Saudi Crown Prince in Ankara, “business as usual” after Khashoggi

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is expected in Turkey on Wednesday for his first official visit to the country, after nine years of estrangement, born of the Arab Spring and aggravated by the Istanbul murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“God willing, we will see to what level we can improve relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday, confirming the arrival in Ankara of “MBS”, the de facto leader of the Saudi kingdom.

Act 1 of the reconciliation took place in late April: President Erdogan visited Saudi Arabia, where he discussed with the Crown Prince ways to “develop” relations between their two countries.

Three weeks earlier, Turkish justice had decided to close the trial of the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered and dismembered in the buildings of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 when he came to collect documents. needed for his marriage to his Turkish fiancée.

Ankara had sent the cumbersome file back to the Saudi authorities, paving the way for rapprochement with Riyadh.

Act 2 will take place on Wednesday: MBS will be received in Ankara by Mr Erdogan at the end of a regional tour that started in Egypt on Monday.

The program is not yet known, but several agreements are yet to be signed, a senior Turkish official told AFP.

– “Like a beggar” –

“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.

He recalls that the row between Riyadh and Ankara dates back to 2013, when President Erdogan against Marshal al-Sissi backed deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Saudi Arabian hobby.

The three-year blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia on Qatar, an ally of Turkey, in 2017, and then the Khashoggi affair the following year, had ended Ankara-Riyadh relations.

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

But less than a year after the presidential elections scheduled for mid-June 2023, and as inflation ravages Turks’ purchasing power, President Erdogan is stepping up initiatives to normalize relations with several regional powers – Saudi Arabia but also Israel and the United States. States Arab Emirates.

“Erdogan has swallowed his pride a bit. He has only one goal in mind: to win the next elections,” judged Judge Soner Cagaptay, according to whom the Turkish president, who left for the Emirates in mid-February, “is diligently looking for investment from the wave”.

After two decades at the head of the Turkish state, Mr Erdogan is faced with the decline of the Turkish lira (-44% against the dollar in 2021 and -23% since January 1) and an inflation rate of 73 .5% per annum on May year, making his re-election uncertain according to polls.

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

– “Against the influence of Iran” –

For MBS, this visit marks the end of exile on the part of Westerners: US President Joe Biden, who will visit the Middle East for the first time since his arrival at the White House in mid-July, has planned a move in Saudi Arabia to meet the crown prince there.

“For Saudi Arabia, one of the main drivers is the creation of a Sunni front, which will also include Turkey, to counter Iran’s influence in the region,” said Gönül Tol, director of the Middle’s Turkey Program. East Institute in Washington.

But for her, “this rapprochement will not make it possible to solve Turkey’s major economic problems”.

In addition, MBS 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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