Erdogan to visit Saudi Arabia in bid to mend ties

Countries have been at odds since murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to visit Saudi Arabia on Thursday in an effort to mend ties between the countries following the rift created by the 2018 assassination of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.

During his two-day stay, Mr Erdogan will have a formal head-of-state tete-a-tete with King Salman (86) who has retired to a palace in the futuristic city of Neom, under construction north of the Red Sea.

A Turkish official told Agence France-Presse that crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, de facto Saudi ruler, is expected to be in the delegation involved in talks on reinforcing bilateral ties, boosting political and economic relations and, expanding investment after 3½ years of enmity.

The timing of the trip is relevant as it is taking place during Ramadan, the Muslim month of peace-making as well as fasting.

Mr Erdogan announced in January that he would visit Saudi Arabia in February but was kept waiting until an Istanbul court cleared the route to reconciliation earlier this month by transferring to Riyadh the Khashoggi trial in absentia of 26 alleged Saudi assassins. While four have been convicted and sentenced and four acquitted by a Saudi court, the secret proceedings have been declared unsafe by the journalist's Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz and the Washington-based human rights group Democracy for the Arab World Now, founded by Khashoggi before his death.

Following the murder, Mr Erdogan said "we know that the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government" and vowed to expose "the puppet masters". This threat added to differences over Turkey's backing for the Muslim Brotherhood, branded a terrorist group by Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, and Ankara's support for Qatar during its dispute with the Saudis and Emiratis.

The prosecutions elicited an unofficial boycott of Turkish goods and produce in Saudi Arabia and it was clear there could be no warming of relations while Ankara pursued the case.

Turkey’s increasingly dire economic situation has compelled Mr Erdogan, who will stand for re-election next year, to reset relations with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates with the aim of securing financial aid which could reinvigorate Turkey’s economy.

Since February, the Ukraine war has caused a surge in energy prices and sent soaring already high rates of Turkish inflation.

Mr Erdogan travelled to Abu Dhabi and Dubai in mid-February to boost bilateral ties re-established when Saudi ally Emirati president, crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed, visited Ankara last November and a $10 billion investment (€9.47bn) fund for Turkey was created.

While Mr Erdogan may expect Saudi Arabia to follow suit with a similar fund, reconciliation efforts have already proven positive for Turkey. According to the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly, exports rose by 25 per cent during the first three months of 2022.

Since 2020, Mr Erdogan has also sought to mend ties with Egypt and Israel.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times