Talking Turkey | 14.9.20

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WHEN the UAE-Israel deal was annou­n­ced, the two Middle Eastern countries that most vociferously condemned it were Turkey and Iran.

While Iran’s position is consistent with its policies, and informed by the already intense tension between it and the Arab states and Israel, Turkey’s anger at the UAE requires closer analysis, as it is a factor of the growing, and relatively under-reported reg­io­­nal rivalry between Turkey and the UAE.

This may seem like an odd match-up but increasingly, this rivalry is becoming a defining feature of Middle Eastern politics and beyond. It isn’t exactly a recent phenomenon either, and is tied to the competing visions the two countries have for the region. For the UAE, any hint of democracy in the Middle East is anathema as, in their view, it will first propel the Muslim Brotherhood into power and — even if it doesn’t — will weaken the autocratic hold of the Gulf monarchies.

Turkey, despite the authoritarian leanings and nationalist policies of President Erdogan, remains a democracy and at least ideologically has a degree of sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood. And so, in the 2000s we saw that while Ankara warmed to the Brotherhood and allied causes, the UAE conducted purges against the movement’s members and suspected sympathisers, removing them from positions in the state and educational institutions. This culminated in a major crackdown on the MB by the UAE in late 2011 and in 2014, the MB was declared a terrorist organisation.

But before this had come the ‘Arab Spring’, which sent the Gulf monarchies into panic mode as they saw an existential threat to their rule emerge. Turkey, on the other hand, saw it as something of a godsend and acted accordingly, extending moral support to the protesters.