Turkey and Saudi Arabia relations: Yasin Aktay

Yasin AktayBY: Yasin Aktay*

Turkey and Saudi Arabia are the two most important countries of the Sunni Muslim world. Regional and global developments bind these two countries’ fates together. The developments in one country inevitably impact the other as well. The threat directed toward one country is directed toward the other as well. The development in one of the two countries positively reflects on the other as well. Thus, these two countries have no other choice strategically but to hold onto one another independently of the administrators leading these two countries.

However, the policies of those leading the countries and the attitudes of the media following and interpreting these policies are able to influence these strategic relations or, even if it is not able to influence it, it is able to bring forth a different stance. Sometimes there are vast distances between what is reflected in the media and the real world.

It is not possible to say that the Turkey portrayed in Saudi media and the Saudi Arabia image portrayed in Turkish media is very pleasant. Looking at the media alone is enough to make one think that the problems between Turkey and Saudi Arabia are too grave to overcome. Yet, meanwhile, relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia continue to develop at the highest level. Of course, the portrayals in the media should not be given vast areas of opportunity to form new unfulfilled desires between the people of the two countries. Perhaps it will help to review and bring clarity to the current state of relations between the two countries with the media members of the two countries.

The “Turkey-Saudi Arabia Media Meeting” organized by the Directorate General of Press and Information (BYEGM) for this reason brought together Turkish and Saudi journalists. The meeting was attended by both Turkey’s Riyadh Ambassador Mr. Erdoğan Kök and Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Ankara Walid Abdalkarim al-Khreici together with their embassy and consulate teams. Walid al-Khreici is a friend of Turkey, who is sincerely concerned about the development of the two countries’ ties and fixing perception problems. Every time we meet, he states that he is suffering from the incorrect news reflected in both countries’ media and he is working with all sincerity to remedy this issue.

In his speech during this meeting, he gave striking examples of the news reflected in Turkey’s media about Saudi Arabia:

“For example, attempts were made to interpret it as there is a distance between the two countries in relation to the news about the level of participation by Saudi Arabia in both the emergency Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summits in Istanbul on Jerusalem. As a matter of fact, the person who attended the summit was the minister in charge of the work of the cooperation organization and was more suitable for this meeting than the foreign ministry and he being chosen was a sign that Saudi Arabia gave top-level priority to this meeting. But it was reflected otherwise. Despite this, taking into consideration these criticisms, participation in the last summit was at the foreign ministry level, which is actually not more important. Also, King Salman not participating in the summit personally was because the first day of the summit coincided with the opening of the Privy Council, which happens once a year. That meeting was also very important.”

To ensure that the situation is better understood, Khreici gave the example that last year, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did not attend an Islamic Summit that took place in Saudi Arabia because of his party’s congress. He added that nobody thought the president did not view this meeting as important.

Something else was done in this dialogue, which managed to contemplate the formation of perception in both countries: in addition to the reasons why the two countries’ relations are reflected in the media as such and based on the acceptance that there is also an area that is not unproblematic, these matters were also discussed.

To be honest, up until the military coup in Egypt that happened in July 2013, during the Justice and Development (AK) Party period, relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia were constantly in a development trend. When, on top of the disagreement between the two countries in the face of the Egyptian military coup, the disagreement on the Qatar issue last year occurred, it was not possible for relations to continue like there was nothing wrong. Actually, even though with Turkey’s open attitude toward the bloody military coup in Egypt its approach and politics with Saudi Arabia differed, it put in great effort to prevent this difference from becoming a factor negatively affecting the two countries’ relations. It saw the possibility to continue cooperation in other areas, as a matter of fact, despite the Egyptian military coup directly harming Turkey’s interest.

Meanwhile, it is a fact that tensions in relations further escalated with Turkey’s attitude in the Gulf crisis that happened regarding Qatar last year. Saudi Arabia openly stated that Turkey lost its position as a mediator between these two countries with its pro-Qatar attitude. Thus, the Saudi media is publishing articles against Turkey that further increases the dose of criticism and attack on a daily basis.

It is very clear in these criticisms that Tukey’s position and attitude are not understood thoroughly. Turkey stated from the very beginning that its attitude to defend Qatar in this crisis is not an attitude against Saudi Arabia. Those expecting Turkey to be unbiased did not appreciate that both sides needed to remain alive in ratio for it to be able to demonstrate that it is unbiased. One of the big sides intending to completely destroy the other side had to be stopped first. Only then will mediation to discuss and find a solution can be possible. After one of the sides are gone, there is nothing left to mediate or be unbiased about.

Turkey is preventing a fight between brotherly countries that would lead to an irreversible lawlessness. If Turkey did not do this, then maybe others, who are far from our religion, culture and region would seek this role for a hefty price. Everybody needs to remember what their protection of Kuwait against Iraq led to in our region.

There are many factors affecting Turkey-Saudi Arabia relations: Let us take a close look at these factors, which we can categorize as the U.S., Iran, Qatar, Egypt, Ikhwan and history, in the next article.

*Yasin Aktay is a member of the Turkish parliament and a leading figure of the ruling Justice and Development (AK Party) in Turkey. (Published in Yeni Şafak Turkısh newspaper)