Erdoğan tackles Saudi angst on Muslim Brotherhood to help mend ties

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan sought to address Saudi Arabia’s concerns about his government’s support for groups that Riyadh links to terrorism during a visit to the Kingdom designed to repair battered relations.

Erdoğan, who held meetings in Saudi Arabia for the first time since the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018, is known for his strong backing for the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which Saudi Arabia’s leadership has outlawed.

Erdoğan met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who he had previously accused of complicity in Khashoggi's murder, and King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's de-facto leader, has led a crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Turkish government is “against all forms of terrorism and we attach importance to cooperation with the countries in our region against terrorism,” Erdoğan said in overnight comments on Twitter after a closed-door meeting with King Salman at the Al-Salam Royal Palace in Jeddah.

 “We express on every occasion that we attach as much importance to the stability and security of our brothers in the Gulf region as our own,” he said.

In November 2020, the Saudi Council of Senior Scholars, the Kingdom’s highest religious body, published a communiqué describing the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group that does not represent the true values of Islam. The movement, which says it is seeking democracy for Muslims living under oppressive regimes, stirs up sedition, violence and terrorism, and undermines coexistence within nations, the council said.

Erdoğan said he hoped the visit to Saudi Arabia would mark the beginning of a new era in ties with the kingdom following half a decade of strained relations.

“I believe we will take our relations to a level beyond what they were previously,” he said.

Under Erdoğan, Turkey has sought to encourage political Islamic movements in the Middle East such as the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates to mobilise against oppression and establish political parties and governments in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt.

Erdoğan is facing elections next year and struggling to deal with economic woes in the country. He travelled to the Saudi kingdom as part of a dramatic shift in his government’s regional policy, which has included mending ties with Israel, which it had accused of terrorism, and regional rivals the United Arab Emirates.

Three weeks ago, a Turkish court dropped a trial in absentia of Saudi officials accused of the 2018 murder of journalist Khashoggi, who was also a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, after consulting with the Justice Ministry. It said the legal proceedings would be transferred to Saudi Arabia, where a trial has already taken place, prompting human rights groups to cry foul on Turkey’s justice system.

Erdoğan said in December 2018 that those closest to Bin Salman "played the most active role” in Khashoggi’s killing by a Saudi hit squad. On Friday, the meeting with the crown prince, complete with photos of handshaking, was the lead item on the website of Erdoğan's presidential palace.

Saudi Arabia has imposed an unofficial boycott on Turkish imports over its approach to the Khashoggi murder. Turkey has also riled Saudi Arabia by establishing close relations with regional rival Qatar and basing its military there.

Erdoğan is now looking to Saudi Arabian wealth to help his country’s economy overcome a painful currency crisis that has sent annual inflation soaring to over 60 percent and pummelled living standards ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections. The twin vote must be held by June next year.

The Turkish president said he was seeking Increased cooperation with Saudi Arabia in areas such as health, energy, food security, agricultural technologies, the defence industry and finance.

Among Erdoğan’s requests from the Saudi leadership was likely to be fresh capital to help his central bank defend the lira, which lost 44 percent of its value against the dollar last year. In January, Erdoğan struck a $5 billion currency swap agreement with the United Arab Emirates.

The lira has remained almost unchanged against the dollar since March, with economists pointing to interventions in the currency markets by state-run banks and the central bank, now armed with the UAE money, as the basis of the lira’s new-found stability.

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