Monday, December 11, 2023

Visiting Turkey, “MBS” returns to the international scene

It is the end of purgatory for Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince and de facto leader of Saudi Arabia. A small Middle Eastern tour ended Wednesday in Ankara, after a stopover Monday in Egypt, and Tuesday in Jordan, for the signing of cooperation contracts worth several billion dollars. The one who was still a pariah on the international scene a few months ago, finally dons the costume of regional leader to which he aspired since his induction in 2017.

The war in Ukraine has reshuffled all the cards of world geopolitics. The Western camp is looking for alternative solutions to Russian gas – 45% of European imports in 2021. The specter of the food crisis, with Ukrainian wheat blocked in the Black Sea ports and the vice of inflation, force to tie new strategic alliances for access to funds and raw materials.

providential man

More than ever, the Gulf is a center of attention for the great powers and Mohammed bin Salman, at the head of the second largest oil producer in the world (11 million barrels per day in 2021, 15% of proven crude reserves ), takes advantage of this return to favor . Joe Biden’s visit, scheduled for July, announced a few weeks ago, has put the Saudi prince back at the center of the game. He has established himself as a key interlocutor in the face of American requests to increase production volumes. raw, playing arm wrestling. To finally get OPEC to accept 648,000 more barrels per day (0.7% of world consumption) in early June.

In Turkey, Mohammed ben Salmane arrived as the providential savior of a suffering economy. A first official visit by Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Jeddah, two months earlier, had launched the process of reconciliation of the two historical rivals. Ten years of estrangement come to an end, born of the Arab Spring, fueled by the assassination of opposition journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in October 2018, between the walls of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. At the time, the Turkish president was quick to provide evidence via his intelligence services, denouncing “a political crime”. “With God’s help, we will have the opportunity to bring Turkish-Saudi relations to a much higher level,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan finally declared.

Double bilateral trade

The latter is seeking re-election in 2023, for the moment ahead in the polls by his rivals, who find an echo in a Turkish society wrung out by inflation reaching 70%. It is a question of finding the means to release the pressure on the Turkish lira, which fell by 23% between January 2021 and May 2022, while anticipating the additional costs of importing energy.

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According to an Arab diplomatic source, MBS would have put on the table an agreement similar to that between Ankara and the United Arab Emirates last January: a currency exchange of 4.9 billion dollars and the creation of a 10 billion dollars intended to support investments, with the aim of doubling, at a minimum, bilateral trade.

In exchange for the largesse of the Arab princes, the Khashoggi affair is definitively buried, transferred to the Saudi authorities who hastened to classify without further action. If Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to accept a new strong man from the region, the other advantage that everyone finds in it is the creation of a Sunni front against Iranian desires, in full closure of negotiations on nuclear power in Vienna.

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