Ankara and Ryad open a “new era” after the Khashoggi affair

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was received in Ankara on Wednesday for his first official visit to Turkey, opening a “new era” in Turkish-Saudi relations, poisoned by the assassination at the end of 2018 in Istanbul of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

At the end of the express visit of the crown prince, the two countries underlined in a joint press release their “determination to start a new era of cooperation in their bilateral relations”.

The two states, which say they want to develop their relations in various fields, from the economy to the military, have not however announced the signing of any agreement.

Welcomed personally by Mr. Erdogan at the presidential palace on Wednesday, with an equestrian parade and guard of honor, Mohammed ben Salmane, known as “MBS”, is making a strong comeback on the international scene.

The de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, son of King Salman, had been largely isolated after the October 2018 assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, killed and dismembered at the premises of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where he had come to collect documents necessary for his marriage to his Turkish fiancée.

At the time, the Turkish president accused the “highest levels of the Saudi government” of ordering the assassination.

– “Like a beggar” –

Act 1 of the Turkish-Saudi reconciliation took place at the end of April: President Erdogan, who is running for re-election next year and must repair a Turkish economy in crisis, went to Saudi Arabia to discuss with MBS the means of “developing” relations between their two countries.

Three weeks earlier, the Turkish authorities had decided to close the trial for the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi and to return the cumbersome file to the Saudi authorities, paving the way for rapprochement with Ryad.

“This is one of the most important visits to Ankara for almost a decade,” said Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who recalls that the quarrel between Riyadh and Ankara dates back to 2013.

At the time, President Erdogan had supported against Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sissi the deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, from the Muslim Brotherhood, a pet peeve of Saudi Arabia.

The blockade imposed in 2017 by Saudi Arabia on Qatar, an ally of Ankara, then the Khashoggi affair the following year had sealed the discord.

But less than a year from the presidential election scheduled for mid-June 2023, President Erdogan is stepping up initiatives to normalize relations with several regional powers – Saudi Arabia, but also Israel and the United Arab Emirates – seeking investments and tourist flows.

After two decades at the head of the Turkish state, Mr. Erdogan is faced with the plummeting of the Turkish lira (-44% against the dollar in 2021 and -23% since January 1) and inflation (73.5 % on a year in May) which ravages the purchasing power of the Turks, making his re-election uncertain.

“You have returned the file [Khashoggi] to Saudi Arabia for money, like a beggar,” the leader of Turkey’s main opposition party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, fumed on the eve of the visit.

“If Jamal had a grave, he would turn around in it,” Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancee at the time of his assassination, told AFP on Wednesday.

– “Counter the influence of Iran” –

MBS, who had visited Egypt and Jordan earlier this week before being welcomed in Ankara, would receive US President Joe Biden in Saudi Arabia in mid-July, a visit which should lead to his international rehabilitation.

“For Saudi Arabia, one of the primary motivations [de la visite de MBS à Ankara] is to create a Sunni front, which will include Turkey, to counter Iran’s influence in the region,” said Gönül Tol of the Middle East Institute in Washington.

But for the researcher, the son of King Salman “will not easily forget Turkey’s attitude during the Khashoggi affair”.

“At that time, MBS sought to promote a reformer image in the country and on the international scene. However, by revealing the Khashoggi affair, Turkey has seriously damaged this image”.

.

Leave a Comment