World’s tallest building Burj Khalifa displays Turkish flag as UAE and Turkiye rekindle ties

The years of an extremely frosty relationship between Turkiye and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) appear to have thawed completely, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan given a very warm response during his official visit to the Middle Eastern country this week.

Until recently, the two regional powers had taken opposing positions on a number of fronts in a bid to protect their own national interests and limit the influence of the other.

There was stiff UAE opposition to President Erdoğan’s overt support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The Islamist party was subsequently toppled by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who installed himself as leader. UAE and Turkiye have supported opposing sides in the conflict in Libya, and the UAE openly supporting the Greek side in the Cyprus and Greece-Turkiye disputes.

Turkey was vehemently opposed to the UAE and Saudi blockade of Qatar from 2017 to 2021, sending troops to support the small Gulf state. President Erdoğan had also previously accused the UAE of bankrolling Turkey’s 2016 attempted military coup.

The deterioration in formal relations resulted in proxy wars and unofficial boycotts. Flights between the two countries were frequently cancelled these past few years, websites from one country were blocked in the other, and the broadcast of popular Turkish TV dramas terminated in the UAE. Officials from both sides have also regularly traded barbs.

In January 2018, the Ankara street where the UAE Embassy was located was renamed ‘Fahreddin Pasha Street’ by the Turkish authorities in response to UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan “insulting” the Ottoman Governor of Medina from 1916 to 1919, by claiming he had committed crimes against local people, including theft of their property.

“Hos Geldiniz” President Erdoğan

But all of that was put to one side when President Erdoğan arrived in the UAE on Monday, 14 February, for his first official visit since 2013.

Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, carried the red and white flag of Turkiye and the words “Hos Geldiniz,” Turkish for “welcome”, while the Turkish national anthem played.

The Turkish leader met with UAE’s de-facto leader Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan to discuss a host of bilateral interests, which resulted in the signing of some 13 agreements in multiple areas, ranging from trade and technology, to defence, and agriculture. The UAE also pledged to make significant investments in Turkiye.

During the three-day visit, the Turkish leader, who enjoys a celebrity-like status in the Muslim world, did a walkabout where he met the public, stopping frequently for selfies.

He also toured Dubai Expo, and told local media: “Dialogue and cooperation between Turkiye and the United Arab Emirates carries great significance for peace and stability in our entire region.”

Anwar Gargash, a presidential advisor and former UAE foreign minister, tweeted: “President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to the UAE … opens a new positive page in the bilateral relations between the two countries.”

Back in 2020, Gargash had claimed in an interview that the Turkish leader was attempting “to revive the Ottoman Empire” and called for Europe to join forces with UAE to check the Turks.

The change in tone from confrontation to co-operation reflects the practical needs of both countries in the current post-pandemic climate, where the economy and trade trumps brinkmanship.

The opening of a new chapter between Turkiye and the UAE seemed likely when Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu paid a visit to Dubai in December, where he met with top UAE officials, including UAE Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also the ruler of the Emirate of Dubai.

Çavuşoğlu also met with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and his UAE counterpart Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who had made the invitation to Çavuşoğlu to visit. The meetings addressed regional developments and relations between the two states.