Saudi Arabia surprised the world last weekend by arresting dozens of princes, officials and businessmen on various charges, including accepting bribes, embezzlement, extortion, money laundering and exploitation of influence to achieve personal interests. These arrests occurred after the formation of a new committee to combat corruption, led by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.
All observers agree that the events in Saudi Arabia are part of a purely political conflict, regardless of the claims that they are “combatting corruption”. They agree that it is an attempt by the Crown Prince to tighten his grip on all security, military, economic and media institutions, as well as a settling of accounts before the young prince takes over the throne from his father.
This is happening in one of the most important countries in the region and, indeed, the Muslim world; anything occurring in Saudi Arabia casts its shadow on its neighbours. It also affects several other hot issues. Hence, Ankara, and most of the region’s other capitals, are monitoring events and developments in Saudi Arabia closely and trying to read them accurately to predict the potential results.
In the first official comment on the recent developments, Turkey’s Presidential Spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said that his country “hopes that this process will contribute to stability, peace and prosperity in Saudi Arabia.” He also noted that the recent decisions made by the Saudi leadership are internal matters, adding that, “In the short-term, these happenings seem fiery, yet when you look at the big picture, I wonder if these developments are the stepping stones towards a social revolution.” This was based on an open understanding of Islam that addresses the specificity of Saudi society.
There are some predictions that Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal was arrested for standing with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the failed coup attempt last year, and investing his personal wealth in Turkey. Such speculation cannot be proven or refuted without evidence. Furthermore, the reason for Bin Talal’s arrest may be his differences with the Crown Prince over other issues; what he tweeted about US President Donald Trump before his victory in the election a year ago, for example, or anything else.
Turkish-Saudi relations have experienced crises over recent years, with ups and downs due to their differences concerning regional issues, such as the 2013 coup in Egypt against democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi, with Ankara supporting the latter while Riyadh has poured billions into backing coup leader Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. However, relations between the two countries have improved noticeably since King Salman ascended to the throne.
Today, though, Turkey and Saudi Arabia differ on the Saudi-led boycott of Qatar. Turkey supported Qatar immediately in this crisis, going as far as sending troops as part of the military cooperation agreement with the government in Doha. Despite this, Ankara and Riyadh have been successful in keeping such difference separate from their overall relationship.
The part that concerns Ankara most with regard to the developments in Saudi Arabia is related to foreign policy and Mohammad Bin Salman’s opinion about the future of Turkish-Saudi relations. Erdogan’s government in Ankara is apprehensive about the role of the UAE in the recent Saudi developments and its potential influence on Turkey’s relations with the Saudis.
“Developments in our region and the world show that we are going through a period of restructuring that will shape the upcoming century,” Erdogan told Justice and Development Party members at a recent Parliamentary Group Meeting. “Maybe for the first time since the War of Independence, during this critical process, Turkey has assumed a position centered on its own willpower instead of accepting its role in pre-written scenarios.”
In short, Turkey is monitoring the statements issued by the Saudi Crown Prince and events in his country, in an effort to understand them and gauge the extent of their effect on regional and international developments. Ankara wants to enhance its relations with Riyadh on every level, but it is also preparing for all possibilities.
This was first published on Arabi21, 8 November 2017
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.