Erdogan’s policy towards GCC, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia indicate an attempt to build positive relations, as Turkey is now surrounded by unstable nations, especially following the emergence of war in Syria.
Evidence on the Beginning of a New Term for the Turkey-UAE Relations
The initiatives taken by Turkey to restore good diplomatic relationships with the UAE and the Gulf nations coupled with efforts to address instabilities in the region demonstrate sufficient evidence for a new era in Turkey’s foreign relations. The new epoch is characterized by efforts to build positive cooperation. Indeed, in an interview with Aljazeera, President Erdogan admitted his commitment and readiness to restore talks and/or strengthen Turkey’s relations with the UAE (Khan par.4).
The visit of the Turkish Prime Minister of Foreign Affairs to the UAE this year was a clear evidence for this commitment. In response, the UAE is embracing Turkey’s attempts as evidenced by the appointment of H.E. Khalifa Shahen Al Marar, as its ambassador in Ankara after three years of absence of the UAE’s representation in Turkey.
Saudi Arabia is an important political envoy in the Middle East. It abundantly supports the UAE in its policy against the Islamic groups that seek to install a strong Islamic ruling in the region. Turkey has engaged Saudi Arabia in the council for strategic cooperation.
Turkey participated in the recent Islamic summit that was held in January 2012 in the UAE via its president (“Middle East News” par.1). During this meeting, the politics of the Islamic region played out (“Middle East News” par.2). The Egyptian foreign minister refused to greet the Turkish president (Fisher par.1). In presenting itself as a neighbor with no ill intents and perhaps not prepared to be isolated, president Erdogan did not complain over this treatment.
Rather, he ignored the entire situation. To affirm the Turkish position on issues that have attracted tension, Turkey stopped its heavy-worded criticisms against President Sisi. President Erdogan is now seemingly not an advocate of the toppled Egyptian leader, Morsi, who was the reason behind the situation that soured the relations between Turkey and the UAE (Üşenmez 132). However, the question whether Turkey has completely abandoned Muslim Brotherhood remains an important issue in paving the way forward for the new era in the UAE-Turkey relations.
Is Turkey going to abandon Muslim Brotherhood Movement in the Future?
Judging from Turkeys’ efforts to resolve tensions with its historical trade partners, including the UAE, it is probable that Turkey is prepared to abandon Muslim Brotherhood. One justification for this assertion is anchored in the fact that Turkey is aware that even though the UAE and Saudi Arabia can compromise any other issue that is causing tension in their relations with Turkey, the two nations are not likely to compromise the Muslim Brotherhood issue.
Perhaps to set the stage for the initiation of good relations with the UAE, Turkey has already stopped funding leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, who operate from Turkey after their escape following their failure to establish caliphate state in Egypt (Monier and Ranko 117). The Muslim Brotherhood has received stern warning from Umar Korqmaz, the Davutoğlu’s counselor, cautioning it to stop any effort to reach out the globe from Turkey.
Umar Korqmaz has gone far by mocking the Muslim Brotherhood publicly on TV. He accuses the Muslim Brotherhood, for not only failing in establishing caliphate state through democracy, but also seeking refuge in Turkey with the attempt of making the nation’s democracy fail. This situation suggests slight changes toward the group’s political agendas in Turkey. Does Turkey have any other option other than abandoning the group? The support to the group is not only unnecessary but also painful to Turkey.
The painful cost of the reduced exports and the fact that it is surrounded by unstable nations are likely to deter the economic prosperity of Turkey. Indeed, Turkey may not accept to see the rise of Iran in the global economy at the expense of supporting a group that has already failed in Egypt, meaning that it is not now significant for Turkey to help the country to have influence in the Muslim nations.
Considering political discontent of Egypt with Turkey’s presence in the recent Islamic summit and the reaction of Turkey, it is evident that Turkey has learned about its mistakes that have tainted its foreign relations with key traditional trade partners in the Islamic world. When Egypt’s minister of foreign affairs declined greeting president Erdogan, the president and the Turkish delegation did not allow the situation to escalate, but chose to remain calm while resolving the ensuing conflict through avoidance. This scenario indicates the recognition of Turkey’s wrongdoing in interfering with Egyptian political affairs. Consequently, any attempt to resolve sufficiently the conflicts between Turkey and Egypt compels the nation to abandon Muslim Brotherhood.
Despite the arguments raised above supporting the assertion that Turkey has no option other than abandoning Muslim Brotherhood, Çavuşoğlu’s statement in Abu Dhabi introduces a different scenario. He noted that Ankara did not react in the manner it did in 2013 because military coup had Muslim Brotherhood as the main target. Rather, he argued that Turkey has had an experience with military coups, and that it opposes such initiatives, irrespective of the targets’ ideological positions.
This statement justified Turkey’s support for Muslim Brotherhood by clearly establishing the premise that such support was due since Turkey supports a smooth transition from one government system to another. The important question that arises here is whether Turkey is still sympathetic towards Muslim Brotherhood, considering the illegitimacy associated with military coup, which it does not support.
Looking into the future, Turkey has a variety of scenarios to evaluate and consider. The first option is the gradual normalization between Turkey and the UAE. By normalizing the relations with the UAE, Turkey acquires an opportunity for Gulf countries to see it differently. Since the UAE would most probably require clear commitment by Turkey to fully denounce and withdraw support for Muslim Brotherhood, other nations such as Israel, which has concerns over Turkey’s policy towards Hamas will likely embrace Turkey (Telci par.12).
Syria and Russia among other nations that are battling with extreme Islamist groups such as ISIS can also interpret Turkey’s denouncing of Muslim Brotherhood as a good premise for considering changing its policy towards the groups, which the nation claims are having a safe haven in Turkey (Lawson 480).
Abandoning Muslim Brotherhood so early may pose challenges to Turkey. Therefore, the second scenario for Turkey is not to abandon Muslim Brotherhood so soon, even though this move is necessary for the UAE to trust Turkey’s acceptance of wrongdoing in the Egyptian case. Currently, the GCC nations and the UAE are worried by Iran retuning to global politics. Therefore, these nations are most likely to consider negotiating with Turkey to ensure that the rise of Iran is met with power of unity among all Gulf nations.
Therefore, Turkey may consider withholding its support from Muslim Brotherhood to help in negotiating its position and influence in the GCC. This argument translates into the third scenario for Turkey. The nation might turn on the Muslim Brotherhood movement regionally while at the same time adopting the Islamist take.
The UAE and Turkey have had long trading relations. As noted before, the UAE is the second most important target market for Turkish exports. Concerns over the need to win back Turkey to help in increasing the force to counter Iran’s rise can compel the UAE to seek all ways possible to restore its friendship with Turkey. This mutual interest can make Turkey consider a scenario where both nations will focus on their mutual interests, despite the different views they hold concerning the Muslim Brotherhood Movement. Nevertheless, this outcome is unlikely due to the concerns that the UAE has over the imposition of Islamic ruling in the region.
Turkey and the UAE have to circumnavigate all the odds to restore their diplomatic relations to secure continued strategic cooperation in key areas of politics, economy, and even military operations. Although it is easy to make such a conclusion, circumstances that lead to the restoration of such diplomacy are intricate. The paper has analyzed the possibility of this outcome by discussing Turkey and the UAE’s relations in the context of their process of evolution until their current states. This strategy has the effect of forging the way forward for the two nations to restore good international relations.
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