Strategic cooperation between Riyadh and Ankara hits new highs

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman receives President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (File photo)
Updated 29 October 2016
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Strategic cooperation between Riyadh and Ankara hits new highs

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been enjoying a deep and longstanding bond based on their common geopolitical interests and similarities in approaches on a host of regional and international issues.
The recent visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, minister of interior, to Turkey; preceded by the visit of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman to Ankara early this year indicate the progressively growing relations between the two countries.
It is important to note here that Turkey has already been working with Riyadh by supporting Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen, and took part in the Saudi-led Islamic alliance against terrorism.
It has also stated categorically that Iran has become more aggressive after signing a nuclear deal with the US.
Khalil Ozcan, a Turkish parliamentarian and head of the Turkish-Saudi Association, who is also a graduate of King Saud University, said that Ankara sees the Kingdom as a trusted strategic partner, with which it has more in common than Iran.
Interestingly, Turks also have a special place in their hearts for the Kingdom because it hosts Islam’s holiest sites.
This attempt for more harmonious relations with Turkey is being made at the highest possible level. The royal visits from the Kingdom and the visits of high-ranking Turkish officials including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan send a message to everyone that the two countries are seeking stability and peace based on a policy of openness, partnerships and the prioritization of economic benefits over politics.
Referring to the important role played by Turkey, Adel Al-Jubeir, foreign minister, said that the Turkey’s engagement in the Middle East is essential for “regional stability.”
He, while showing solidarity with Turkey, also underlined that the Erdogan government successfully defeated the attempted military coup. 
Also, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are on the same page on the regional conflicts and issues including Syria, Iran and Yemen.
The strategic cooperation council established by Saudi Arabia and Turkey is one step above a bilateral alliance.
The purpose of the council includes deeper coordination with Turkey in light of the challenges both countries face in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, from terrorism to extremism to Iran’s negative intervention in regional issues.
The political battle over the implementation of resolution 2259, which for the first time endorsed a political process in Syria since the conflict there began five years ago, is inevitable.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are both crucial for the quest to defeat Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
They also have great economic potentials.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia are among the leading countries in the Middle East, with a combined Gross Domestic Product of almost $1.4 trillion, an export volume of $540 billion and a population of 105 million.
For decades, the two states have attempted to develop economic relations based on mutual respect.
Turkey sees its friend Saudi Arabia as one of the most important countries in the region.
On commercial front, the two countries have reported consistent growth.
Turkish exports to Saudi Arabia are mainly made up of clothing, textiles, iron, steel, automotive, fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products, while around 80 percent of Turkish imports from Saudi Arabia are composed of oil.
Turkish trade centers, which have aimed to increase bilateral trade volume and develop joint investment projects in Saudi Arabia, are operational in Riyadh and Jeddah.
A large number of well-known Turkish construction companies have been successfully operating in Saudi Arabia for many years.
There have also been many agreements made between the two states in order to secure good bilateral mechanisms for economic cooperation, with one being the Turkish-Saudi Arabian Joint Economic Commission (JEC), which was set up in accordance with Article Five of the Economic Technical Cooperation Agreement of 1974, to secure better relations between Turkish and Saudi business communities.
Referring to the progressively growing commercial relations, Turkish Ambassador Yunus Demirer said that trade between Turkey and Saudi Arabia has been growing consistently. He said that trade between Ankara and Riyadh has shown a stable trend with a much better performance in 2010-2012 period compared to that of Turkey’s overall trade volume. It reached to $8.1 billion in 2012.
“Turkey’s export to Saudi Arabia, which was almost $555 million in 2002 reached to over $3.5 billion in 2015,” Demirer added.
Speaking about the upswing in trade and investment, Ambassador Demirer said that there is a genuine opportunity to establish a long-term partnership between Turkish and Saudi business communities.
Saudi visitors feel at ease in Turkey, says the envoy, while adding further that Turkey is among the world’s top 12 producers of building materials such as cement, glass, steel and ceramic tiles.
As neighbors and two of the world’s oldest civilizations, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have shared a long history of religious, cultural, scientific, and economic linkages, said a report.
The report said that “the depth and diversity of Saudi-Turkish relations, joint commitment to stability and well-being of the region as well as intertwined interests lead the two countries to foster the existing relationship to higher and new levels of cooperation.”
Referring to the investment climate in Turkey, the report said that the structural reforms carried out by the government in the last decade have improved the investment climate in Turkey, which in turn attracted substantial Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
Legislation on investment was streamlined along global standards.
At present, Turkey has a foreign capital-friendly legislation and transparent regulatory system.
FDI legislation is based on the principle of equal treatment for domestic and foreign investors.
Turkey’s legal system protects and facilitates acquisition and disposal of property rights, including land, buildings and mortgages.
Also, generous tax privileges for free zones and technology development zones have provided a stimulus to the investment therein.
As a result, Turkey has become the commercial/investment hub of the region.
Foreign companies have been using free zones as well as Turkish partners to access the EU market as well as looking for business opportunities throughout the Balkans, Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East.
To this end, the report noted that about 400 Saudi firms directly or indirectly operate in Turkey at present.
Saudi companies mainly invest in industrial sector in Turkey in collaboration with Turkish private and public sectors. 
They can also increase their investments in agricultural, finance, tourism and communications sectors.
Turkey, on the other hand, has had a sizeable number of highly-qualified and technologically superior contractors, who are present in every nook and corner of the globe including the Gulf states today.
In the field of tourism also, Turkey has been doing very well.
A total of 39 million tourists visited Turkey in 2013 and, hence the tourism revenue reached $32 billion.
Turkish tourism sector’s target is to be among the top five countries in the world in terms of attracting the highest number of tourists and receiving the highest amount of tourism revenue by 2023.
It is important to note here that the tourism traffic between the Kingdom and Turkey has also been consistently growing. “Indeed, tourism is a dynamic and resilient sector in Turkey,” said the report.
Speaking about Turkey’s global standing in world’s trade and economy, the diplomat said that “due to its globally integrated and solid economy, large and young population, Turkey is a source of new business and development in its region.”
Turkey has shown remarkable performance with its strong growth over the last decade. A sound macroeconomic strategy in combination with prudent fiscal policies and major structural reforms integrated Turkish economy into the global economy.
Besides, Turkey’s dynamic and growing economy creates many opportunities in trade and in other areas of cooperation in the region.
In fact, the economic growth of Turkey has become sustainable through the macroeconomic improvements and fiscal discipline.
During 2002-2014 period, Turkey ranked among the top five countries with its 4.9 percent annual GDP growth rate.
On the other hand, Turkish contractors have become important players internationally, related to their domestic experience.
Starting from 1972 to 2015 (August), Turkish companies have taken 8,620 projects in 104 countries worth of $318.4 billion.
This increase is mainly related to the airport, metro, industrial production sites, refinery, energy infrastructure and highway projects which require more skills and necessitate more technology.
This also enables Turkey to be among the top 12 producers of building materials in the world, particularly in the supply of products such as cement, glass, steel and ceramic tiles.
These numbers highlight the power that the Turkish construction industry has on an international level. In 2015, 43 Turkish contracting companies were listed among the “Top 250 International Contractors” announced by a leading international industry magazine.
Turkish contracting companies in Saudi Arabia has undertaken over 100 projects up today. All these Turkish companies, especially contracting ones, area also doing exceptionally well in other GCC states. As the political, economic stability and the structural reforms contributed to the inflow of FDI to Turkey and on Turkish companies working overseas, these inflows increased the soundness of the Turkish economy in return.
Saudi Arabia is the largest economy in the Middle East.
The Saudi government has ambitious infrastructure plans for the next years.
Turkish firms, now increasingly internationally oriented, cannot ignore these facts.
On the other hand, Turkish private sector proved its expertise and proficiency worldwide and earned a sound reputation in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.
Also, Turkey hosts more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees as part of a historical humanitarian effort, and helps many more in Iraq.
The humanitarian assistance of Turkey to those refugees has reached $4 billion.
Turkey has the longest land border with Syria among all its neighbors.
Together with Iraq, the length of the border is 1,295 km.
This is a danger felt far more acutely by Turkey than any other country.
Daesh, which constitutes a direct threat to Turkey’s national security, being priority, any threat coming out of this geography is first directed against Turkey.
Turkey is and will always be on the frontline in combating terror, said the diplomat, while advising resolute and comprehensive action, which is required to curb terrorism, and to finish terror outfits in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere in the region.


Turkish opposition candidate officially declared Istanbul’s new mayor

Updated 38 sec ago
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Turkish opposition candidate officially declared Istanbul’s new mayor

  • Although a little-known district mayor of an Istanbul suburb, Imamoglu, the 48-year-old challenger to Erdogan and his party, energized and consolidated the opposition votes by using a conciliatory tone during his campaign.

ANKARA: Turkey’s main opposition party candidate on Wednesday was finally declared as the new mayor of Istanbul.

Republican People’s Party (CHP) prospect Ekrem Imamoglu’s official mandate from the city’s election board came almost three weeks after votes were cast and despite a pending appeal from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for a rerun of the poll.

The decision follows results showing Imamoglu marginally ahead in the disputed mayoral election in Turkey’s biggest city.

The long-awaited news, which will see Imamoglu take office for five years, quickly started trending on social media with Twitter hashtags #MazbataGeldi (MandateHasCome) and #BaharGeldi (#SpringHasCome).

“I’m getting the mandate of 16 million residents of Istanbul,” Imamoglu, the new rising star of Turkish politics tweeted on his way to the electoral board’s offices where hundreds of supporters welcomed him.

Although a little-known district mayor of an Istanbul suburb, Imamoglu, the 48-year-old challenger to Erdogan and his party, energized and consolidated the opposition votes by using a conciliatory tone during his campaign.

A recount of all votes, including invalid ones, in several districts of Istanbul confirmed Imamoglu to be ahead by 13,729 votes.

The AKP’s electoral defeat in Istanbul - Turkey’s cultural, financial and commercial hub - as well as in the capital Ankara, has created political tension in the country, with the uncertainty hitting the value of the lira.

Losing Istanbul also marked a personal blow for Erdogan who began his rise up the political ladder as mayor of the city in 1994.

However, the country’s Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) is yet to rule on whether the AKP’s formal demand for a new election has any merit. If the YSK accepts the application, based on alleged widespread irregularities, Imamoglu’s mandate could still be taken back.

An announcement from the YSK on whether to rerun the vote in early June is expected in the coming days.

“This is a big victory for the Turkish opposition in a competitive authoritarian regime, which showed a great resilience,” Orcun Selcuk, an expert on comparative politics, told Arab News.

“Unlike previous elections, the Turkish opposition looked organized and caught the incumbent party by surprise. The AKP leaders failed to provide logical arguments to back up their claims of systematic manipulation,” Selcuk said.

Imamoglu gave a rousing speech to supporters in front of the Istanbul metropolitan municipality building.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, CHP parliamentarian Burhanettin Bulut said the decision to give Imamoglu his certificate of mandate had avoided throwing Turkey into chaos.

“Now it is time to restore our country, beginning in the cities, by taking into consideration social expectations. The political pressure of the new executive presidential system at the top can only be balanced by local governance at the grassroots,” he said.

Sezgin Tanrikulu, Istanbul CHP deputy and a well-known human rights lawyer, said he did not think the YSK would give the green light to an election rerun as the AKP’s application was legally flawed.

“This decision ended 25 years of control of Istanbul by the AKP and its Islamist predecessors. From now on, an egalitarian, transparent and democratic approach will prevail,” Tanrikulu told Arab News.

Nezih Onur Kuru, a doctoral researcher on political psychology from Koc University, in Istanbul, said Imamoglu had refrained from using polarizing language after the elections, and his popularity had increased as he organized rallies in every district of Istanbul where the CHP had won.

“Imamoglu kept his calm even though Erdogan and his nationalist ally MHP continuously targeted him with their statements. Imamoglu, however, stated that he would not discriminate against AKP supporters,” Kuru told Arab News.

According to Kuru, the new mayor, who comes from a conservative family, prevented the AKP and MHP voters from rallying behind his rival Binali Yildirim.