Turkish-UAE Relations: Contexts and Prospects

The visit of the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed, and his meeting with Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, indicate turning of the page of the past decade of relations, which were marked by ideological and political competition on many regional fronts. Hence, this paper analyzes the course of the visit and its context with regard to the broader transformations in the region and the changes that affected regional alliances and relations.

by Omar Al-radad
  • Release Date – Nov 29, 2021

UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed's November 24 visit to Turkey, and his meeting with Turkish President Recep Erdogan, represent the latest and most significant step in the development of Turkish-UAE relations since these relations were initiated with a number of indicators, statements, and stations. The visit was the first since 2012, and came at the invitation of President Erdogan, reflecting Turkey's high hopes and aspirations on many economic and political levels, especially the agreements signed between the two parties in the areas of economic cooperation and investment.

Hence, this paper seeks to answer questions about the visit, including its contexts, outcomes, and drivers between politics and the economy, as well as the factors that paved the way for the visit, and the transformations taking place in the region, especially since Ankara is part of it. These transformations that began several months ago and showed that Turkey's new project in the region is facing difficulties the Turkish leadership will not be able to overcome with the same tools and alliances. Therefore, it is necessary to adopt a new strategy beyond the political maneuvers and pragmatic approach of the Turkish leadership, especially at a time when it is facing challenges at home that could undermine the chances of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) remaining in power.

Deep political disagreements, but solutions are on the horizon

The visit of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, to Turkey and meeting with Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, comes in the context of the profound transformations taking place in the region and the accelerating regional reconciliations. It shows a profound awareness of the necessity of strategic adaptation to these transformations in order to move past the previous decade, which was characterized by conflict management, and in return consider the economic benefits that cooperation opportunities provide for both countries, and what contributes to limiting fluctuations between them.

However, we do not disregard the fact that Turkish-UAE differences go beyond Turkey's bias in favor of political Islam, as well as its support of the Muslim Brotherhood, especially after they ascended to power in Egypt and then were subsequently ousted following the protests of June 30, 2013. In the same vein, Turkey has supported political movements in other regions, including Syria, Libya, Sudan, in addition to Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, and other African countries.

However, Turkey's support of political Islam groups ultimately led to severe crises for Ankara's allies, which may even be described as heavy losses. This is the case in Egypt after the June 30 revolution, and in Sudan as a result of Turkey losing its ally, former President Omar al-Bashir, in addition to the decisions taken by Tunisian President Kais Saied to suspend the parliament headed by Rached Ghannouchi. Moreover, further losses to the Muslim Brotherhood are now looming in Libya similar to theirs in Morocco.

One might say that these relations are headed for breaking up the alliance between Turkey and the Islamists, and were a prelude to Turkish transformations that paved the way for the return of relations with Abu Dhabi, as well as new understandings with Cairo that are being explored through rounds of talks between the two sides, in addition to moving forward in rapprochement and cooperation with Saudi Arabia. Ankara's measures against Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood media outlets, and its efforts to control their activities and movements in Turkey may demonstrate the seriousness of Turkish transformations.

In parallel, the Turkish project of geopolitical expansion has been hampered by several setbacks, particularly regarding its international relations and position. For example, the Turkish policy in the Balkans has undermined  its opportunities for partnership with Europe and the chances of its joining the European Union, as well as the escalation of Turkish activity in the eastern Mediterranean against Athens regarding oil and gas exploration. Moreover, the strengthening of relations with Russia and the S-400 missile deal were not only a leading cause of Turkish disputes with Washington, but also showed how Washington sees Turkey as a “rebel ally” compared with Iran, which is described as an “enemy” that can be understood.

It is therefore certain that political disagreements between Ankara and Abu Dhabi in many areas of conflict are complex and intertwined, though they may vary in importance and priority for the two countries. For example, the Libyan file may be the most pressing at present in light of the upcoming elections in which parties affiliated with both sides are competing. Syria, on the other hand, will be the least present, both because of its international complexity, and because there may be a rapprochement between Ankara and Abu Dhabi in attitudes towards Damascus. This is particularly true since Turkey is likely to become softer in its attitudes and more accepting of President Bashar al-Assad if it is given guarantees regarding its strategy. This includes confronting the "Kurdish" threat coming from northern Syria, which relates to the fundamental principles affecting the Turkish state and constitutes, for Ankara, one of the most prominent security threats.

In addition to the points above, there are still many issues causing concerns and reservations between the two countries. Perhaps the most significant of which are the UAE-Israeli relations that have developed following the Abraham Accords. However, Abu Dhabi may serve as a communication channel between Tel Aviv and Ankara, especially in light of the strained relations between the two countries, despite Ankara's continued assertion that its intelligence relations with Tel Aviv will continue.

Similarly, Abu Dhabi and Ankara are aware of the reality of transformations in the American position on Tehran, especially after the signs that experts believe point to the imminent signing of a new nuclear agreement between Iran and the United States and international powers, which may be closer than ever. This explains the meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi on the sidelines of the 15th Economic Cooperation Organization summit in Turkmenistan, despite their disagreement on Syria and standing on opposite sides of the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict.The UAE has also taken a similar stance towards Iran, as news agencies reported that high-ranking Emirati officials have visited Tehran. The fact that there is coordination with both the UAE and Turkey on any new nuclear agreement remains extremely important, given their status and power in the region, each of which has its own calculations and interests in its repercussions.


Hence, many foreign files of interest need more time and effort to clarify the variables and transformations in the positions of the UAE and Turkey. Nevertheless, the visit will contribute to concluding framework agreements, which will push toward more neutralization of political disputes, as confirmed by official statements on the visit by both countries.

Economy comes first

The observer of the official media content released by Ankara and Abu Dhabi may notice that the economic contents occupy the largest amount of space compared with the political files, especially in light of the talks about the frameworks of cooperation between the two countries, including the expected Emirati investments. This shows that they both understand the importance of developing a common ground and neutralizing issues on which consensus cannot be reached at the same level.

The visit saw the signing of 10 agreements between Turkey and the UAE, including memorandums of understanding on combating money laundering and countering terrorism, in addition to cooperation agreements in energy, environment, customs and banking services.  Moreover, memorandums of understanding have been signed between Turkish and UAE companies as well, including the understanding between the Turkish Sovereign Fund and Abu Dhabi Ports, Abu Dhabi Development Holding, as well as between the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange and Istanbul Stock Exchange.


These agreements come as the Turkish economy suffers from exacerbating crises, including the continued decline in the value of the Turkish lira, as well as high rates of public debt, inflation, and high prices. Turkish and international data shows that inflation exceeded the 20% barrier, while the Turkish debt percentage increased, including that of the private sector, which constitutes 65% of the Turkish economy, while significant investment companies left the country. In addition, Turkey is facing pressures related to energy, as it imports about 90% of its oil needs, which puts a strain on the economy.

As a result, the Turkish leadership realizes that future trends in the internal political and economic situation will not be in favor of the AKP.  Moreover, the deteriorating economy will have significant negative effects on the chances of the AKP and President Erdogan in the upcoming elections in 2023, and was also a contributing factor to the Party losing major municipalities. The Turkish opposition, on the other hand, seems to be in a stronger position than ever, and it has increased its chances of overthrowing the AKP by exploiting the economic confusion and the Party’s failure to convince the Kurds of its regional policies. This , in light of the Turkish people  deep desires to join the European Union, have created opponents that only serve the AKP’s strategies and the president’s nationalistic ambitions.

Scenarios for the future Turkish-UAE relations

A variety of scenarios may affect the future of Turkish-UAE relations, the first of which is a scenario in which they overcome political disputes and proceed with economic cooperation. This is the most likely scenario, especially since Abu Dhabi, with its financial capabilities and its promised investments in Turkey, makes up one of the most important links in the Turkish economy's lifeline, and that impacts the AKP's prospects in the upcoming elections.

In the second scenario, relations will remain within the boundaries of "cooling" hot files between the two sides, without achieving any political and economic consensus that can be felt on the ground. It is possible that Abu Dhabi will wait for clearer steps from Ankara on the controversial issues, especially since Turkey is still actively interfering in Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, and Syria, as part of its regional calculations. However, the economic crisis and the Turkish need for allies make this scenario less likely, as a number of indications confirm transformation of Turkish relations with the countries of the region in general, especially with Riyadh and Cairo. Those relations have witnessed a remarkable improvement that has been reflected in several fields, including easing the intensity of targeted and reciprocal media campaigns. It is certain that the Turkish-Emirati rapprochement comes in agreement with both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, given the close regional coordination between the three countries and the synchronization of their steps for rapprochement with Turkey. In light of this, it is likely that Ankara, Riyadh, and Cairo will host security and political meetings in the coming days, in parallel with the rapid openness of the region is witnessing.






The opinions expressed in this study are those of the author. In no way does Strategiecs take responsibility for the views and positions of its author on security, economic, political, social, and other issues, and such views and/or positions do not reflect those of Strategiecs.

Omar Al-radad

Strategic Security Expert