Is Mossad behind the coup in Turkey

Turkey tries to embrace in Riyadh and Cairo

First Cairo, then Riyadh: Turkish travel diplomacy is in full swing these days. The negotiators' goal: to put the recently very tense relations with a number of Arab states, above all Saudi Arabia and Egypt, on a new footing. Relations with these countries had cooled in recent years due to a number of contentious issues.

Since Turkey has a difficult relationship with the European Union on several points - human rights, the dispute over gas reserves in the Mediterranean, refugee issues - it is generally rather isolated internationally.

With a view to the Arab world, her main concern is not to continue to be seen as a stubborn, difficult partner, says John Sfakianakis, research director at the Gulf Research Center in Riyadh who lives in London. However, he doubts that the new initiative will lead to qualitatively new relationships in the short term: "The contacts seem to be the first attempts. But I don't think that diplomatic and economic relations will be substantially improved."

Disagreement about Israel

At least there is a willingness to talk: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu arrived at the beginning of the week for talks in Saudi Arabia. There was a lot to talk about. The different viewpoints on Israel are likely to be particularly topical these days. The current military exchange of blows between Israel and Hamas is straining the relations of those Arab states which, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), are seeking a new relationship with Israel.

Israeli retaliatory attacks on Gaza Strip (photo taken on May 12, 2021)

For years, Saudi Arabia has also been working behind the scenes to improve relations with Israel, including to curb the influence of its rival Iran in the region. Turkey, on the other hand, speaks out vehemently against such normalization tendencies and apparently also senses an opportunity in the region to position itself at the spearhead of those in the region who are aggressively demonstrating solidarity with the Palestinian side, including Hamas - and who are not just responsible for Israel Escalation, but also as a "terrorist state", as Erdogan himself recently put it.

Turkish leadership ambitions

This is another reason why Riyadh, which traditionally at least relies on quiet diplomacy, sees itself under pressure. Because in many Arab states, rapprochement with Israel is not exactly popular - especially not in the current situation. In this respect, it seems conceivable that Arab states will soon find themselves compelled to express their criticism of Israel a lot louder and more clearly. But they would certainly not accept a leading role for Turkey. .

The positions in other areas are also different. When Saudi Arabia and its allies - including Egypt and the UAE - began a boycott against Qatar that had recently ended in the summer of 2017, Turkey stood by the emirate and provided it with important assistance through food exports. Qatar and Turkey are connected, among other things, through their good relations with the Muslim Brotherhood. Their social revolutionary and explicitly political interpretation of Islam is a thorn in the side of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi religious council, which is linked to the government in Riyadh, described the brotherhood as a "terrorist organization" in November of last year.

Last but not least, relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey are also strained by the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Just how angry Saudi Arabia still is with Turkey is shown by the boycott of Turkish goods and the fact that the kingdom only announced at the end of April that it wanted to close a number of Turkish schools.

Overall, Turkey is acting from its position of weakness, says Fadi Hakura, Turkey researcher at the British think tank Chatham House. For example, it is lagging behind the rapprochement between the Gulf states. "It has made Turkey's previous political course superfluous. So far, it has been able to benefit from the tensions in the Gulf. That is no longer possible."

The Muslim Brotherhood in dispute: Torn poster with the likeness of the former Egyptian President Morsi, August 2013

Friendly gesture towards Cairo

Turkey's relations with Egypt, a close ally of Saudi Arabia, now apparently want to put Turkey on a new footing after years of frosty relations. President Erdogan announced on Friday last week that his country wanted to strengthen its "historic" friendship with Egypt. This was preceded by direct talks between senior diplomats from both countries - the first in eight years.

As a sign of willingness to come to an understanding, the Turkish government asked TV channels close to the Muslim Brotherhood in Istanbul in March to moderate their ongoing criticism of the Egyptian regime.

Relations have been strained especially since the Turkish government criticized the coup against former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in the summer of 2013. Morsi, who came from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood and was the first democratically elected president since the revolutionary year 2011, was overthrown by the Egyptian military been.

Libya is the crux of the matter

But the different positions in the Libya conflict are more important. For years the two states had faced each other there on different sides. In Cairo, Turkey is particularly blamed for its Libyan involvement on the side of the so-called "Government of National Understanding" under Fayis al-Sarradsch. This also includes Islamist forces. That was a major reason for the Egypt to support the rival government in Tobruk. In addition, many Arab regimes have long accused Ankara of a "neo-Ottoman" foreign policy course based on power politics.

Turkish President Erdogan (r.) And Libya's transitional prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, April 2021

It is unlikely that this course will change substantially, says John Sfakianakis from the Gulf Research Center. "The neo-Ottoman style belongs to Erdogan. You can see it symbolically in the conversion of Hagia Sofia into a mosque. He is not willing to say goodbye to this style."

Serious new beginning?

Regarding foreign policy, too, Turkey seems to want to continue on its previous course, regardless of its relations with Egypt. During a visit to Libya in early May, Foreign Minister Cavusoglu tried to legitimize the presence of Turkish troops by pointing out that they were in the country as a result of a request from the previous Libyan Prime Minister Fayiz al-Sarradsch.

Above all, Turkey has one important reason to stay in Libya: its presence there is an important bargaining chip in the dispute over the use of the gas discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean, in which it is currently entangled with several neighboring countries - including Egypt.

For the time being, however, it is considered unlikely that Turkey will give up this bargaining chip without hardship or greater consideration.