Gulf political analysts do not expect the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Saudi Arabia, scheduled for Thursday, to totally close the chapter of the Turkish campaign against Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.
The analysts say Erdogan will meet Prince Mohammed bin Salman and will undoubtedly receive a warm welcome in Riyadh as befits Saudi hospitality traditions.
He is also likely to obtain promises of Saudi business and investment projects in Turkey. But the disconnect between the crown prince and the Turkish president is expected to linger due to the resentment by Riyadh of Turkey’s relentless targeting of the crown prince and incitement against him in conjunction with the Khashoggi case.
Erdogan is perceived as having personally led the campaign against Prince Mohammed bin Salman and having sought to implicate him in the case.
An unmistakable sign of lack of Saudi enthusiasm about the Erdogan visit is the fact that it has been ignored by official Saudi media. The trip has been publicised many times by the Turkish president and his entourage. For months, Erdogan has been announcing that he was bound for Riyadh on one date and then postponing it to another. The visit was thus moved from February, then to March and finally to April, in clear reflection of the reluctance of the Saudi side to confirm it.
Erdogan was first expected to go to Saudi Arabia in February, but on his way back home from a visit to the UAE. Then he spoke of a new postponement saying that his country and Saudi Arabia were continuing with a dialogue.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that the Saudi crown prince wants the Turkish president to commit to not mentioning the murder of Jamal Khashoggi again. Ankara has long used the case to pressure Saudi Arabia for major investments that could help get the Turkish economy out of its acute crisis. Analysts say the Saudis refused to submit to the blackmail.
In a bid to appease the crown prince, Erdogan eventually moved to end the Khashoggi case trial in Turkey
A Turkish court decided this month to halt the trial in absentia of 26 Saudi suspects linked to the Istanbul killing of the Saudi journalist, and to transfer the case to Saudi Arabia.
After 2018, Turkey had infuriated Riyadh by aggressively investigating the murder and exploiting it for political purposes.
Ties between the two Sunni powers sharply deteriorated over the murder as well as conflicting regional interests.
Turkish experts say they expect the unofficial Saudi ban on Turkish goods in Saudi Arabia to end after Erdogan’s visit and Turkish companies to resume business in Saudi Arabia. Rapprochement is expected to start with trade and business. Political cooperation will follow at a later stage based on Saudi assessment of the progress achieved.
Experts say that it will be difficult for Riyadh to overcome its misgivings about Ankara’s behaviour after 2018, even if the Turkish leadership began last year to express a desire to normalise relations. Turkish president even had two telephone conversations with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz.
During the past few months, Erdogan made a series of statements about wanting to open a new page in Turkey’s relations with countries of the region, especially with the Arab Gulf states.
The unofficial Saudi boycott of Turkish goods reduced the volume of trade between the two countries by 98 percent. It also lowered Turkish exports to Saudi Arabia to about $75 million in the first three months of 2021.
The Saudi authorities also announced the closure of eight Turkish schools in the country at the end of the last academic year, in an indication that Turkish-Saudi relations were still experiencing tensions. That prompted Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to visit Riyadh.
Ankara was able to conclude important economic agreements with Abu Dhabi in a range of sectors amounting to about $10 billion and is looking forward to concluding similar deals with the Saudis.
Erdogan has sought to improve relations with his regional rivals, including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, in the face of a growing diplomatic isolation that has led to a significant decline in foreign investment, especially from the West.