The current clique of the royal families in both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates considers Turkey a threat, or rather an enemy. The reason is that Ankara doesn’t give them the chance to accomplish their plans in various parts of the Middle East. The Saudi-Emirati bloc, which includes Bahrain and Egypt, have plans to cozy up to Israel and ostracize Turkey. They want to maintain the status quo of the countries in the region. In other words, they want the nations to accept dictators and relinquish any aspirations of freedom, political transformation, democratization or constitutional change.
Turkey, on the other hand, has backed the Arab Spring uprisings and sided with the peoples' demands, and that has infuriated monarchies in the Gulf region who believe that the Arab Spring is a contagious revolution that would be an inevitable, imminent threat to their own domestic stability.
Thus, their campaigns against Turkey haven’t stopped, the Saudi and Emirati media outlets never stop calling for Arab tourists to stop visiting Turkey, citing fictional or exaggerated reports of crime, kidnapping and harassment of Saudi women in Turkey. Most recently, Turkey has been accused by their media commentators of spreading the coronavirus in Saudi Arabia and Arab countries. Previously, they labeled the Ottoman caliphate as an occupation in the new curriculum. They are even manipulating drama to defame Ottoman history. In an Emirati-produced soup opera, “Kingdom of Fire,” the producers focus on the history of the Ottoman Empire, not as the zenith of Muslim unity, but as a dark time for the Arabs. Also, Saudi authorities blocked two Turkish online news portals, TRT Arabi and Anadolu Agency (AA). Interestingly, the move comes after Turkish prosecutors indicted 20 Saudis over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, a murder that has soured the contentious relations between Ankara and Riyadh.
Ankara has also accused the UAE of backing the 2016 coup attempt against Turkey. After the demise of Daesh and the fall of its self-proclaimed caliphate in the Syrian city of Raqqa, Saudi Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer Al-Sabhan visited the area and met the Raqqa Civil Council, controlled by the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terrorist organization, the YPG, that has been fighting Turkey for more than 40 years. Most significantly, Turkey played a major role in implicating Saudi Arabia in the murder of Khashoggi and holding Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) accountable.
Turkey’s responses to the reckless policies of the Emirati and Saudi princes have consistently and rationally matched their provoking and unreceptive actions. Since the murder was committed in 2017, Turkey has succeeded in rallying a prolonged media campaign to mobilize the international community to reveal the true face of MBS and his backers in Western democracies. Because Turkey believes that the current ruling clique in those countries doesn’t represent the true image of their nations and the historic relations with a brotherly country, its strategy doesn’t include a retaliatory nature. It prefers to capitalize on the interests of the nations of this region and minimize the gains of the regional rulers and sloppy adventurers, who are merely interested in demonizing Turkey and generating hatred of it among their nations. Turkey allows such denigration campaigns and fallacious accusations to pass without retaliation. It’s bizarre and childish that a Saudi media outlet has accused Turkey of intentionally spreading the coronavirus, while the kingdom concealed its own numbers among pilgrims.
Turkey does not hesitate to take proactive measures to protect its interests. When Qatar needed support to face a Saudi-led blockade and intention to invade it, Turkey decided to deploy its military forces and strike a bilateral agreement of defense and military cooperation.
In Libya, for instance, Turkey is openly supporting the internationally recognized government, not only logistically, but also by deploying military hardware and dispatching troops to partake in the ongoing fight against the Saudi-Emirati bloc led by putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar.
The conflict between Turkey and this bloc is expected to intensify in various parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Allegedly, Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ), the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, is investing vigorous and obstinate effort to get the Syrian regime to break a cease-fire with Turkish-backed forces in Idlib province and escalate the conflict with Turkey.
For the Saudi-led front, it’s not only a matter of pursuing leadership of the Muslim world, but it’s also an ideology that is based on barring different viewpoints or attitudes. It mirrors the mentality of former U.S. President George W. Bush, "You’re either with us or against us." Turkey doesn’t buy into this rhetoric and doesn’t seem to back down on its quest of protecting its interests and supporting the aspirations of people under dictatorships.
*Palestinian-Turkish academic, journalist and visiting researcher at Leicester University who holds a Ph.D. in political campaigning from Istanbul Technical University