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Rift Between Turkey & Saudi Arabia Spit-Wide-Open As Riyadh Bans Turk Media

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Saudi Arabia and Turkey are once again at loggerheads after Riyadh banned Turkey’s state-run news agency — Anadolu Agency and TRT broadcaster. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency on Monday reported that its Saudi subscribers who tried to access the website could not log in.

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The subscribers reportedly saw a message that read, “This website violates the rules of the Information Ministry.”

Riyadh has not issued any clarification on the issue but speculations are rife that ban is a reaction to Ankara’s decision to seek a life sentence for 20 suspects involved in the killing of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi including the former deputy chief of Saudi Arabia intelligence service Ahmed-Al-Asiri and ex-royal adviser Saud al-Qahtani for premeditated murder with monstrous intent.

Jamal Khashoggi (59) an insider turned critic of Riyadh was murdered by 15-man hit team inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey’s capital of Ankara. Khashoggi was lured into the consulate and was strangulated before his body was cut into pieces, as per reports.

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He is said to have entered the consulate on October 2, 2018, to obtain paperwork for his wedding to Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz. Khashoggi’s remains are yet to be discovered.

Ankara dissatisfied over Riyadh’s handling of the probe and its constant denial for a joint investigation carried out its own probe which found 20 Saudi nationals guilty. Ahmed-Al-Asiri and Saud al-Qahtani are believed to be close to Crown Prince Mohammad-bin-Salman and there are many Turkish experts who believe that his assassination was ordered by Crown Prince himself.

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Saudi Arabia’s decision to ban Turkey’s news channels has once again sparked fresh tensions between two countries who have bickered before over a number of geopolitical matters including the war in Libya, Yemen and the embargo on Qatar at the behest of Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia had also urged its citizens to not invest or holiday in Turkey after Ankara’s decision. Turkey had earlier also criticized Saudi Arabia for its handling of pilgrims visiting Islam’s holiest shrines Mecca and Medina during the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic.

Saudi – Turkey Relations

Saudi Arabia and Turkey have not seen each other eye to eye on several matters and the relationship was not always fraught with difficulties.

Saudi Arabia and Turkey established diplomatic relations in 1932 and the two countries came closer after Turkey joined the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. The first wedge was driven after Turkey and Saudi Arabia differed over Syria in 1990.

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After AKP (The Justice and Development Party, Turkey) rose to power, relations once again soared as Ankara preferred its Arab neighbors to its Western counterparts which was a considerable shift from its earlier position. In 2003, Riyadh and Ankara found common ground as both feared Iran’s influence over Iraq.

Between 2009 to 2011 Turkish President Erdogan visited Saudi Arabia four times which resulted in increased Saudi investment in Ankara. Turkey’s exports to Riyadh too grew rapidly.

However, the relationship deteriorated after the Arab Spring which pitted Ankara against Riyadh as the former sought to empower the revolutionary forces who challenged the status quo which was unwelcomed by Riyadh. In 2017, Turkey sent troops to support Qatar, a country that was boycotted by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the UAE.

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Post Khashoggi’s murder, Riyadh has warned businessmen from investing in Turkey and has also urged tourists to not visit Turkey against the backdrop of information released by Turkey on the Khashoggi murder.

Turkish President Erdogan’s decision to boycott the last OIC conference has also not helped matters.  His repeated attempts at opening a personal communication channel with the Crown Prince has so far not yielded any results.

In Libya, Saudi and Egypt backed Libya National Army has pushed the Turkish supported Government of National Accord on the back foot while in Syria, Saudi is supporting Kurdish militias which Ankara views as a threat to their national security.

In Sudan, where Omar al-Bashir was toppled after 30 years, both Riyadh and Ankara are locked in a battle to influence Abdel Fattah el-Burhan who is in control of the country. Turkey’s support to the Muslim Brotherhood has also not gone down well with Riyadh.

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The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, backed Mohammad Morsi as a successor to Hosni Mubarak had sent alarm bells ringing in Riyadh and the regime along with UAE spent billions of dollars in supporting General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi of Egypt who overthrew Mohamed Morsi in a coup.

The problem between the two nations has only worsened in recent years especially after Khashoggi’s murder. With diametrically opposite designs of Riyadh and Ankara for the region, it is difficult to see an end to the clashes in the foreseeable future.

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