Turkey’s Rapprochement With the Gulf States Is Gathering Pace

Turkey’s Rapprochement With the Gulf States Is Gathering Pace
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman walk during a welcome ceremony at Al Salam Palace, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 17, 2023 (Saudi Press Agency phot via AP Images).

In recent years, much attention has been paid to the perceived decline of U.S. influence in the Middle East and beyond, as well as its potential consequences. Amid concerns over new conflicts erupting, the resilient rapprochement between Turkey and some Gulf Cooperation Council states—notably Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—paints a slightly different picture.

Currently, Turkey and the GCC are working on a free-trade agreement, initiated during bilateral discussions in Ankara between Turkish Trade Secretary Omer Bolat and GCC Secretary-General Jasem Mohamed al-Budaiwi in March. Expected to be finalized soon, the agreement would create one of the world’s largest free-trade areas in market value, at $2.4 trillion, and builds on engagement that has continued since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s re-election in May 2023. Additionally, Erdogan has welcomed significant investments from Saudi Arabia and the UAE into Turkey, especially in the real estate, finance and banking, and energy sectors.

It’s quite a significant turnaround in bilateral relations from just over half a decade ago, when relations between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi—the GCC’s two biggest economies—and Ankara were more antagonistic. Those tensions initially emerged during the Arab Spring uprisings, which saw Turkey embracing Islamist movements that the Gulf monarchies perceived as threats, while both Saudi Arabia and the UAE sided with reactionary, counter-revolutionary actors that promised the notion of "authoritarian stability.”

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