Erdoğan receives rare visit from UAE officials to discuss regional issues, investment

On Wednesday , Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan received a delegation of officials from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in a rare visit from one of his most ardent regional rivals. 

According to the Emirates News Agency (WAM), the delegation was led by Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the national security advisor to UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The rest of the delegation's composition was not specified, but the advisor conveyed to Erdoğan the greetings of the president and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, also referred to as MbZ.

"During the meeting, which took place in Ankara, the two sides discussed the prospects of consolidating ties between the United Arab Emirates and the Republic of Turkey, especially in areas of economic and trade cooperation, and accelerating investment opportunities in the fields of transportation, health and energy, on the basis of promoting their common interests," wrote WAM.

The two sides were reported to have discussed trade and investment opportunities, economic cooperation, and unspecified "regional issues of common interest". An image of Erdoğan meeting Sheikh Tahnoon was shared by the Turkish presidency's Twitter account. 

In an interview after his meeting with Sheikh Tahoon, Erdoğan revealed that contacts had taken place between the Emirati side and Turkey's National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) that paved the way for the encounter on Wednesday. 

"As of now, we have been in some discussions with the Abu Dhabi government, especially with our intelligence agency, for about a few months," the Turkish leader explained. "I hope that we will address some of the problems in the region as members of the same faith."

Despite being one of the region's highest profile rivalries of recent years, Erdoğan played down the past acrimony, saying "there are always ups and downs between two states." He added that the UAE may enter into "serious investments" in Turkey and that he could meet with MbZ at an unspecified date in the future to further solve problems in their shared neighbourhood.

Since at least the start of the Arab Spring in 2011, Turkey and the UAE have been locked in an at times bitter cold war across the Middle East. Erdoğan had worked hard to frame Turkey as a leader of the Muslim world through his open embrace of political Islamist movements in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, including to the Muslim Brotherhood. By contrast, the UAE under MbZ's direction has vociferously opposed the spread of Islamism and has backed secular strongmen like Egypt's Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and Libyan field marshal Khalifa Haftar. 

These differences in outlook have led to a number of clashes over the years. For instance, Turkey sided strongly with Qatar when the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other neighbours instituted a blockade of the kingdom over its support for Islamist groups, relations with Iran, and the presence of a Turkish military base on its soil. The blockade collapsed in December 2020, opening up the way for Turkey to repair ties with some of the blockading nations.

Beyond its support for likeminded allies in the Arab world, the UAE has consolidated closer relations with Turkish rivals like Greece and Israel, concluding military deals with the former and normalising relations with the latter. 

A shift in attitudes was first signalled in January when former UAE foreign minister Anwar Gargash stated that his country saw "no reason" for conflict with Turkey, beyond its support to the Muslim Brotherhood which the UAE considers a terrorist organisation. Two months later, Turkey's foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu repeated these sentiments by saying Ankara was ready to mend ties with its regional rival. Bilateral trade between Turkey and the UAE has also weathered poor diplomatic relations with $8.09 billion in overall volume in 2019, just before the COVID-19 epidemic. 

Unlike the de-escalation in tension between Turkey and others in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, progress towards detente with the UAE has been slower and at least publicly out of sight. The clearest sign that the UAE took that appeared to be a measure of good will to Turkey was its effort to quiet the criticisms of a convicted Turkish mob boss that rattled Turkey's politics.

Sedat Peker, a mobster who was formerly an ally of President Erdogan before falling out with other members of his government, claimed to be residing in Dubai where he produced hours of purportedly tell-all videos that detailed corruption within the Turkish state.

In June, Peker was summoned for an interrogation by Dubai police, a move that was speculated to be a sign that the UAE had grown uncomfortable with the maelstrom he was provoking inside Turkey. Soon after, Peker revealed he had moved to an unspecified new location and no new videos have been added to his Youtube channel since June even as he continues making accusations over his Twitter account. 

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