The current political rapport between Riyadh and Ankara is an exciting development. If harmonized, it could completely result in the two countries achieving significant influence at regional and international levels.
The economies of the two countries stand at $ 1.5 trillion, with high growth rates. This will surely make their collective voice heard loud and clear.
Saudi-Turkish relations are based on a number of denominators. To project historical backgrounds or discrepancies on the political and ideological structure has no real basis. It is simply irrelevant.Mohammed Fahad Al-Harthi
In addition, the special status of Saudi Arabia in the Muslim world, together with its political and economic weight, when combined with the newly transformed modern Turkey, will give the two countries a powerful political role in the region.
The visit to Turkey of Crown Prince Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, comes at a very opportune time, particularly to discuss the polarizing situation in Syria.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has just come back from a visit to Washington, where he met with President Barack Obama to discuss the situation in Syria. In the meantime, Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal is coming back from an important visit to China. All this at a time when Moscow and Washington have announced a Geneva 2 conference that many suspect will not fare better than Geneva 1.
Light at the end of the tunnel
There are many changes and variables in the region. There is also talk about a new Sykes-Picot agreement, fueled by ugly sectarian and ethnic strife that threatens the integrity of some Arab states.
The situation in the Arab Spring countries, which keeps them busy with their internal affairs, has created new givens and obvious vacuums. This has led to a decline in the important work that used to pass through the gates of the major Arab capitals.
This new reality makes it necessary that the major countries work together so no vacuum can emerge. If a vacuum does emerge, it will be filled by international and regional powers, each pursuing a different agenda.
Therefore, the crown prince’s visit to Turkey is a light at the end of the tunnel that will help get things back on course in the region.
Saudi-Turkish relations are based on a number of denominators. To project historical backgrounds or discrepancies on the political and ideological structure has no real basis. It is simply irrelevant. To create a project of political cooperation, you do not need identical positions on matters ideological. Turkey’s secularism is an internal affair, while the Islamic line of Saudi Arabia is a public choice. States deal with interests, and politics is the art of tapping the denominators to achieve the interests of various parties.
While Turkish foreign policy historically moved away from Arab interests, Turkey now adopts a pro-Arab stance and is supportive of Islamic cooperation. It is even a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and the secretary-general of the OIC is himself from Turkey.
Turkey's regional boost
To highlight Saudi concerns about an increasing Turkish role in the region is simply to ignore the facts. There is historic cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Saudi Arabia supported Turkey over Cyprus.
Also, Turkey’s stance during the Gulf War was positive. At the time, there was a meeting held at the residence of the then Saudi Ambassador Abdul Aziz Khoja, the current minister of culture and information. Present at the meeting were high officials of the Turkish government. The decision was taken to support the international coalition for the liberation of Kuwait.
Historically, Saudi Arabia supported Turkey even when it was going through economic crises. This is evidence that the two countries have a long history of cooperation and mutual support, and it also shows the possibilities that can be tapped at the present time.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, a political thinker in his own right, said that “Saudi Arabia is one of the key countries in the region, whose political and economic weight is of significance not only in terms of influencing regional developments, but also in tackling issues of global dimensions.”
There has been a growing tendency to increase and bolster economic and tourism relations between the two countries. A number of Turkish officials said that the visit of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to Turkey in 2006 was a landmark event in Saudi-Turkish relations. There are around 200,000 Saudi tourists in Turkey at present, while there are over 100,000 Turkish workers in Saudi Arabia.
The two countries also cooperate in the various international organizations, such as the United Nations, OIC, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Saudi Arabia is a moderate country and seeks peace in the region. It took a firm stand at the outset of the Syrian revolution. In a famous letter sent by King Abdullah to the Syrian president in August 2011, the king called on him to resort to reason and stop the killing machine. Then he recalled the Saudi ambassador to Syria.
Saudi Arabia also supported the move for the Syrian opposition to be given Syria’s seat in the Arab League, while Turkey tried right from the beginning to impress upon the Syrian president the need to change. But it discovered his insincerity and attempts to keep stalling through false promises. As a result, Turkey felt that it must support the Syrian opposition to the utmost, and open its borders to the Syrian refugees, giving them shelter and support.
The two countries will certainly benefit from the development of bilateral relations to a fully integrated strategy. There is no place for nonexistent Saudi-Turkish competition. This is a simplistic nonstarter. Both countries are members of the G20 group of nations. They have great potential that can be tapped and developed. To achieve stability in the Gulf region and to tackle its myriad challenges, including Iran’s nuclear program, require a high degree of mutual understanding.
Turkey now represents a new political model, where an Islamic party holds power. It is moving closer to becoming an advanced country, and is showing respect for human rights and minorities. It intends to play an important role in the region, and that role would not be complete without being integrated with the Saudi role.
Understanding between Riyadh and Ankara is key to many issues in the region.
To ensure that the relations remain successful, economic factors are the key. Through development and mutual interests, the peoples can connect. In 2012, trade between Turkey and the Gulf jumped to $ 22 billion. Yet many parties believe there are opportunities for much larger dealings. Turkish companies are starting to obtain a good chunk of Saudi development projects, the last of which is a SR 1.5 billion Saudi-Turkish joint venture to build a new terminal at King Khaled International Airport in Riyadh.
There are certainly many positive outcomes from the visit of the crown prince to Turkey. There is optimism, hope and confidence that the leaders of the two countries have the vision to transform this mutual understanding into solid reality on the ground.
This article was first published in Arab News on May 22, 2013.
Mohammed Fahad Al Harthi is the Editor in Chief of Sayidaty and Al Jamila magazines. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq Al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, Al Harthi later moved on to establish Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed Editor in Chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992.