Turkey's Erdogan in Riyadh as Saudi seeks 'Sunni unity'

AFP , Monday 2 Mar 2015

In this photo provided by the Saudi Press Agency, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, third right, prays at the Prophet Mohammed Mosque, the second holiest site in Islam, in the Saudi holy city of Medina, Monday, March 2, 2015. (AP Photo/SPA)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived Monday in Riyadh for a visit at the king's invitation in what is seen as a Saudi bid to unify Sunnis against Iran and jihadists.

Erdogan's meeting with King Salman comes a day after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi held talks with the monarch, and precedes a visit by Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif later this week.

The leaders of neighbouring nations Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates have already visited Salman since mid-February, and other Arab heads of state will follow, said Nawaf Obaid, a visiting fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard University in the United States.

"Saudi Arabia is drastically going to re-energise its foreign policy to bring the kingdom back to its natural role as the main unifier of the Sunni world because of its unique attributes," Obaid told AFP.

He was referring to the kingdom's hosting of Islam's holiest sites, the size of its economy, and its position as the world's largest oil exporter.

"Clearly, things are shaping up in a very different way than they have been in the last several years."

Salman acceded to the throne in January after the death of King Abdullah, aged about 90.

Erdogan arrived in Riyadh after performing a weekend pilgrimage in the Muslim holy city of Mecca and visiting Medina.

Cairo has accused Turkey of interfering in Egypt's internal affairs and of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

Sisi and Erdogan have had strained relations since the ouster of Egyptian Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

But Obaid said keeping Turkey "on the sidelines" only weakens the Sunni world.

"So as long as you can start having a serious sustained discussion between the major Sunni powers then you can come up with some form of policy at some point down the road, dealing with Iran and dealing with ISIS," he said, referring to the Islamic State group jihadists who have seized large parts of Iraq and Syria.

The group has claimed atrocities including the beheading of foreigners and Christians and the burning alive of a caged Jordanian fighter pilot.

Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Arab neighbours are part of a US-led military coalition conducting air strikes against IS.

Shiite-dominated Iran competes with Saudi Arabia for influence in the region.

*The story was edited by Ahram Online. 

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