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, opening 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 stressed in a joint press release their “determination to start a new era of cooperation in their bilateral relations”.

However, the two states that say they want to develop their relations in different areas, from the economy to the military, have not announced the signing of any agreement.

Mohammed ben Salmane, known as “MBS”, has been personally welcomed by Mr. Erdogan at the Presidential Palace on Wednesday with a riding parade and honor guard, making a strong comeback on the international stage.

The de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, son of King Salman, had been largely isolated after the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, killed and dismembered on the premises of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had come to collect the necessary documents for 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 play for his re-election next year and must repair a Turkish economy in crisis, went to Saudi Arabia to discuss with MBS the means to ” to develop “relations between their two countries.

Three weeks earlier, the Turkish authorities had decided to close the trial of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and to return the cumbersome case to the Saudi authorities, paving the way for a 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, recalling that the conflict between Riyadh and Ankara dates back to 2013.

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

The 2017 blockade of Saudi Arabia on Qatar, an ally of Ankara, and then the Khashoggi case the following year, had sealed the disagreement.

But less than a year from the presidential election 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 – seeking investment and tourist flows. .

After two decades at the helm of the Turkish state, Mr Erdogan is facing the fall of the Turkish lira (-44% against the dollar in 2021 and -23% since January 1) and inflation (73.5% in a year in May). ) which ravages the purchasing power of the Turks and makes his re-election uncertain.

“You have returned the file [Khashoggi] to Saudi Arabia for money like a beggar, “shook the leader of Turkey’s main opposition party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the night before the visit.

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

– “Fight Iran’s influence” –

MBS, who traveled to Egypt and Jordan earlier in the week before being welcomed in Ankara, will receive US President Joe Biden in Saudi Arabia in mid-July, a visit to confirm his international rehabilitation.

“For Saudi Arabia, one of the primary motivations is [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 researcher, the son of King Salman “will not easily forget Turkey’s position during the Khashoggi affair”.

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

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