The foundations of the Erdogan presidential era are wasting away. The prognosis of a failed economic policy, which has led to the devaluation of the Turkish lira and galloping inflation in the country, has been dominating Turkey’s election campaign, which practically began with the February earthquake.
And the image of a “weaker-than-ever” Erdogan has spread easily through the Turkish opposition, which is united in the coalition led by Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party that aspires to unseat the worn-out Erdogan in the next elections on 14 May, for the first time since 2003. But the still-president is still weaving a grand foreign policy to solve domestic problems.
The Turkish president has long since recalibrated relations with his neighbours after embarking on an aggressive foreign policy. This was a way to rebuild its political status and successfully emerge from the isolationism that Erdogan himself fostered. Since then, the Turkish government has moved closer to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and, above all, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf heavyweight that promises to come to the rescue of Turkey’s disastrous economic crisis.
To this end, it is in Erdogan’s interest to be careful in dealing with his new partner. Just this week, Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Burak Akcapar met his Saudi counterpart Waleed Al-Khuraiji in Riyadh to discuss regional and international issues of interest and boost cooperation in the first round of political consultations between the two countries, including the economy.
Burak Akcapar also visited the succulent headquarters of the Gulf Cooperation Congress (GCC) and held talks with its secretary, Jassem Albudaiwi, and assistant secretary general for political and negotiation affairs, Abdulaziz Aluwaisheg. An interest that has been spearheaded by Ankara after Riyadh injected $5 billion into Turkey’s Central Bank last month, a major catalytic help in tackling the country’s economic crisis.
In any case, this strengthening of ties comes on the heels of Erdogan’s détente with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which was sealed a year ago with the Turkish president’s visit to the Wahhabi kingdom and the crown prince’s visit to Turkey two months later. With the tension buried after the Khashoggi case, bin Salman took a measured approach to economic cooperation with Erdogan, including lifting the Saudi boycott of Turkish products.
The Saudi kingdom took the lead in supporting Turkey in the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated southern Turkey by sending humanitarian and relief aid. But Riyadh has gone beyond a pill of aid at a critical moment: Ankara’s new trade relations with the Persian Gulf. Erdogan, as if it were his last card in presidential limbo, is aiming to secure foreign exchange with the Gulf similar to the volume of business he already has with China, Qatar, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates, which is worth more than $28 billion.