An Emirati Trojan horse in Turkey
Erdogan welcomed MbZ with open arms and gained $10 billion for it; chump change for the Emirati crown prince who is on a quest to reshape West Asia
By Tulin Daloglu
December 02 2021

UAE Crown Price Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 24 November in Ankara

Photo Credit: The Cradle

It was once a unique partnership united in the desire to reshape West Asia. Instead, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, (MbZ) the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia indulged in a futile war against Yemen and imposed a punishing economic blockade on Qatar.

These actions and their repercussions eventually culminated in the collapse of their relationship amid the shockwaves of Jamal Khashoggi’s gruesome murder in 2018.

The rift deepened when the UAE aligned with Bahrain in September 2020 to sign the Abraham Accords, normalizing relations with Israel and securing MbZ’s position as the US’s favored regional leader.

On the first anniversary of the agreement, the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) celebrated MbZ’s initiative by presenting him with its prestigious Scholar-Statesman Award, an honor recognizing his work to ‘establish peace’ with Israel and to promote ‘religious tolerance.’

MbZ received the award on 19 November in Abu Dhabi, just days before his icebreaker visit to Turkey – a subtle reminder of who Washington’s new darling is.

MbZ arrived in Ankara on 24 November, after a decade long break from face-to-face meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The visit couldn’t have come at a better time for Erdogan, whose government is struggling with an economic crisis and a Turkish lira that has hit a record low against the dollar.

Coups, conflicts and investment funds

The Erdogan government’s conflict-driven foreign policy has left Turkey with no deep alliances or friendships, either with its traditional NATO allies or with its regional neighbors, squandered over Ankara’s decade-long aggressions in Syria, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere. The relationship between the UAE and Turkey also disintegrated during this period, not least over a conflict for influence in the region and a disagreement over the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Moreover, Ankara has long accused the UAE of collaborating with those behind the failed 15 July 2016 putsch in Turkey. The UAE didn’t help matters when it sheltered mafia boss turned whistleblower Sedat Peker, who turned to social media to widely expose his unlawful, intrigue-filled dealings with senior Turkish officials.

But all that turmoil looked to be water under the bridge for MbZ and Erdogan last week. Erdogan was buoyed by the visit, and for apparent good reason: MbZ had taken the first step in visiting Ankara toward normalizing relations and had brought with him a seductive sweetener: $10 billion to be invested in Turkey’s wealth fund, though it remains a somewhat problematic deal as its investment structure has yet to be made public.

Drowning in blame and blood money

This lightning-paced change in relationship status, however, has attracted strong criticism from the Turkish opposition.

“I call on Erdogan and the UAE’s crown prince from here,” Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman and Leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said at his routine parliamentary group meeting on November 30. “If you seize the [Turkish] military’s HAVELSAN, ROKETSAN, and ASELSAN, I will put you through the wringer.”

Kilicdaroglu refers to suspicions that Erdogan may transfer ownership shares of the three Turkish military-industrial behemoths to foreign buyers in return for cold, hard cash.

“What is the UAE to Turkey?” asked Veli Agbaba, deputy chairman of the CHP. “A state described as the financier of the 15 July coup attempt; a state that was on the opposing side in Libya. In fact, we were almost on the edge of becoming enemies. We claimed that our intelligence officers were killed with their weapons.” He continued: “The government now has blood money in its hands, because they dragged Turkey into poverty.”

As usual, the government’s perception of this visit is the polar opposite of the opposition’s, a common occurrence over nearly every issue these days. But both sides have missed the point.

Erdogan is desperately in need of foreign money. The opposition believes the president is selling off the country’s wealth and assets without any care to those longterm strategic losses. And while both sides have corruption problems, the ruling party’s tops them all.

The opposition’s inability to persuade people that they can do a better job at the reins is also a national security problem that they refuse to admit. Simply put, everyone shares responsibility for Turkey’s dire situation, and the vicious cycle of blame is drowning the country.

The vultures are circling

MbZ did not visit Turkey to help Erdogan. While the UAE did invest $10 billion in Turkey’s wealth fund, it did the same for Indonesia’s wealth fund a mere eight months ago – and is working with Israel on large scale investments. The UAE uses its wealth to diversify its presence in global investment opportunities that can bolster the country’s strategic interests.

The Abraham Accords have provided MbZ with some western-lent clout and he is taking full advantage of this window to upgrade the standing of the UAE and cement his regional vision, all while leaving the Saudis in the dust. It has become noticeable now that the Emirati crown price is doing all he can to polish his image while MbS’s fortunes continue to deteriorate.

Turkey, meanwhile, continues to watch its star decline as the once strong bridge between the west and West Asia. The US still requires a stakeholder in the region that can mend ties elsewhere while its stand-off with Iran continues unabated. After all, it would be far-fetched to expect any significant progress from the first round of nuclear talks that kicked off this week in Vienna with Iran’s recently inaugurated Raisi administration.

That neither Turkey nor the UAE got an invite to Washington’s ‘democracy’ conference in December is irrelevant – the value-based politicking is largely superficial in the new global multilateral paradigm.

Turkey is in a bad shape, and Washington is encircling it with constant reminders of Ankara’s very real limits. The Biden administration is exerting Cold War reflexes, pushing countries to choose sides and to accept that it is still the US that sets the ‘rules-based’ international order.

Despite Erdogan’s hard-talk, Washington could be right in its assessment about Turkey.

“Just as a step was taken between us and the United Arab Emirates, we will take similar steps with others,” Erdogan said at the weekend – others being Egypt and Israel. “Now when we have made our decision, we will, of course, be in a position to appoint ambassadors within a defined schedule.”

Erdogan also announced that he will reciprocate the crown prince’s visit with a trip of his own to Abu Dhabi in February.

In sum, Turkey’s incapacitated political actors will continue to blame everyone but themselves and create confusion so no one can really question the lost opportunities or investigate how to alter its course for the better. This leaves the country extremely vulnerable to the hegemonic aspirations of external actors.

MbZ’s investment in Turkey’s wealth fund will not save Erdogan. It will just be another scheme sapping away at the country’s remaining strength – impoverishing it in every sense of the word.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.
Tulin Daloglu
Tulin Daloglu
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