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The UAE’s approach to Turkey

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Farzad Ramezani Bonesh

Turkey and the UAE have extensive cultural, competitive and economic ties, but their relations have deteriorated significantly in recent years. The following article has examined the UAE’s current approach to Turkey.

Economic pressure on Turkey

The volume of trade between Turkey and the UAE in 2017 reached a peak of nearly $15 billion. But in 2018, we saw the decline of trading between these two countries. With the growth of disputes between Turkey and the UAE, trade between them has been significantly declined.

Meanwhile, the UAE is now trying to both put the turkey under pressure and yet, to persue a new approach against Turkey by using financial equipment and extensive lobbying in the West and Arab countries, and implementinf full sanctions against Turkey in terms of investment, trade and commerce and tourism.

Reducing Turkey’s influence in the Cooperation Council and Qatar

The UAE Arab has been critical of Turkey’s support for Qatar during the siege of the country in recent years. From this point of view, the Turkish base in Qatar has a positive rol in maintaining its security, and according to policymakers in UAE, Erdogan’s visit to Qatar and Kuwait, and his greater presence in Saudi Arabia will make the region more unstable. In addition, the development of economic and political relations between the Turkey and Persian Gulf countries neutralizes the Qatar’s embargo. In the meantime, it seems that UAE is also considering the normalazation of its relation with Qatar with the aim of putting an end to helping to Turkey’s economy and reduce the financial-political support for Brotherhood.

Decreasing Turkey’s soft power in the Arab world

In the eyes of some people, Turkey is a popular destination for the Arabs. In fact, President Erdogan has been so popular in the Arab countries that attracted tha attention of Arab leaders. But increasing the anti-Turkish sentiments in Arab people and leaders like Emirates, has led to the approach of reducing Turkey’s soft power in the Arab world.

In this regard, the UAE is trying to soften the power of Turkey and Erdogan in domestic and regional public opinion by criticizing the historical Behavior of the Ottomans in the Arab World, establishing social media campains, sanctioning of Turkish goods and TV series, etc.

Further cooperation with Saudi Arabia and Egypt and pressure on Turkey in the Arab world:

From the UAE’s point of view, Turkey is seen as a “long-term threat” and Ankara has a special trend to strengthen its presence in Africa, the Red Sea and the Arab world. This has raised concerns in the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Also, the “Muslim Brotherhood” is the main threat to the existence and survival of the UAE. Therefore, In addition to being Arab and having common approach regarding the need to confront the rising of Brotherhood’s power, Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are at the opposite point of Turkey and consider the Brotherhood as an ideological movement in the Arab world that can which could be a threat.

Reducing tensions with Iran

Although in the past, the UAE’s criticism of Turkey was parallel to their opposition to Iran, both are seen as non-Arab actors who can expand their power in the region. But over the past year, Saudi Arabia has tried to reduce tensions with Tehran (unlike Turkey). From this point of view, many in the UAE consider Turkey as the main threat in the Sunni world who intends to introduce itself as the leader of the Sunni Islamic world.

Cooperation with Turkey’s neighbors against Ankara

The UAE has held some military excersizes with Greece since 2017. While, the UAE and Greece are establishing close military ties with each other, putting pressure on Turkey to confront Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean is at the center of this cooperation.

Although, Turkey show the most severe reaction to the agreement on normalization of UAE-Israel ties, but on the other hand, the UAE tries to strengthen its relation with other Turkey’s neighbours, in addition to normalization of its ties with Israel.

In this regard, it negatively assesses Turkey’s participation in Nagorno-Karabakh and considers the option of strengthening relations with Armenia.

Cooperation with the United States, the European Union and France to put more pressure on Turkey

French support for the UAE has been instrumental in escalating the crisis with Turkey. This is an important reason for the convergence of France and the UAE in opposing Turkey in the Middle East. In this regard, for UAE, cooperation with the United States, the European Union and France and the pursuit of a 10-year roadmap to “deepen strategic partnership”, presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, etc., is a kind of further US and European pressure on Turkey.

Reducing Turkey’s influence in regional crises

Ankara signed an agreement to draw its maritime borders with Libya in November 2019 in response to an anti-Turkish alliance. But the UAE’s policies do not tolerate Turkish intervention in Libya.  On the other hand, as Turkey sees the UAE’s presence and influence in Yemen as a threat to Yemen’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, the UAE fears that Turkey will strengthen its position in Yemen. In addition, from the UAE’s point of view, Turkey has behaved colonially in Syria. In this regard, the UAE intends to support the Kurds against the Turkish forces and to improve relations with Damascus and eliminate the threat of the “Muslim Brotherhood” and “Turkey”.

Reducing Turkish influence among Iraqi Sunnis

The UAE is trying to weaken the Turkish-affiliated political front among Iraqi Sunnis, and the Sunni Iraqi figures would not have a tendency to Brotherhood’s political Islam as Turkey has. Meanwhile, a change in the political arrangement within Iraq’s Sunnis and the creation of a new political front will reduce Turkey’s influence.


The UAE pursues an active foreign policy to become a regional power. But the country still sees Turkey as an obstacle to efforts in the Middle East. Therefore, in the short term, the range of tensions and divergence in UAE-Turkey relations remains high.


Senior Researcher and Analyst of International Affairs