Until a few months ago, President Tayyip Erdoğan’s administration has been holding the powerful name of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, responsible for every move taken against Turkey. The feelings were mutual. The Prince, known as MBZ with his initials in international politics, also saw Erdogan as the most important supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood (along with Qatar), which he considered a terrorist organisation.
According to Erdogan, MBZ was behind the overthrow of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood member, President Mohammed Morsi, in a military coup in 2013. He was the one who gave financial support to the Fethullah Gülen organisation during the coup attempt on July 15 2016. The UAE, along with Russia and Egypt, was against the Libyan government forces supported by Turkey.
MBZ arrived in Ankara on November 24 and was greeted with military honours by Erdogan. According to the agreements they signed, the UAE was to transfer 10 billion US dollars to Turkey. However, due to the rapid depreciation of the Turkish Lira in the last two months, Turkey’s economic assets, which are under the control of the recently founded Wealth Fund (Varlık Fonu), are 30 percent cheaper and it has serious external resource problems.
The conflict over Muslim Brotherhood was being replaced by the brotherhood of money.
How did the wind turn for the UAE?
UAE is the closest Arab country to the USA and Israel in the Middle East. MBZ signed the “Abraham Agreement” with US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington on August 13, 2020. Erdogan then condemned this agreement as a betrayal of the Palestinian people. Today, neither Trump nor Netanyahu is in power, but MBZ is shaking hands with Erdogan in Ankara.
How did this change happen?
As of the beginning of 2021, Sedat Peker, Turkish mafia boss, has become a factor in Turkey-UAE relations. The leader of a criminal organisation started to post videos in which he targeted Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government officials, especially Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, on YouTube. He made these broadcasts from UAE. For this reason, it was thought that the last rapprochement was built only on the axis of Abu Dhabi’s silencing Peker, while Turkey’s cut off its support for the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan-i Muslim, in short, Ikhwan).
Honestly, that also played a part in the rapprochement. After Turkey restricted Brotherhood broadcasts from Istanbul to the Arab World, the UAE administration also restricted Peker’s YouTube broadcasts and ensured that he did not target Erdoğan on Twitter.
But the wind started to turn in Libya first
Libya, East Mediterranean, Iran
Against Greece’s move to confine Turkey, which has the longest coast in the Eastern Mediterranean, to its coastline, Turkey signed a new maritime border agreement with the UN-recognised government of Libya in November 2019. Thus, Turkey became a party to the civil war in Libya on the side of the government. With the military support of Turkey, the Libyan government escaped decisive defeat. A ceasefire was declared with the intervention of Germany and Italy. The UAE, which has financially supported Russia and Egypt against the Libyan government, has withdrawn from ventures that brought it more harm than profit, including natural gas projects in the Eastern Mediterranean.
With the Covid-19 outbreak, the supply chain of Persian Gulf countries such as the UAE and Qatar to Europe has become dependent on the Suez Canal. The UAE wants to break this dependency by establishing a truck line to the Persian Gulf by land via Turkey and Iran, thus reducing the transportation that takes 18-20 days to 3-4 days. In the USA, the Joe Biden Administration’s intention to re-start nuclear talks with Iran, and the more flexible stance of the Naftali Bennet government that came to power in Israel, make it possible for the UAE to shift its supply chain to the Turkey-Iran line; Of course, with Turkey’s approval.
But it’s not just that.
Erdoğan’s “Economic War of Independence” and the UAE
It would be naive to think that Erdogan invited Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, whom he sees behind all kinds of anti-Turkey moves, including his overthrow, to Beştepe and host him at the highest level only to open a trade route through Iran.
First of all, it should be reminded that when the news of MBZ’s coming to Turkey broke out, Erdogan held friendship talks on the phone with Israeli President Yitzhak Herzog and then Prime Minister Naftali on November 18. Did Israel suddenly begin to be nice to the Palestinian people and win Erdogan’s heart? Or did someone convince Erdogan that it would be difficult to get closer to the United States without breaking the ice with Israel?
At the moment, Erdogan’s only strategy is to maintain power in the 2023 elections. For this purpose, he needs to recover the economy and put money in the pockets of the voters. The idea of selling foreign currency through the Central Bank in order to keep the exchange rate low ended in a fiasco. Now he is trying to leave the Turkish Lira in free fall and obtain foreign exchange from exports. He calls it the “Economic War of Independence” with a new psychological propaganda operation in order to reduce the reaction of the people, at least of his own voters.
But there are currently no external resources to give a lifeline to the traumatised economy. The support received from China, Qatar and Azerbaijan has already found its place. It is obvious that the place in question is not the pocket of the people who are suffering from high costs of living. However, neither proper foreign investment is coming, nor there is any external source that will relieve the Central Bank with new swap transactions.
At this stage, it seems that the UAE is spotted on the radar screen of the Presidential Campus in Beştepe, Ankara.
A key name in agreements
Erdogan seems to have decided to wage the “Economic War of Independence” with alliance of Sheikh MBZ, whom he counted among his main enemies until very recently.
Some of the ten agreements signed on November 24 are for long-term implementation, such as environmental investments or energy investments. Others are open to financial operations. Among these, we can count the Wealth Fund, Istanbul Stock Exchange and Central Bank agreements.
It was not only the value of the Turkish Lira that became cheaper with the last currency crisis. The value of Turkey’s production and employment bases became cheaper. They become easier to be bought by the foreigners, as the value of the dollar, euro and sterling in their hands increased compared to the Turkish Lira. Most of Turkey’s public assets are under the control of the Wealth Fund. Erişah Arıcan is the Deputy Chairman of the Wealth Fund and the de facto manager (because the manager is stipulated as the President Erdoğan). Arıcan is also the head of Borsa Istanbul and chairman of the Board of JCR Avrasya, the only credit assessment agency authorised by the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK). Among those he supervised the PhD thesis of was Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who was the former Minister of Treasury and Finance, and Şahap Kavcıoğlu, who is currently the Central Bank Governor.
Therefore, it will not be surprising that we soon see UAE partnership, perhaps control, in Turkey’s economic assets; the operational part of the business will be carried out quickly, almost from a single source.
Peker, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Kavala
Since we are talking about the upcoming process, let’s ask some more recent questions.
For example, Osman Kavala will have a hearing on November 26, tomorrow. Kavala said that he would no longer appear in court hearings during the “persona non grata” crisis that erupted with letters from Ankara ambassadors of ten Western countries demanding his release.
If someone convinced Erdoğan that reconciliation with the UAE would provide a lifeline to the economy and that the improvement of relations with Israel would help soften relations with the United States, that person may have convinced the president that the release of Kavala would also ease relations with the European Union (EU).
The currency crisis, which was previously erupted with a single message from Donald Trump on Twitter in 2018, was tackled with the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson. The financial-political problem with Germany was also resolved by the release of Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel. Let’s see how the independent Turkish judiciary’s release of Kavala – who has already been imprisoned for obstinacy – will affect the EU’s relations with Erdoğan. Maybe in this, maybe in the next hearing.
We know that Sedat Peker was silenced by the muting of the Muslim Brotherhood. It would not be a prophecy to say that there will be further reduction of support for the Brotherhood with the agreements made with the UAE.
But there is one more detail to complete the picture. Developments such as an agreement with the UAE and rapprochement with Israel may also affect the Erdogan government’s open support for Hamas in Palestine. The fact that Britain put Turkey on the “black list” because of Hamas activities and at Israel’s request did not matter in practice, but it had a political meaning. In summary, the agreements reached with the UAE seem to reduce Turkey’s support for Hamas.
When we talk about the shift from the Muslim Brotherhood to the brotherhood of money, we are talking about all of these.