Turkey and Saudi Arabia: A “Manageable Competition”
Non-Resident Fellow, Gulf International Forum; Research Assistant, Gulf Studies Center of Qatar University
Turkish-Saudi relations are similar in character to a roller-coaster, with many abrupt “ups” and “downs” over the past two decades. Relations between Ankara and Riyadh were relatively cordial during the 2000s, only to witness a sharp downturn during the 2010s. With the start of the 2020s, both countries have again worked toward restoring a positive trend.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia have historically been significant regional competitors, vying for influence and leadership. This geopolitical reality remains consistent, even during periods of amicable relations. Under the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are expected to pursue ambitious foreign policy agendas. However, this does not necessarily imply a deterioration in their relationship. Interestingly, despite their rivalry, the two countries have a history of “manageable competition.” Recent reconciliation efforts indicate that the positive momentum achieved between them is likely to continue.
There are three key areas where the Turkish-Saudi relationship is expected to develop over the next five years. The first area is in the economic realm. Close ties with Saudi Arabia will assist President Erdoğan in revitalizing the Turkish economy and tackling persistent inflation. Both countries signed multiple deals in March with this objective in mind. The second area of potential cooperation lies in the defense sector. Riyadh has expressed interest in greater involvement in the Turkish defense industry. In January, high-ranking officials from the Saudi defense ministry and domestic defense contractors visited Turkey. The deepening defense-trade relationship between Turkey and Saudi Arabia will likely continue in the next five years. The third area for fruitful cooperation is in the regional and international arena. Ankara and Riyadh have a stake in resolving the ongoing Sudanese crisis and could collaborate to reach a settlement between the warring factions. Additionally, there may be closer cooperation on other regional issues of mutual interest. It is also essential to consider the international dimension, particularly the relationship between the two countries and the United States, which the outcome of the 2024 U.S. presidential elections will significantly influence Saudi-Turkish relations.
Turkey and Qatar: A Special Relationship
Dr. Betul Dogan Akkas
Researcher of the Arab Gulf States
The relationship between Turkey and Qatar has rapidly improved since the Arab Spring broke out. The rise in bilateral ties between Doha and Ankara has generally been attributed to broad regional, sub-regional, systemic, and global factors. Yet beyond these factors, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Emir Tamim’s contribution to consolidating ties cannot be overlooked.
The next five years of the administration of President Erdoğan are therefore seen as a continuation of the two political personalities’ cooperation on political, economic, military, and cultural issues. Another critical angle is Qatar’s support for Turkey before and during its recent elections. Emir Tamim was one of the first leaders to call President Erdoğan to congratulate him on his electoral success. According to the current state of bilateral ties, another five years under Erdoğan’s rule will likely lead to more Qatari investments in Turkey and further Turkish economic and social initiatives in Qatar—and possibly an expansion of the two nations’ currency swap, which has helped Turkey to stabilize its economy and maintain its foreign reserves. In tandem with the Turkish defense industry’s growing role in Doha, the Turkish military base in Doha might expand.
Regarding politics, the parties can improve and ease their roles in the conflicts in Syria and Libya. Ankara and Doha have also used narratives and actions to combat civilian suffering in Ukraine and Sudan, which might be another vein of cooperation. The two nations might collaborate in any possible normalization with the Syrian regime and Syrians repatriation to their homeland, as President Erdoğan mentioned in his victory speech. Continual support of the parties in various layers and cases can be expected over the next five years across national, sub-regional, regional, and global borders.
Turkey and the UAE: Strong Relations, Lingering Tensions
Nesibe Hicret Battaloglu
Research Assistant in the Gulf Studies Center, Qatar University; PhD Candidate, the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara
The leadership of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) expressed a strong commitment to maintain and further improve the ongoing process of enhancing relations between Turkey and the UAE during President Erdoğan’s upcoming five-year term. President Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan of the UAE was among the first Arab leaders to congratulate President Erdoğan on his re-election. Given the current atmosphere of reconciliation in the region, it is unlikely that there will be a significant strain on Turkish-Emirati relations. On the contrary, Erdoğan’s re-election as president increases the potential for enhanced economic cooperation, particularly in the defense sector, considering the challenging economic conditions that Turkey is expected to face in the coming period.
However, it is essential to highlight that the relationship between Turkey and the UAE has been characterized by a mix of cooperation and competition, accompanied by significant contention, over the past decade. Despite recent reconciliation efforts, specific political disagreements within Turkish-Emirati relations persist. This is especially noticeable in matters involving Arab countries and Turkey’s increasing regional involvement. For example, Turkey’s military operations in northern Iraq and Syria, its reservations towards a political settlement with the Assad regime in Syria, and its position in the ongoing conflict in Sudan could potentially give rise to political tensions between Ankara and Abu Dhabi. While a full-fledged and overt rivalry between the two nations may seem outdated in light of the recent rapprochement, these areas of contention indicate that some disagreements remain within Turkish-Emirati relations.
Turkey and Iran: A Limited Partnership
Dr. Ibrahim Karataş
Associate Professor in International Relations based in Istanbul
President Erdoğan’s re-election is certain to affect Turkish-Iranian relations. The two neighbors have a long history of physical and verbal non-confrontation. Recently, the two had a secret clash because of problems related to Syria and Azerbaijan. Tehran staunchly supports the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and sides with him against Turkey and pro-Turkey armed groups. On the other hand, Iran strongly opposes Azerbaijan, an ethnically and culturally Turkic country and a close Turkish ally. The Iranian government was greatly disappointed by Azerbaijan’s victory over Armenia in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, and later expressed its discontent by threatening Baku, leading Ankara to reiterate its support.
Iranian leaders have long worried that the two Turkic states encircle their country from the Caucasus and pose a threat to their interests in Syria. During the runoff period, there was a silent wait in Iran, with many observers hoping that Erdoğan would lose. With this hope quashed, Iran may be expected to be more eager to boost relations and adjust to Erdoğan’s foreign policy. An apparently likely normalization between Ankara and the Syrian regime may improve Turkish-Iranian relations, and Iran may also opt to lower tensions with Azerbaijan, which can further heal the undeclared rift between the two nations. However, since both countries have fundamentally divergent regional aims, their rivalry will certainly continue.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Gulf International Forum.