Turkey-UAE rivalry defining Middle East politics - columnist

The regional rivalry between Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have formed politics and opposing alliances in the Middle East and North Africa, columnist Zarrar Khuhro said in an opinion piece published on Monday.

Diplomatic relations between Ankara and Abu Dhabi soured after Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party started supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, a pan-Islamist political organisation, during the Arab Spring, a series of anti-government protests that spread across the Arab world. The UAE views the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation.

Since then, the UAE and Turkey “confront each other in a variety of theatres as the former tries to stymie Turkish plans at every opportunity”, Khuhro said in Dawn, a Pakistan-based newspaper.

The two countries have supported opposing sides in various regional conflicts.

In Syria, Turkey backed the anti-government protests opposing Syrian President Bashar Assad which ignited the ongoing civil war in the country and later the political opposition and armed rebel groups against Damascus. The UAE was more sympathetic to Assad and, Khuhro says, has allegedly funded the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Kurdish militant group designated a terrorist group by Ankara and the West – in what the columnist called “an apparent effort to strengthen it against Turkey”.

“Along with offering words of support for the largely Kurdish YPG, the UAE also label­led the Turkish 2019 offensive across the Syrian border (aimed at curtailing the activities of the YPG) as “a threat to peace”, sparking another diplomatic war of words,” he said.

Turkey also sent troops and relief goods Qatar during its diplomatic row with fellow Gulf nations, including the UAE, and Egypt over accusations that the Qatari government supported Islamist terrorist groups. The crisis strengthened relations between Ankara and Doha.

Turkey also supports Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord in Tripoli in its conflict against rebel General Khalifa Haftar, whose eastern-based forces have been supplied with arms by the UAE.

“It’s not just about ‘flipping’ countries into your camp to act as ideological allies, because for Turkey a friendly Libya offers further ing­­ress into the Mediterranean,” Khuhro said, referring to the maritime boundaries agreement between Turkey and the GNA which drew the ire of a conglomerate of countries involved in an eastern Mediterranean gas drilling project. “And if Tur­key wants something, you can bet the UAE will try to prevent it.”

Khuhro drew attention to the UAE’s support for Greece in its dispute with Turkey over territorial claims in the eastern Mediterranean, highlighting the four F-16s the Gulf state flew to Crete for joint military exercises with the Greek military.

“The stakes are high for Turkey here, as it drills for much-needed gas and energy supplies but faces increasing opposition from European powers, notably France, aiming to curtail its interests and ex­­pand their own, making them ready allies for the UAE,” he said. “Turkey, on the other hand, has fewer regional allies and will have to modulate its strategic policy very carefully in the coming decade.”