Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 May 2019

Erdogan's erratic behaviour concerns the entire region

It benefits the Arab world to have a Turkey that is stable and progressive but instead, we find a president causing troubles at home and abroad

A picture of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a press conference for the Justice and Development Party. Sedat Suna / EPA
A picture of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a press conference for the Justice and Development Party. Sedat Suna / EPA

It is the oldest trick in the book. A political leader faces mounting domestic troubles and criticism, so he conveniently creates an external crisis in an effort to distract his population. And here we have Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan doing just that, hoping that he can deflect internal woes by manufacturing problems with other countries.

Let us consider Turkey’s internal situation. Between December and February, Turkish unemployment was reported as being at its highest in a decade, reaching close to 15 per cent. The Turkish lira continues to slide as faith in the current political leadership continues to fall.

Last month, JP Morgan advised its clients to sell the Turkish lira, adding to the currency’s troubles. The response of the Turkish government was not to consider its own structural problems but to place the bank “under investigation”. Mr Erdogan openly threatened bankers who reported on the Turkish economy, saying: “We know the identities of all of you. We know what you are doing.” The response of Mr Erdogan raises more concerns about how Turkey now does business. Arab investors must limit their exposure to such a volatile economy, especially when the rule of law is no longer guaranteed to protect bankers and others in the country. Reuters news agency quoted Ulrich Leuchtmann from Commerzbank saying: “With archaic measures of this kind, [Mr Erdogan] will scare away even the last courageous investor”.

Mr Erdogan’s reaction to the banks is the same as his reaction to the defeat he suffered at the ballot box in local elections on March 31. Despite having the incumbent's privilege, Mr Erdogan was unable to win the nation’s capital, Ankara, or the most populous city, Istanbul. And although the opposition’s candidate Ekrem Imamoglu has taken up the mayoral seat in Istanbul, Mr Erdogan continues to insist on a recount, at one point wanting to cancel the election results all together.

This erratic behaviour is of concern to all of us in the region. It benefits us all to have a Turkey that is stable and progressive. Instead we find a president causing troubles at home and abroad. As Arabs, we have natural ties with Turkey and the Turkish people. This will not change. However, Mr Erdogan is breaking those ties and making it impossible for many of us to consider Turkey currently as a natural ally. Mr Erdogan's policies in the region have wreaked havoc for years and his latest escalation against the UAE is attempting to spread that chaos even further.

The bizarre Turkish announcement that two suspects have been stopped on suspicion of being spies for the UAE comes as Turkey again tried to muddy the waters. There are many flaws in this accusation, including the fact that if the rule of law was being followed and the two have not yet been charged, their identities and pictures should not have been released. The confusion over the two detainees, at one moment being called Emirati, the next called Emirati agents, further raises questions over the accusation.

Turkey’s role in Syria is being questioned by Syrians who had mistakenly trusted Ankara’s declared support for the opposition, only to then ally itself with Tehran and Moscow. Turkish false claims on lands in Arab countries such as Syria and Iraq raise further concerns about Mr Erdogan’s expansionist policies.

As a member of Nato, Turkey had an important role to play globally and many in the region found its role in Nato a source of security. Today even its place in Nato is in question. Then there was the disastrous response by Mr Erdogan on the tragedy of Christchurch, unreasonably invoking Gallipoli. Addressing a grieving New Zealand and Australia, Mr Erdogan said: "Your grandfathers came and saw that we're here. Then some of them walked back, while others left in coffins ... if you come with the same intention, we'll be waiting for you". Signifying a lack of tact at best, invoking hatred at worst, Mr Erdogan created a diplomatic storm for no reason other than to score cheap shots.

This year marks 40 years since the first Turkish embassy was opened in Abu Dhabi. Instead of celebrating this anniversary, there are serious concerns about relations with Turkey under Mr Erdogan’s rule. As concerns mount, political, economic and societal relations are under strain. Emirati citizens are no longer safe visiting Turkey; the risks are too high in a country that has repeatedly targeted civilians. While some Emiratis have taken it upon themselves to avoid all travel to Turkey, it is becoming increasingly apparent that we should all avoid visiting a country that is volatile and has repeatedly shown a hostile attitude.

For many UAE businesses, the decision to invest in Turkey is also too big a risk. The UAE is the second largest trading partner for Turkey after Iraq. Bilateral trade between the two countries in 2017 stood at $13.4 billion, bringing a benefit to Turkey’s economy that is now in jeopardy, as investors and consumers alike feel the political pressure of Mr Erdogan’s actions. The only way to save these relations is for Mr Erdogan to reconsider his actions. Until then, the UAE must reconsider all ties and protect its people and interests.

Ahmed Al Jarwan is president of the Global Council for Tolerance and Peace and member of the UAE Federal National Council

Updated: April 20, 2019 08:32 PM

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