Is Turkey the New Patron of Saudi Arabia?

I was saying that it seems Turkey is supporting Saudi Arabia in the new Saudi-Iranian. I will copy what I said before moving on. On Monday the spokesman of the Turkish government said that Turkey cannot support Saudi Arabia (Reuters), but on Wednesday Erdogan said that many countries have the death penalty, and that most of the citizens who were executed were Sunnis and not Shia Muslims. Therefore Erdogan said that the executions are an internal issue of Saudi Arabia (Today’s Zaman). Erdogan also criticized Iran for failing to protecting the embassy of Saudi Arabia in Tehran, which was burned.

And I was also saying that I do not know what caused this change.  Is it one of the usual Saudi gifts? It might be. The Saudis always have to pay for their friends. No one is willing to give his friendship to Saudi Arabia for free. Note that the Shiite cleric that was executed in Turkey played a major role in the Shia uprising of Saudi Arabia in 2011, when the wars of the Arab Spring started breaking out (BBC). The answer to whether Saudi Arabia is going to finally face the Arab Spring has a lot to do with what Turkey’s position will be towards Saudi Arabia. If Turkey aligns herself with Iran against Saudi Arabia, within Saudi Arabia, this scenario will have greater chances.

However I do not think that Erdogan’s support for Saudi Arabia yesterday guarantees that Turkey will always go against an Arab Spring in Saudi Arabia. Maybe yesterday Turkey simply got a gift. But that does not necessarily mean that the gift was so big to guarantee Turkish support for ever. That does not guarantee that the gift was big enough to turn the Saudis and the Turks from rivals to strategic partners, as has been the case between Turkey and Qatar.

The gift might have even been the lower oil prices for Europe that Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday (see Wall Street Journal). On Monday Turkey criticized Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday Saudi Arabia announced price cuts to Europe, and on Wednesday Erdgoan supported Saudi Arabia. I am not sure that this is the reason for the change in Turkey’s foreign policy, or whether this is the only reason. But oil prices have a huge impact on economies that are addicted to oil imports. Therefore oil prices affect how popular governments are, and that holds even more for the fragile Turkish economy which is a bubble. Even if the reduced oil prices are not the explanation for the changing Turkish behavior, Turkey was definitely happy with this decision.

On the contrary Saudi Arabia did not reduce prices in the United States (see Wall Street Journal), and we know that the United States supported the Iranians, even though in a discreet way (see Bloomberg). On the contrary Saudi Arabia increased oil prices in Asia (Wall Street Journal), and China is in Asia, and China is a main Iranian ally. Saudi Arabia is trying to compete with Iran for the friendship of China, because China is the main customer these days. However China and Iran have traditional ties, mainly due to Saudi Arabia’s alliance with the United States.

The United States are struggling to steal Iran from China, and Saudi Arabia is struggling to steal China from Iran.

The traditional alliance between China and Iran is the main reason the Saudis cannot completely break their ties with the United States. If the Saudis were to break all ties with the Americans, they would need a new patron. But Russia is their main rival in the oil markets, and China, who is a customer, has stronger ties with Iran. The Saudis are buying arms from the French to cure this problem, but they might have to turn to Turkey after all.

The problem is that Turkey wants to be the leader of the Sunni world. But at the end of the day everything boils down to money. If the Saudis are willing to pay Turkey they will get Turkey’s protection. Qatar is doing it, and Turkey is protecting Qatar from Saudi Arabia and Iran. Turkey is the strongest military power of the Muslim World. Note that some analysts say that the American-Saudi ties are reaching a breaking point (see Politico).

The problem for the Saudis is that they do not know who to pay first. They have to pay huge amounts to Egypt, they have to pay Sudan, they have to pay Pakistan, they have to pay Turkey, and the list is endless, at a time of low oil prices and lower revenues for the Saudis. It is true that Saudi Arabia is not the only one paying. The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, they all contribute. But the Saudis are the “rich daddy”. See following photo.

Image 1

Saudi Arabia.JPG



“Erdoğan says Saudi executions ’domestic issue,’ criticizes Iran for embassy attack”, January 2016

“Turkey says cannot support Saudi execution of Shiite cleric”, January 2016

“Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr: Saudi Arabia executes top Shia cleric”, January 2016

“Saudi Arabia Cuts European Oil Prices as Middle East Tensions Grow”, January 2016

“Obama’s Middle East Balancing Act Tilts Toward Iran”, January 2016

“Obama’s royal pain”, January 2016


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