The famous Greek political scientist who is also known as the father of political science, Aristotle once said, ‘‘man is a social animal’’ which means that there is no survival in isolation. The military strategist Sun Tzu said, there are no permanent friends and foes in International Relations. The new era of Turkish-Saudi cooperation and reconciliation is also one such case study. Although, Turkey promoted itself as the Muslim world leader, and a strong regional stakeholder by taking bold stances and criticizing Saudi Arabia. Turkey also reopened the Hagia Sophia Mosque under the leadership of Erdogan in 2020. This was also a political-religious move to counter the KSA’s religious status.
Almost after the years of regional isolation, Turkey revived its relations with the regional states, especially with UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. The Turkish President Erdogan’s visit to Saudi Arabia in April 2022 and then the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s visit to Turkey in June 2022 were termed the ‘‘new era’’ by a Turkish Official.
Turkish-Saudi relations faced turbulence when a Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Turkey in 2018. Afterward, a rift between the two states was created to the point that Saudi Arabia boycotted Turkish products.
Due to the covid-19 crisis, Turkey is suffering from a 70% inflation rate. So, to gain economic stability, it was crucial for Turkey to rethink and revive its relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. According to the US intelligence report which was released in February 2021, Mohammad bin Salman gave the directions for the killing of a Saudi journalist in Istanbul. However, Saudi Arabia denied any sort of involvement of the prince in the murder of the journalist while Turkey also did not name the prince in the reports because Turkey needed to repair the bilateral ties with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The ice between the two states started melting down after the meeting of Turkish and KSA’s foreign ministers in Saudi Arabia where the green signal about the restoration of relations was given. The other breakthrough happened when the Turkish court transferred the Jamal Khashoggi murder case to Riyad, Saudi Arabia. Although Turkey faced criticism from the advocates of human rights as they termed it as a ‘‘political move’’ of Erdogan to reconcile the relations with Saudi Arabia.
Besides the Khashoggi’s killing, there were also geopolitical reasons behind KSA and the Turkish bitter relationship. Post Arab Spring, Saudi Arabia supported the Coup d’état in Egypt in 2013 while Turkey was supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The other reason was that Turkey was supporting Qatar after the country was blockaded by Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain in 2017 because of Doha’s relationship with Iran.
The revived relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been highlighted as the new era of rapprochement and reconciliation of Saudi-Turkish relations. A new era for the establishment of economic ties between the two states.
Turkey and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have agreed on the following sectors of development.
Lifted ban on trade, flights, and the screening of Tv series.
Negotiations on the currency swap line to rescue Turkey’s depleting foreign reserves.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia also agreed to trade in other sectors such as defense, energy, and tourism, Turkey also invited Saudi Arabia the investment of KSA’s funds in Ankara’s startups.
Lastly, the purchase of Turkish armed drones was also on the agenda of Riyad.
The revival of relations also benefits to Turkish President directly as the country is going for elections in 2023. Turkey had to make geo-political efforts to restore the relations with KSA, first, the President of Turkey visited the United Arab Emirates, then, resumed talks with Egypt and Israel. That’s how the ‘new era’ of reconciliation of Saudi and Turkey relations began. During his visit to UAE, Erdogan received a warm welcome and secured $4.9bn for Turkey in a deal of currency swap with Abu Dhabi whereas, UAE also announced the investment funds of $10bn for Turkey. The atmosphere of bilateral ties between KSA and Turkey can also be analyzed with the theory of complex economic interdependence proposed by Joseph Nye in the 1970s which deals with the international political economy where states are dependent upon each other for the economy and defense needs.
However, the relationship between the two Muslim states has a great impact on the Middle East. For instance, while reviving relations with the KSA, Turkey had to make a compromise on her political stance in support of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country also compromised its geopolitical interest to block Saudi Arabia’s influence in the region while having an upper hand in the investigation of Khashoggi’s murder. The inflation and depreciation of the Lira urged the country to revisit its policies to towards Saudi Arabia.
So, the political economy has become a soft power weapon or a give-and-take factor as well as a tactic in world politics. In response to the Turkish efforts, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman also declined his visit to Cyprus and Greece because of Turkey’s maritime dispute with Greece and Cyprus in the East Mediterranean sea. The regional rapprochement of Turkey with Israel and Egypt can also facilitate Turkey in the East Mediterranean Sea as both the states enjoy good relations with Cyprus and Greece.
The need-based relations of two states always play a significant role in strengthening their mutual ties which always results in their interdependence upon each other. This act is also more like; a formula for cooperation during the hard times, in practice between the key players of the Muslim world to establish harmonious relations among each other. Turkey’s approach to other Middle Eastern players (UAE, Egypt, Qatar, Israel) seems like a step ahead. However, the weak relations of these states have already damaged and made the Middle East vulnerable to the global powers’ competition. So, the newly set ties of cooperation between Turkey and Saudi Arabia are not just two-way traffic but it is also a struggle to keep the balance of power in the region.