As regional conflicts maintain their significance around the world, David Hearst, the editor of the Middle East Eye and also an expert in foreign affairs, attended a panel that was organized by the Sharq Forum and the German Institute of International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin and addressed important issues exclusively with Daily Sabah regarding the Middle East and Turkey's role in the region. Commenting on Turkey's role in the region, Hearst said, "Turkey could play the mediator role between Saudi Arabia and Iran." He further addressed regional conflicts, such as the advances by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the outcomes resulting in terms of Iran gaining an upper hand in Syria and Yemen and challenging Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries.
While President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's visit to Saudi Arabia to hold bilateral talks with newly enthroned King Salman, who ascended to the throne when King Abdullah passed away on Jan. 23, is expected to recover bilateral relations between Ankara and Riyadh, Hearst said that one must not expect a major change in the country's policies under the new king. He continued that rather than discussing the change, one must ask, "To what extent the new king will be different from the old one, not just in terms of Turkey but also in terms of Egypt and to a lesser extent, the Muslim Brotherhood?" With regard to comparing Saudi-Egyptian relations and Saudi-Turkish relations, Hearst said that while King Salman held a substantive meeting with Erdoğan and another private meeting, he did not hold such a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
"Since Sissi returned to Cairo, there have been negative things in the Egyptian media about Salman. And in fact, during Sissi's speech yesterday [on March 12] to military commanders, he only referred to the UAE [United Arab Emirates] when he talked about the help he is getting from the Gulf countries," Hearst said regarding Saudi-Egyptian relations. He also said that such actions indicate "Egypt has painted Saudi Arabia out of the picture."
Regarding Saudi-Turkish relations, Hearst said, "There is communication now at the highest level between three men in charge of Saudi Arabia: King Salman, his son and Muhammad bin Nayef." While Hearst, like many other experts, also does not expect a major change in relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, he said that to develop and foster relations between the two countries, the key country is Iran. He said, "Turkey has a balancing role to play in the region, certainly with Iran, as it has a moderate relationship with [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani." Hearst described Turkey becoming a regional actor with the Erdoğan era and said stability cannot be achieved without ending wars in four different Arab countries in the region.
Commenting on the ongoing situation in Syria with ISIS and the regime of President Bashar Assad, he said that as the war has destroyed the country, thus "speaking of an idea of re-building of a unitary state or building a post-revolutionary Syria is out the window."