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Opinion: Who is calling for a Saudi–Turkish alliance? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdulaziz greets Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the King Khalid International Airport in the Saudi capital Riyadh, on March 2, 2015. (Asharq Al-Awsat/Bandar Al-Galoud)

It is difficult to understand the ongoing media “campaigns” that are calling for the return of a Saudi–Turkish alliance. What are the reasons behind this? In fact, when was there ever any Saudi–Turkish alliance in the past that anyone can call for “returning” now?

The reality is that the enduring alliance in the region is the one between Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It was Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad, through his ploys and tricks, who sought to bring Erdoğan’s Turkey into our region in order to weaken Egypt’s position. This is the same way that Assad exploited Sarkozy’s France to hurt the Americans. It is something we noticed clearly during the era of our dearly departed King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, may he rest in peace. Even when then-Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa sought to form a so-called “association” of Arab neighbors, Assad tried to bring in Turkey and Iran. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, of course, rejected this project, and no such alliance ever came to pass.

If we are saying that every country has its own interests and relations, then that is obviously true. And Saudi Arabia should not become a state that cuts off ties with others. This is unworthy of Saudi Arabia, nor is it our Kingdom’s fate. At the same time, Saudi Arabia must not find itself trapped within a narrow ideological or sectarian corner, as some others have trapped themselves in their narrow responses to groups like Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia cannot lower itself to the level of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, for example, but rather must rise above it. It would be absurd if Saudi Arabia were to do this, particularly as it would also harm its foreign relations. At the same time, it would be absurd to say that the Muslim Brotherhood must be viewed as a solely Egyptian domestic issue. Could you describe the Houthis as a solely Yemeni internal issue, for example? The same applies to the issues that are playing out today in Bahrain, Libya and Syria.

As for calls for Saudi Arabia and Turkey to play a role in filling the absence that the United States has left in the region, and in response to Iranian encroachment, then that is all well and good. But this role must be played by the region’s major countries, including Egypt. At the same time, the Turks must first be ready to play this role, and they must also understand Egypt’s importance.

So, it is illogical and impossible for Saudi Arabia to distance itself from its security depth and ally in the region, namely Egypt, in order to move closer to Turkey in this manner. This is the fact of the matter despite what some people have been calling for regarding a Saudi–Turkish alliance. When was there ever a Saudi–Turkish alliance, except by force?

The more important question that must be asked here is: who are Turkey’s allies, whether today or yesterday? Turkey’s closest and only friend in the past was Syria’s Assad. Ankara famously sponsored Syrian–Israeli talks, and also backed the Turkish–Qatari alliance. At the same time, there was never any genuine Saudi–Turkish alliance or coalition, or indeed a Saudi–Turkish–Egyptian alliance. In fact, didn’t Erdoğan famously warn against the entry of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Peninsula Shield Forces into Bahrain as being the prelude to another battle of Karbala (which took place in 680 AD between the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Al-Husayn Ibn Ali and the military forces of Umayyad Caliph Yazid I)? He later tried to distance himself from these comments during a state visit to Mecca, saying that they had been taken out of context, and that he was really trying to underline his concerns about bloodshed in Libya. But what has Libya got to do with anything?

So, once again, why is there all this clamor for a Saudi–Turkish alliance today? Whose interests would this serve? Has Turkey changed? The answer, of course, is no! In that case, why should we threaten our own interests and seek such an alliance when Egypt is Saudi Arabia’s greatest friend and strategic depth?

What is particularly of concern is that those calling for a Saudi–Turkish alliance now are precisely the same people who sought to justify Hezbollah, Hamas and Assad in the past. They are the same people calling for turning over a new page with the Muslim Brotherhood, despite the fact that the Brotherhood are the ones who completely ripped up the rule-book.

Why is the Arab media’s memory so selective about the past?