A media spat between Turkey and the UAE this week revealed the tense situation that now prevails between the NATO member and most of the Arab Gulf countries.
Since the UAE and Saudi Arabia stepped up their support for ally Egypt in its stand against Turkish military involvement in Libya, Ankara has stepped up its aggressive rhetoric against both countries.
Speaking on a Qatari satellite channel earlier this week, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar criticised the UAE for “committing malicious acts in Libya and Syria” and adding that “Turkey will bring Abu Dhabi to account.”
Qatari, Turkish and Muslim Brotherhood media outlets financed by Doha have been active in heated campaigns against Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE since the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent troops and terrorist mercenaries into Libya to fight against the Libyan National Army (LNA).
Egypt has warned Turkish-backed militia in Libya against advancing to the Sirte-Jufra line that Cairo has branded a red line for its national security. Except for Qatar, the Gulf states have supported Egypt in its position, backing its efforts to face up to the threat of terrorism in Libya.
Last week, Saudi Arabian Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal Bin Farhan visited Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and France, relaying a Saudi message to the North African countries that Saudi Arabia was backing Egypt’s stand against the Turkish intervention.
The Saudi diplomatic effort irritated Ankara and its ally Qatar and the militant groups supported by the Brotherhood in the region and beyond.
But as Ankara is still hoping for a Saudi change of mind and Doha is trying to drive a wedge between members of the Arab alliance behind Egypt, Turkey and Qatar chose to attack the UAE.
The response to the Turkish statements came in a tweet by UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, saying that “media rhetoric is worth no more than a social-media post.”
Gargash said that Turkey should stop interfering in Arab affairs, adding in his tweet that “relations are not managed by threats, and there is no place for colonialist delusions in this day and age.”
The Qatari channel’s interview with the Turkish defence minister was preceded by a rumour that Turkey was seeking to set up a military base in Oman, which neighbours both Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This started with a social-media post picked up by Qatari-financed Websites and then passing into the mainstream media.
Omani commentators responded by saying that those who had started the rumour had apparently not known that the claimed naval base would be in the middle of the desert.
Officials in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman refused to comment on “fake news” originating on social media, but two Saudi sources said it was understandable that “the Brotherhood and foreign countries want to divide the Gulf countries” through spreading false rumours.
One of the sources referred to what he called “Turkish intimidation through fabrication” to pressure the Gulf countries into softening their positions towards Ankara or Doha.
Emirati media commentator Rashed Murooshid told Al-Ahram Weekly that the Turkish verbal outbursts reflected its anxiety due to the UAE’s position as a spearhead in the opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorist offshoots harboured by Erdogan.
“There is also envy at how the UAE is prospering and keeping up the pace of sustainable development while supporting Arab allies resisting Turkey’s aggression,” he added.
He suggested that Ankara had failed to blackmail the Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE. “It seems that the money Erdogan got from a Gulf country to finance terrorism has run out and that country cannot provide billions more, so he is trying extortion instead,” he said.
Though Qatar has provided Turkey with billions of dollars, the Turkish economy is in a dire situation, not only due to the negative impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic but also due to the rising costs of foreign military ventures in Syria, Iraq, Libya and now possibly also Azerbaijan.
Before the falling out between Ankara and the Gulf, mutual trade and investments between them came to tens of billions of dollars on an annual basis.
Turkey is also now losing the benefits of helping Iran to circumvent the economic sanctions against it, as Iran has found alternative ways of trying to save its deteriorating economic situation.
Saudi commentator Abdel-Aziz Alkhames said that Erdogan was “furious” because Saudi Arabia and the UAE had concluded that his adventures were targeting them through targeting Egypt.
He referred to a rumour from Turkey through Qatari and Brotherhood social-media accounts of Egypt’s sending troops to Syria. Erdogan’s “media is portraying the Egyptian army going to Syria, a few km from Turkey, to hit them near their home,” he said.
Erdogan had also seen the failure of the “planned ‘Ottoman’ route from Turkey through Egypt and Sudan to Saudi Arabia supervised by the company led by his son Bilal,” Alkhames said.
The conclusion is that the Turkish rhetoric reflects Turkey’s increasing frustration that Egypt is not alone and that Erdogan’s bet on Qatar and the Brotherhood is leading to disaster.
For Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Turkish bluster will do nothing more than solidify their support for Egypt.
While it does not downplay the danger of the Turkish-Qatari alliance in spreading terrorism and seeking the destabilisation of the region, the Gulf stand is getting stronger in the face of Turkish blackmail and intimidation.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly