Muhammad bin Salman (MbS), the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have much in common. They are both rank opportunists and will turn on a dime if it serves their personal interests.
Extremely ambition, neither man will desist from eliminating rivals if they are perceived as threatening their hold on power. True, their methods are slightly different.
Who is not aware of the crisis that erupted between Turkiye and Saudi Arabia over the gruesome murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018? His body has never been found, believed to have been dissolved in acid.
The Turkish intelligence agency had recorded the brutal murder in the Saudi consulate. The hit team was sent from Saudi Arabia. It included several men close to the Saudi crown prince. The American spy agency, CIA, said Mbs was responsible for the murder.
Erdogan demanded that the culprits be handed over to Ankara for trial. MbS refused and hit back by imposing sanctions on Turkish goods. The ban hurt both countries but Ankara was the principal loser since its economy is dependent on exports.
Soon thereafter, Turkiye made several overtures to improve relations but MbS stuck to his guns. He took the position that the culprits had been tried by a Saudi court and “punished” according to law.
In a volte face, Erdogan announced through his presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin early last year that Turkiye respected the Saudi court’s ruling in the Khashoggi case. Ankara considered it “unreasonable” to keep Turkish-Saudi relations and the interests of the two countries hostage to this issue.
This is what MbS was waiting to hear. Both men felt it was time to move on. On July 17, 2023, Erdogan accompanied by a number of ministers and some 200 Turkish businessmen visited Jeddah. He was warmly received by both king Salman and MbS.
Several contracts were signed of which the biggest was the drone deal with the manufacturer Baykar, according to the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA). Haluk Bayraktar, CEO of the drone manufacturer, in a tweet called the deal “the biggest defence and aviation export contract in the history of the Turkish Republic.”
Patching up relations with Turkiye is one part of the MbS’ grand retreat from untenable policies. He has also reached out to such rivals as Islamic Iran and Syria. Interestingly, he has held back from establishing formal relations with zionist Israel although he continues to make gestures toward the colonial settler entity that raise questions about his true intentions.
Personal interests always trump principles. Before he embarked on his Saudi odyssey of July 17, followed by visits to Qatar and the UAE, Erdogan said economic cooperation would be the main focus of his visits. “The primary agenda of our visits will be joint investment projects and commercial activities that we can carry out together with these countries.”
Referring to trade, Erdogan said, “Our bilateral trade volume with Gulf countries has increased from $1.6 billion to approximately $22 billion over the last 20 years.” He said the purpose of his regional visits was aimed at raising these figures further through the business forums.
From Saudi Arabia, Erdogan went to Qatar where the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani spread out the red carpet. The statement from the office of the Turkish presidency described the lavish reception but did not say anything about any deals being signed.
The Saudi-Qatari spat also needs brief mention. Following the May 2017 visit of former US president Donald Trump to the kingdom, MbS launched a boycott campaign against Qatar on June 5, 2017. He announced a laundry list of demands (13 in all) that Doha must fulfill otherwise an economic blockade would be imposed on the tiny eastern neighbour.
The demands included shutting down Al Jazeera and other Qatari news channels, declaring Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas as “terrorist” organizations and cutting off relations with Islamic Iran. Saudi Arabia got Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt as well as a number of basket economies in Africa to join the boycott. They got some bakhsheesh in return.
Enter Islamic Iran and Turkiye to Qatar’s rescue. The blockade would have created serious problems but for the two countries that rushed food and other commodities to Doha.
MbS realized the futility of the siege of Qatar and abandoned it by the time he organized a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in al Ula in early January 2021. Sheikh Tamim was invited to the summit and personally welcomed by MbS with an embrace at the steps of the plane. They kissed and made up.
Not only has MbS patched up with Qatar, the more important development has been his kingdom’s rapprochement with Tehran, courtesy China. The March 10, 2023 agreement signed in Beijing surprised much of the world. Welcomed by regional states as well as most other countries of the global South, it caused immense heartburn in Washington and Tel Aviv.
Erdogan, meanwhile travelled to Abu Dhabi from Qatar and signed contracts worth $50.7 billion. Accompanied by UAE President Mohamed Bin Zayed, he witnessed the signing ceremony of agreements on July 19 that included an extradition accord, energy and natural resources development, space and defence cooperation. This was reported by Reuters, quoting the UAE state news agency WAM.
The injection of $50 billion into the Turkish economy will help stabilize the lira that has been under immense pressure for many years. It will also reduce unemployment in Turkiye and bring relief to people by bringing down inflation.
While some naïve Muslims are taken in by Erdogan’s Islamic rhetoric, his country’s relations with the illegitimate zionist entity, the killer of Palestinians, continue to flourish. The war criminal and crook, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister was planning to visit Turkiye on July 28 but the trip was postponed because Netanyahu had a pacemaker recently installed in his chest due to heart problems. So much for Erdogan’s support for the Palestinian cause and people!
His Saudi bosom pal, MbS is equally deferential toward the zionist war criminals. The Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, approvingly noted that Saudi Arabia had “reformed its books”. And what were these “reforms”? All references to illegal zionist settlements, Israel’s “fraudulent democracy” and praise for the intifadah have been removed from Saudi text books. What has been added is criticism of Hizbullah for resisting and driving the zionist war criminals from most of Lebanese territory!
It would come as no surprise if one fine morning, MbS announces that he is formally embracing the zionist war criminals.