Gül Indicates Robust Bilateral Relations between Turkey and the UAE
Column by Abdullah Bozkurt: “Connecting Turks and Emiratis”
If there is anything that requires the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Turkeyto join forces, it is the lingering Iranian threat that is keen to destabilize the region all the way from the Gulf and sub-Saharan Africa in the south to the Caucasus and the Central Asia in the north. If Iran gets its way in this large geography using sectarian schisms under the guise of political Islam, the UAE and Turkey are the two front-line countries that are poised to lose most from such an expansion. That is why both countries are strongly opposed to a nuclear-armed Iran as this will change the dynamics fundamentally in the favor of belligerent Iranian policies.
Unlike Iran, both the UAE and Turkey are keen to promote stability in theMiddle East and the Gulf because they want to keep trading in a safe and secure environment. They fear political instability and regional conflicts will scare away investment and trade. In a safe environment, Turkish and Emirati officials are confident enough that their booming economies, supported by the entrepreneurial skills and innovative spirits of their businesspeople, mean that both countries are well placed in the competition. Whereas Iran, knowing that it is set to lose in a fair game, benefits from factionalism and divisions to the extent that trade deals are decided on the basis of ideological considerations rather than free and fair competition rules.
Having had talks with senior UAE officials involved in foreign affairs and economic issues this week on the occasion of the 41st anniversary of the establishment of the federation, I reaffirmed my earlier belief that that Turks and Emiratis need to take cooperation — already underway in many areas — to the next level without losing valuable time. As Dr. Anwar Gargash, the state minister for foreign affairs, rightly pointed out in our discussion of the UAE`s foreign policy challenges, we need to “operationalize” these cooperation schemes with more emphasis put on “how to do it” rather than “what to do.”
I think we all know what to do in bolstering bilateral ties as well as in cooperating on issues that are relevant in third countries, especially in the immediate neighborhood of the UAE and Turkey. It is now time to translate goodwill declarations issued during high-level visits on each side into concrete actions that will pave way for new opportunities. We have already seen preliminary indications on how this cooperation could mutually benefit both countries. The joint UAE and Turkish operation in delivering urgent supplies to the opposition in Libya last year or ongoing cooperation on the ground between the Turkish Red Crescent and the UAE Red Crescent in war-ravaged Mogadishu are good examples of what both countries can accomplish together when their interests overlap.
Looking at the number of challenges the UAE has faced recently, there is no doubt that Turkey can play a significant role in helping Emiratis in mitigating risks and countering threats the young federation is confronted with. Irantops the list, of course, and both countries have a vested interest in cooperating more closely to counter Iranian expansionist and interventionist policies in the region.
In fact, both Turkey and the UAE represent a situation that resembles very much the hydraulics concept of “communicating vessels” working in reverse. When the UAE puts the slightest pressure on Iranian illicit trade activity circumventing sanctions, Tehran switches its front companies affiliated with the regime to Turkey. When Iran faces severe restrictions in Turkey, it turns to the UAE ports and trade hubs, especially in Dubai, to bypass sanctions. This creates good leverage against Iran when both countries join forces to squeeze Iran economically.
The Turkish position on three Gulf islands occupied by Iran is pretty much favoring the UAE, as Ankara has made it clear that it wants the dispute settled by negotiations rather than military confrontation, a position long-held by the Abu Dhabi government. When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad paid a provocative visit to the island of Abu Musa, the largest of the three, back in May, Turkey said the stability and security of the Gulf was paramount and urged dialogue rather than an escalation of the issue.
There is another looming issue that might push Turks and Emiratis into closer collaboration — the rising threat of disruptive radical organizations like al-Qaeda and other like-minded ones that hijack the peaceful religion of Islam for malicious purposes in the Middle East. Despite its own shortcomings, the Turkish experience so far has proved that these radical groups cannot make inroads into the Turkish social fabric because of the moderation, openness and tolerance deeply rooted in Turkish Islamic culture since Ottoman times. Incidentally, the same barrier has also helped stop the spread of Iran`s political schism from moving beyond the Turkish border since the revolution in 1979.
This tradition was bolstered through education in Turkey. As the UAE is redesigning education and investing heavily in that field, the Turkish experience may come in handy in the overhauling of the UAE`s educational system. Turkey, a major Muslim country with strong links to the West, could be good mixture for the UAE to draw some lessons from. The UAE is already partnering with many in the West including the US, the UK and France on education and culture but the fact that none of them are Muslim countries could expose these connections to a possible exploitation by radical groups in Gulf and Middle East. It gives ammunition to the extremist groups for misleading propaganda that the West is pulling the strings in the UAE government.
There is no doubt that Egypt, the most populous Arab country, has considerable influence in the region and the UAE looks up to Cairo for a variety of reasons, including the fact that they are Arab brethren. But Egyptunder the Muslim Brotherhood`s influence has a long way to go to consolidate its democratic overhaul while struggling to keep country`s economy afloat. The unfolding events in Egypt in the last week have shown that the country is very much polarized and society is divided. All these things are a source of great concern for UAE officials. The response to the question of how Arab Spring changes will influence UAE society is still unknown and this understandably causes great apprehension among Emirati elites. Enlisting Turkish help may soothe some of the tensions the UAE feels at the moment.
From the wider regional perspective, Turkish-Emirati cooperation also promises a lot for many other people. With educational outreach activities, charities, assistance programs and trade ties, Turkey has been trying to share this successful working experience with a number of countries from Somalia to Yemen and from Pakistan to Afghanistan, so that stability and safety can be sustained on a long-term basis. The UAE, which is home to many ethnic and religious groups, could very well emulate Turkey`s experience but tailor it to its own unique characteristics. The fact that theAbu Dhabi government welcomes Turkey`s further involvement in these countries facing religious fanaticism and schism indicates that there is huge room to develop ties between Turkey and the UAE.
The UAE is not a big country but it has significant soft power in the region. This power is not necessarily tied to the wealthy sovereign funds the Emirates collects from the oil and gas industry. It also has to do with the innovative ideas the UAE has come up with since the establishment of the federation 41 years ago. It has been able to diversify its economic portfolio and today collects significant revenue from the trade and hospitality industries. The country can entertain many world gatherings and international events on a variety of subjects with no problem whatsoever. In the Gulf region, it is a good partner for Turkey.
UAE officials acknowledge that the country needs external anchors to deal with challenges in its tough neighborhood. They have been partnering with a number of regional and global powers to do so. I believe Turkey is perfectly positioned to tap into this strategic need and there are a whole range of overlapping interests that will make this mutually beneficial for both countries.
(Description of Source: Istanbul Today`s Zaman Online in English — Website of English-language daily published by the Zaman media group, supportive of Fethullah Gulen community; URL: http://www.todayszaman.com)
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