A war of words between Turkey and the United Arab Emirates appeared to escalate Wednesday after a senior UAE official asserted that neither Ankara nor Tehran should be allowed to lead the Arab world. The move is the latest development in a public spat that assumed an unusually sharp tone after a quarrel broke out last week over a retweet by the Emirati foreign minister that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called an insult.
The UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said that in light of the ambitions of non-Arab, majority-Muslim regional powers there is a need for Arab countries to rally around the so-called "Arab axis" led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“The world is at an impasse, and the solution is to co-operate in the face of surrounding regional ambitions,” Gargash said on Twitter. “The sectarian and partisan approach is not an acceptable alternative. The Arab world will not be led by Tehran or Ankara.”
“The geostrategic competition taking place in the region calls for strengthened Arab (unity) with Riyadh and Cairo as its pillar.”
Turkey angrily summoned the UAE charge d'affaires last week in Ankara after UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan accused Ottoman Turkish troops of looting the holy city of Medina a century ago during the Arab uprisings assisted by the British Army, which helped drive the Ottoman Empire out of the region.
The move drew a swift and furious reaction from Erdogan, who has been accused of harboring so-called “Neo-Ottoman” ambitions.
"Some impertinent man sinks low and goes as far as accusing our ancestors of thievery ... What spoiled this man? He was spoiled by oil, by the money he has," the Turkish leader said at an awards ceremony.
Turkey's state-run Anadolu newspaper reported Saturday that Turkey planned to rename the street where the UAE embassy is located in Ankara after Fakhreddin Pasha, the Ottoman commander at Medina in 1916. Medina, the holiest site in Islam after Mecca, is now in the Saudi kingdom.
The UAE sharply opposes Erdogan's Islamist-rooted ruling AK party as a supporter of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, which it viscerally loathes. Turkey, in turn, has accused the Emiratis of funding the abortive June 2016 coup against Erdogan in alliance with exiled U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, the spiritual leader of what Turkish officials call the Gulenist Terror Organization.
Turkey has also given strong backing to resource-rich Qatar after Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies imposed a blockade on the country, with UAE foreign minister Al Nahyan accusing Doha of supporting "destruction, incitement, extremism and terrorism” and Qatar facing a de facto black-balling from the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Rather than isolate Qatar or compel “regime change,” the Saudi-led bloc's moves have driven Doha and Ankara closer to one another as well as toward the Saudis' mortal foe, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Most recently, Turkey provoked the ire of Saudi and Emirati officials after Erdogan slammed U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that Washington would recognize the illegally-occupied Palestinian city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While the UAE and Saudi denunciations to the announcement were tepid, Erdogan took the lead in rallying Muslim nations to reject Washington's recognition of unilateral Israeli claims to the city at this month's Organisation of Islamic Cooperation summit held in Istanbul.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman, the “grey eminence” behind recent dramatic moves by Saudi Arabia, is a close ally of Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed, who is considered the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates. The Gulf Arab pair have been widely accused of sacrificing Muslim and Arab interests in coordination with the U.S. president and his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, in hopes that they can expedite what Trump has called “the deal of the century” – the normalization of ties between Tel Aviv and the Gulf monarchies, and the final integration of the so-called “Jewish State” into the Arab “family of nations.”