Saudi Arabia allows reopening of Turkish schools amid thaw in relations

Schools run by Turkey's Ministry of Education in Saudi Arabia are slated to reopen soon, Turkish media reported on Monday, amid a thaw in relations between the two countries.

The development, announced by the ministry in a statement, follows a discussion on the matter between Turkish Education Minister Mahmut Özer and his Saudi counterpart Hamad bin Mohammed al-Sheikh, on the sidelines of an education summit in Paris, late June.

Ankara and Riyadh have been seeking to normalise relations strained by the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018, as well as deep differences over regional policies, including the war in Libya and Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz announced that the two countries would introduce a new era of cooperation in bilateral ties, including political, economic, military, security, and cultural relations.

The announcement followed the first visit to Turkey by the Saudi crown prince since Khashoggi’s killing.

In its statement on Monday, Turkey's Ministry of Education said the schools are set to reopen as diplomatic contacts between Turkish and Saudi officials bear fruit.

The activities of eight Turkish Education Ministry-run schools in the Saudi capital Riyadh, and other provinces were gradually terminated in 2020-21 by the Saudi government.

The Saudi decision generated a state of confusion among the students and their families at the time, in light of the complexities of enrolling in Saudi schools.

Turkish schools in Saudi Arabia attract hundreds of Turkish students residing in the Kingdom, as well as students of other nationalities.

As relations with Turkey frayed over the last few years, Saudi Arabia also launched an unofficial embargo of Turkish exports, dramatically curbing around $5 billion in bilateral trade. The kingdom then temporarily barred wildly-popular Turkish soap operas.

Efforts by the regional heavyweights to improve their ties come as Turkey faces its worst economic crisis in two decades and is trying to draw investments from wealthy Gulf Arab states. Turkey has also taken steps to improve relations with the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel.

Talks with the UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan late last year led, after years of regional rivalry, to investment deals worth $10 billion.

Saudi Arabia for its part, has been trying to broaden its alliances at a time of strained relations between Riyadh and Washington.

(A version of this article was originally published by the Arab Weekly and is reproduced by permission.)

 

 

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