Turkish president in UAE to pay respects, deepening detente

·2-min read
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, center, walk before a meeting in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, May 17, 2022. Erdogan travelled to Abu Dhabi Tuesday to offer his condolences on the death of the United Arab Emirates' late ruler and meet with the federation's newly ascended president. Erdogan met with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who ascended the presidency following the death of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. (Turkish Presidency via AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Turkey's president visited the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday to pay respects to the federation's late ruler and congratulate his successor, deepening a rapprochement between the countries after a bitter rivalry in the wake of the 2011 Arab uprisings.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan praised Abu Dhabi's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on his elevation to power after nearly a decade as de facto leader. From a gleaming reception hall at Abu Dhabi airport, he offered condolences on the death of the long-ailing late President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Turkish government said.

In a scene unthinkable just a decade ago as ties between the countries frayed over Turkey's support for Islamist groups around the Middle East, Erdogan pulled Sheikh Mohammed in for a big hug.

Erdogan's trip on Tuesday marks his second to the UAE this year as Turkey, diplomatically isolated and in desperate need of foreign currency and investment, seeks to mend fences with old foes — including most recently with Saudi Arabia.

Since the coronavirus pandemic and American pullback from the region, the UAE similarly has shifted its foreign policy, seeking detentes with rivals as bloody wars it helped fuel in Yemen and Libya hit a deadlock and Iran races ahead with its nuclear program.

During Sheikh Mohammed's visit to Ankara last fall, the UAE pledged $10 billion to push investment into Turkey. Ahead of Erdogan's first state visit to the UAE in nine years in February, the countries agreed to a currency swap equivalent to nearly $5 billion. Trade volumes surged over 54% last year compared to 2020.

It's a stark turnaround from the aftermath of the 2011 popular uprisings. Gulf Arab states seethed at Turkey's embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood, which they consider a terrorist group. Turkey and the UAE competed for influence across the region, backing opposing sides in Libya's civil war and in a Saudi-led boycott of Qatar.

Erdogan was just the latest dignitary to jet to oil-rich Abu Dhabi to pay his respects. In a dramatic display of the UAE's influence abroad, an extraordinary array of presidents, prime ministers and princes has descended on the sheikhdom over the past few days to offer tribute and praise the succession.