Turkish president in UAE pays tribute and deepens detente

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Turkey’s president traveled to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday to pay tribute to the federation’s late leader and congratulate his successor, deepening a rapprochement between the countries after a bitter rivalry following the 2011 Arab uprisings .

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has praised Abu Dhabi’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, for his rise to power after nearly a decade as de facto ruler. From a sparkling reception hall at Abu Dhabi airport, he offered his condolences on the passing of late President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Turkish government has said.

In a scene unthinkable just a decade ago, as ties between the countries frayed over Turkey’s support for Islamist groups in the Middle East, Erdogan pulled Sheikh Mohammed in for a big hug.

Erdogan’s trip on Tuesday marks his second trip to the United Arab Emirates this year as Turkey, diplomatically isolated and in desperate need of foreign currency and investment, seeks to mend fences with old enemies – including most recently with Saudi Arabia.

Since the coronavirus pandemic and the US withdrawal from the region, the United Arab Emirates has also changed its foreign policy, seeking detentes with rivals as bloody wars have helped fuel Yemen and Libya into a stalemate and the Iran is advancing with its nuclear program.

During Sheikh Mohammed’s visit to Ankara last fall, the United Arab Emirates pledged $10 billion to boost investment in Turkey. Ahead of Erdogan’s first state visit to the United Arab Emirates in nine years in February, the countries agreed to a currency swap equivalent to nearly $5 billion. Trading volumes jumped more than 54% last year compared to 2020.

It’s a stark reversal from the aftermath of the popular uprisings of 2011. Gulf Arab states boiled over Turkey’s membership of the Muslim Brotherhood, which they consider a terrorist group. Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have been vying for influence in the region, backing opposing sides in Libya’s civil war and a Saudi-led boycott of Qatar.

Erdogan was just the latest dignitary to fly to oil-rich Abu Dhabi to pay his respects. In a dramatic display of the UAE’s influence abroad, an extraordinary array of presidents, prime ministers and princes have descended on the sheikh over the past few days to pay their respects and praise the succession.