Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is expected to arrive in Turkey on Wednesday for his first official visit to the country, after nine years of alienation born of the Arab Spring and exacerbated by the assassination in Istanbul of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“God willing, we will see to what level we can raise 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 Saudi Arabia. realm.
Act 1 of 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 Jamal Khashoggi, columnist for the Washington Post, killed and parted in October 2018 on the premises of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, when he came to collect the necessary documents his marriage to his Turkish fiancé.
Ankara had returned the cumbersome case to the Saudi authorities, paving the way for a rapprochement with Riyadh.
Act 2 takes place on Wednesday: MBS is to be received in Ankara by Mr. Erdogan at the end of a regional tour, which began in Egypt on Monday.
The program is not yet known, but more agreements should 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 conflict between Riyadh and Ankara dates back to 2013, when President Erdogan had backed Marshal al-Sissi, the ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, a pet in Saudi Arabia.
The three-year blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia on Qatar, an ally of Turkey in 2017, and then the Khashoggi case the following year, ended up poisoning the relationship between Ankara and Riyadh.
At the time, the Turkish president accused the “highest levels of the Saudi government” of ordering the assassination.
But less than a year from the presidential election scheduled for mid-June 2023, and while inflation is ravaging the purchasing power of the Turks, President Erdogan is stepping up initiatives to normalize relations with several regional powers – Saudi Arabia, but also Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
“Erdogan has swallowed his pride a little. He has only one thing on his mind: to win the next election,” said Judge Soner Cagaptay, according to whom the Turkish president, who went to the Emirates in mid-February, “desperately seeks to attract investment from the Gulf “.
After two decades at the helm of the Turkish state, Mr Erdogan is confronted with the fall of the Turkish lira (-44% against the dollar in 2021 and -23% since January 1) and inflation, which has reached 73.5% years. on the year in May, making his re-election uncertain according to opinion polls.
“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, on Tuesday.
– “Fight Iran’s influence” –
For MBS, this visit marks the end of Western exile: US President Joe Biden, who will visit the Middle East in mid-July for the first time since arriving at the White House, has planned a move in Saudi Arabia to meet the Crown Prince there.
“For Saudi Arabia, one of the main motivations is to create a Sunni front, which will include Turkey, to counter Iran’s influence in the region,” analyzes Gönül Tol, director of the Turkey program at the Middle East Institute in Washington.
But for her, “this rapprochement will not make it possible to solve the great economic problems” in Turkey.
“Furthermore, MBS will not easily forget Turkey’s position during the Khashoggi affair,” the researcher continues.
“At that time, MBS sought 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.”