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In relief of tense relations, Turkey hosts Emirati crown prince

Visit by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan is first since 2012; Turkish president’s office says two leaders to discuss bilateral ties and increasing cooperation

Abu Dhabi's powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, attends the Dubai Air Show in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, November 17, 2021. (Jon Gambrell/AP)
Abu Dhabi's powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, attends the Dubai Air Show in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, November 17, 2021. (Jon Gambrell/AP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was hosting Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, on Wednesday, as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates seek 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 an Emirati official since relations hit a low. The crown prince’s brother, UAE national security adviser Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, visited Turkey in August as the first major step toward mending strained ties.

The fallout between Ankara and Abu Dhabi reverberated across the Middle East, resulting in a proxy conflict in Libya, as well as tensions in the Gulf and in the eastern Mediterranean. Tensions also played out on social media, with jabs and taunts by officials, state-aligned accounts and government supporters.

At the core of their tensions is 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 US-based Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, which Turkey accuses of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016.

A statement from the Turkish president’s office said the two leaders would discuss bilateral ties as well as steps that can be taken to expand cooperation. They would also exchange views on regional and international developments.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at a press conference at the presidential palace, in Ankara, Turkey, Nov. 17, 2021. (Burhan Ozbilici/AP)

The prince’s visit to Turkey is viewed as part of 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.

Turkey is also engaged in an effort to mend its frayed ties with regional powers, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, after finding itself increasingly isolated internationally.

Erdogan said after his meeting with Sheikh Tahnoun in August that he expected increased investments from the UAE in Turkey. Sheikh Tahnoun’s visit was followed by a telephone call between Erdogan and the crown prince.

Turkey’s trade and finance ministers visited Abu Dhabi and Dubai on Tuesday, a visit that further helped set the stage for Wednesday’s top level meeting in Ankara.

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Tahnoun and Mohammed’s brother, met with his Israeli counterpart along with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in Washington in October. The tripartite meeting held at the State Department was to review the progress since the normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE last year.

Abdullah said at the time that he intended to visit Israel soon at the invitation of Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

Israel and the Emirates announced in August 2020 that they would normalize diplomatic relations, bringing over a decade of covert ties into the open. Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco later also joined the US-brokered Abraham Accords, and other countries were also rumored to be in talks, though none have come to fruition.

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