Ankara and Ryad open a “new era” after the Khashoggi affair

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was received in Ankara on Wednesday for his first official visit to Turkey, ushering in a “new era” in Turkish-Saudi relations, poisoned by the late 2018 murder in Istanbul of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

At the end of the Crown Prince’s express visit, the two countries in a joint press release underlined their “determination to start a new era of cooperation in their bilateral relations”.

However, the two states, which say they want to develop their relations in various areas, from the economy to the military, have not announced an agreement.

Personally welcomed by Erdogan at the presidential palace on Wednesday, with an equestrian parade and guard of honour, Mohammed ben Salmane, known as “MBS”, is making a strong comeback on the international stage.

The de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, son of King Salman, was largely isolated after the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, murdered and dismembered in the buildings of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had come to collect the documents needed were before his marriage to his Turkish fiancée.

At the time, the Turkish president accused the “highest levels of the Saudi government” of ordering the assassination.

– “Like a beggar” –

Act 1 of the Turkish-Saudi reconciliation took place at the end of April: President Erdogan, who will run for reelection next year and must recover a Turkish economy in crisis, went to Saudi Arabia to discuss with MBS the means to “develop relations between their two countries.

Three weeks earlier, the Turkish authorities had decided to close the trial for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and return the cumbersome file to the Saudi authorities, paving the way for rapprochement with Ryad.

“This is one of the most important visits to Ankara in nearly a decade,” said Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who recalls that the Riyadh-Ankara feud dates back to 2013.

At the time, President Erdogan had backed deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, against Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, a hobbyhorse of Saudi Arabia.

The blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia on Qatar, an ally of Ankara, in 2017, and the Khashoggi affair the following year, had sealed the disagreement.

But less than a year after presidential elections scheduled for mid-June 2023, President Erdogan is stepping up initiatives to normalize relations with several regional powers — Saudi Arabia, but also Israel and the United Arab Emirates — in search of investment and tourist flows. .

After two decades at the head of the Turkish state, Mr Erdogan is facing the decline of the Turkish lira (-44% against the dollar in 2021 and -23% since January 1) and inflation (73. 5% on a year in May) which is destroying the purchasing power of the Turks, making his reelection uncertain.

“You sent the file back [Khashoggi] to Saudi Arabia for money, like a beggar,” the leader of Turkey’s main opposition party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, fumed on the eve of the visit.

“If Jamal had a grave, he would turn in it,” Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée at the time of his murder, told AFP on Wednesday.

– “Against the influence of Iran” –

MBS, which went to Egypt and Jordan earlier this week before being welcomed to Ankara, will receive US President Joe Biden in Saudi Arabia in mid-July, a visit that should confirm his international rehabilitation.

“For Saudi Arabia, one of the main drivers [de la visite de MBS à Ankara] is to create a Sunni front, which will include Turkey, to counter Iran’s influence in the region,” said Gönül Tol of the Middle East Institute in Washington.

But for the investigator, King Salman’s son “will not soon forget Turkey’s attitude during the Khashoggi affair”.

“At the time, MBS was trying to promote a reformer image in the country and on the international stage. However, by exposing the Khashoggi affair, Turkey has seriously damaged this image.”

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