Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Gulf crisis
On Wednesday, Saudi King Salman designated Mohammed bin Salman crown prince. Now Prince Mohammed is the second man in the Kingdom and first in line to the throne. For those who follow Saudi Arabia, the move was expected when considering Prince Mohammed’s increasing domestic and international roles, and his discourse on reforming and modernizing his country.
But the timing of his appointment was a surprise, as it happened amid the worst diplomatic crisis between powerful Arab states in decades, and amid mounting tensions with regional rival Iran. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was among the leaders who congratulated the new crown prince.
During the phone call, “the two men expressed a desire for stronger ties between their nations, and agreed to increase efforts to end the tension in the region related to the dispute with Qatar.” Also in the phone call, Erdogan and King Salman agreed to meet at the G-20 Summit next month in Germany.
Turkey’s top diplomat Mevlut Cavusoglu was recently in the Kingdom, where he held talks with King Salman about the Qatar crisis. But no statement was released afterward. Ankara has backed Qatar in the crisis and vowed not to leave the tiny nation isolated. Turkey is also sending it food and medicines.
On Thursday, Turkish media reported that a contingent of 25 soldiers would depart for Doha to join some 90 troops already deployed there. A military base was set up there by Ankara as part of an agreement signed in 2014. Turkey considers its ties with Qatar as indispensable to its regional position and long-term strategies. But Turkish support is not at the expense of relations with other Gulf countries.
The most important thing is to keep dialogue channels open throughout this crisis.
After the appointment of the new crown prince, questions were raised about how this will affect Turkish-Saudi relations. It is still too early to predict how Saudi relations with other nations in the region will evolve with the new heir, but needless to say a new figure means new developments.
Under King Salman’s predecessor, Riyadh and Ankara went through a period of strained ties after the 2013 ouster of Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi via military intervention led by current President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. But relations were soon back on track and improved further under King Salman. Neither side wants to hurt these improving ties.
Moreover, Ankara has made clear that its relations with Gulf nations are separate issues that will not affect each other. From the start of the crisis, Ankara has aimed to pursue a controlled policy and mediate between the parties. Amid regional sectarianism and no outcome to the crisis, taking sides is of no benefit.
As the current chair of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Turkey can offer a solution, engage in efforts to bring about dialogue and assume a neutral position. The most important thing is to keep dialogue channels open throughout this crisis. Escalating it would not be in the interest of any country, and will only exacerbate regional turmoil.
• Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes mainly in issues regarding Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. She can be reached on Twitter @SinemCngz.