The funding to the Kurdistan Workers Party reportedly has been so massive that even the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government took steps to check it. The General Security Agency in the Kurdish region reportedly took new measures on the financial transactions from the Arab country. According to the new measures, the transition of more than $1,000 to the Kurdish banks and currency exchange agencies would require verification from the security body of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).
The fact is that the tensions between the UAE and Turkey existed over the past years. But they escalated to their highest levels recently over a set of cases.
The UAE, the world’s sixth-biggest oil producer and empowered by its huge wealth, entered a rivalry and cold war with Turkey, with the latest point of their confrontation is the Emirati backing to the PKK, blacklisted as a terrorist group in Turkey.
These developments promote a question: What is the reason behind the tensions between Ankara and Abu Dhabi and where do their relations go?
The starting point of differences
In digging for the grounds of the differences between the two countries the focus can go on the West Asia developments after 2011 during which some of the Arab counties faced a wave of Islamic awakening and popular uprisings.
Meanwhile, even in the initial days of the revolution in Egypt that overthrew the long-serving dictator Hosni Mubarak, the vision was that the UAE is a friendly economic partner to Turkey in the region. However, the military coup led by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi against Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohamad Morsi in 2013 initiated a wide range of tensions between Ankara and Abu Dhabi, still unfolding after seven years.
Following the coup, which ended the presidency of the first democratically-elected Egyptian president, on the one hand Turkey and Qatar supported the Muslim Brotherhood and called the power grab “a crime against democracy.”
On the other side, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, on the ideological collision course with the Muslim Brotherhood, threw their weight behind the el-Sisi rule and took serious anti-Turkish stances. These developments ushered in a period of strategic competition between the two countries, even intensified by the UAE support to mid-July 2016 failed military coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
From the Turkish military coup to Turkish backing to Qatar
After taking control of the situation and failing the coup, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in comments showing that he addressed the UAE said: “We know that a country spent three billion dollars to execute the coup in Turkey.”
The differences between the two sides only increased in recent years. Especially after the Turkish currency lira dramatically crashed in 2018, there appeared evidences suggesting that the UAE and Saudi Arabia had hands in the lira value slump, making Turkey and particularly Erdogan greatly angry with the two Arab monarchies.
However, the more serious crisis between the two rivals took place when in 2017 Turkey wholeheartedly supported Qatar in the face of Saudi-led bloc. When Saudi Arabia, assisted by the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain, announced severing diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposing an all-out blockade on the small emirate for charges of supporting terrorism, the differences even took new levels.
The initial Turkish move was the deployment of troops to a military base near the capital Doha. During a visit to Qatar to check a Turkish military base in the Persian Gulf Arab monarchy, President Erdogan said that Ankara will stay committed to supporting Doha in various areas especially industrial and military areas. This development added another ring to the chain of the Turkish-Emirati differences.
Rivalry in Syria
Yet another cause of the two counties’ tensions is the Emirati stance against Erdogan’s agenda in Syria. Since the very beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011, Erdogan took the path of support to the Muslim Brotherhood branch in Syria and opposed the legitimate government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In recent years, the UAE reviewed its position in Syria, making it moving against Turkey’s. Despite its hostile initial positions against Damascus, Abu Dhabi several times called the Turkish forces in Syria “terrorists” and backed the stances of the Syrian government.
Even when Turkey attacked the Syrian Kurdish sites in northern Syria, the UAE took a strong position against Erdogan. Amid Idlib standoff, the UAE expressed support to the Damascus and even talked about financial support to the Syrian president in the face of Turkish intervention. Now Abu Dhabi is seeking an essential strategy in Syria quite against the strategy adopted by the Turkish government there.
Tensions over Libya crisis
Perhaps the newest and most important area of rivalry and dispute between the UAE and Turkey is Libya, where the two support the opposite sides of a civil war. When the over-four-decade Muammar Gadhafi dictatorship ended by an uprising in 2011, a big crisis engulfed the North African country as a civil war started between the revolutionaries and the former opponents of Gadhafi, breaking the countries in two parts.
Since April 2019 the conflict moved to a higher level as new clashes erupted. In the western part of the country where there is the capital Tripoli stands the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Fayez Siraj. In the Eastern part is the Libyan National Army led by General Khalifa Haftar who aims at seizing Tripoli. Benghazi is the center of Haftar-controlled territories.
The split of Libya between these two local powers caused polarization also among the foreign actors. The conservative Arab states like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which strongly oppose the Muslim Brotherhood agenda and ideology, staunchly back Haftar’s campaign.
On the other side, Turkey, along with Qatar, has taken any step to save the Tripoli government. For example, Erdogan sent militants from Syria to Libya to help GNA defend itself against Haftar-led push.
The two sides continue to back the warring sides in Libya even under the recent fast-changing developments, something more than ever fraying the relations between Abu Dhabi and Ankara.