How Erdogan is Reshaping Turkey's Foreign Policy in the Gulf - Seeker's Thoughts

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How Erdogan is Reshaping Turkey's Foreign Policy in the Gulf

How Erdogan is Reshaping Turkey's Foreign Policy in the Gulf

Erdogan is altering Turkey's foreign policy in the Gulf to reinforce his domestic narrative of national strength. This pragmatic approach follows suit with the AKP's original "zero problems with neighbors" philosophy that offered prestige and influence in return for principled neutrality.

Europe must understand this reshaping to improve relations with Ankara and seize new opportunities for cooperation.

1. Reconciliation with the UAE

As Erdogan continues his regional vision, he will likely rely heavily on Gulf nations for financial and political assistance. Receipt of UAE citizenship could reduce state and non-state actors that have taken advantage of Turkey?s rivalry with Abu Dhabi in recent years. Furthermore, closer ties could allow Ankara to direct relations in more aligned ways with their interests in the region.

Ankara will likely prioritize economic relations with UAE and Qatar in the short-term. Turkey requires serious financial investment, and could benefit from expanding economic ties among GCC states. Furthermore, Ankara wishes to conduct less costly foreign policy in the Gulf region, and relieving tensions with UAE will be key in reaching this objective.

Ankara and Abu Dhabi should work closely together on security matters of mutual interest in their region, such as countering terrorism. Both nations also share concerns regarding Iranian-backed Shiite militias operating within Syria that Ankara can work to counter.

Erdogan?s efforts to repair Turkey?s relations with Gulf states include improving relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia? this as part of his strategy to mitigate the crisis with Qatar while simultaneously seeking balance with regard to relations between Turkey and the US.

UAE-Turkish reconciliation will not solve all issues plaguing bilateral relations, however. For instance, UAE authorities have blocked internet access for self-exiled Turkish mafia boss Sedat Peker of YouTube videos which expose corruption within Erdogan?s inner circle as well as state-mafia relationships. Furthermore, UAE allegations include Turkey supporting an unsuccessful coup attempt in 2016.

2. Reconciliation with Egypt

Turkey's recent moves toward normalising relations with Egypt mark an ongoing effort to normalise relations with the Arab world, now playing an increasing role in Ankara's foreign policy. This shift can be traced back to geopolitics - with many Middle Eastern neighbors abandoning confrontational policies in favour of working cooperatively on shared security challenges with Ankara.

Turkey views Gulf states as potential partners for economic and defense industry collaboration, particularly Qatar and UAE having already deepened their ties with Ankara both economically and militarily; Abu Dhabi recently purchased Turkish-built drones which indicate that under Erdogan, Turkey may expand both military and economic ties within this region as a whole.

Gulf states are realizing it makes sense to work closely with Turkey amid regional chaos and instability caused by Iran's nuclear ambitions, Qatar's diplomatic crisis and domestic discontentment. Saudi Arabia in particular is working towards diversifying its security partnerships. Turkey may be signalling change with improved relations with the Gulf states coupled with Erdogan reelection and his cabinet, signalling potential shift in strategy toward Middle Eastern regions.

However, many questions remain as to whether and how far Erdogan will take in cultivating these new relationships and whether he can sustain them. One major criticism against his approach has been its failure to link foreign policy with reality; that is, aligning country objectives and capabilities together.

Erdogan had long sought to project neo-Ottoman ambitions and assert Turkish dominance across the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia. Unfortunately, due to deteriorating economic conditions in the Middle East and domestic political issues affecting him personally, his strategy has had to change considerably. While he can continue playing regional balancer for now, his abrasive tactics and miscalculations have significantly decreased his leverage; to remain a powerhouse both regionally and beyond Turkey will need to learn from its mistakes while realigning strategic goals with reality on the ground if it wants to remain relevant.

3. Reconciliation with Syria

Erdogan has undertaken to reshape Turkey's relations with Syria - something which has long been debated and speculated upon - which forms an integral part of this reset process. The AKP's newfound friendship with Gulf states and his desire to change them have both contributed to this shift in strategy.

Erdogan announced in 2021 that it was time to initiate a reconciliation process with the Assad regime, marking an abrupt change of policy from someone who had long seen Syria as an enemy that needed to be removed from power. Furthermore, this move signaled the beginning of Turkey supporting Muslim Brotherhood-linked political movements throughout the Middle East region.

Although some in Ankara still view military operations against northern Syria as necessary, two earthquakes that hit both Turkey and northwestern Syria on February 2023 significantly undermined this goal. Not only were Ankara denied an easy opportunity for such incursions, but the disaster accelerated Assad's efforts at breaking his international isolation by getting diplomatic recognition as well as gradually taking back territory from Turkish-backed rebels.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of Turkey's largest opposition alliance and joint presidential candidate, has long argued that reconciling with Assad would enable Syrian refugees living in Turkey to return voluntarily home voluntarily - this message resonated with Turkish voters as anti-refugee sentiment remains an emotional topic within Turkish political discourse.

Erdogan could use dialogue with the Assad regime to take away one of the opposition's primary talking points and improve his image as an effective leader capable of making decisive decisions. Additionally, success by the Syrian regime in stabilizing Syria and helping repatriate refugees could justify Turkey's continued military presence there - providing further incentive for political reconciliation to occur; though reconciliation between Turkey and Syria might prove challenging or impossible in reality.

4. Reconciliation with Iran

Erdogan has developed cordial relationships with Gulf regimes to ease domestic tensions and eventually break Turkey out of its deep isolation in the Mediterranean region.

As part of his efforts to appease Egypt, Erdogan has stopped supporting Muslim Brotherhood-related groups in Turkey and supported Cairo?s efforts to open a Turkish-Egyptian trade office. Additionally, Ankara made concessions in Libya in order to reduce tensions with Benghazi while organizing an international conference that supports transitional governments in Tripoli's capital city of Tripoli.

Turkey's recent moves demonstrate a dramatic departure from its policy of supporting Muslim Brotherhood-related political movements as previously. Many observers have voiced doubt about whether such an approach can remain sustainable over time.

Kilicdaroglu has pledged a more pragmatic policy, inspired by Kemal Ataturk?s nationalist ideas as founder of Turkey and leader of Kilicdaroglu's own party, to advance "peace at home, peace in the world." His foreign policy is founded upon this theme; appealing to his base of Kemalist supporters and providing a welcome contrast against Erdogan?s militarist vision for Turkey.

As such, competition between these candidates will likely make foreign policy an increasingly prominent topic of the 2023 elections. Whoever emerges victorious will ultimately determine how Turkey approaches its relationship with the Gulf states.

Erdogan has relied on diplomatic engagement with Gulf states as a way of projecting Turkey?s prestige. Now that this region has become more volatile, Ankara must shift its policies toward more concrete goals or risk becoming further alienated from Western allies and eventually must focus more on Middle Eastern and North African regions to secure its position and maintain security within them.

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