What’s a successful trip like when it comes to crown princes?
Consider the Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates each sends a crown prince on a state visit to Turkey. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia visited Turkey in April for the first time since the two countries signed a military cooperation deal, which provides for joint training exercises, more sharing of infrastructure, and a number of joint naval exercises in the Black Sea. The joint exercises drew criticism from human rights groups and provoked a storm of criticism on social media.
Mohammed bin Salman had to face Turkish protests after he won a crown prince’s order to allow the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen to leave Saudi Arabia for the U.S. Gulen, a cleric living in Pennsylvania, claims to have helped mount the protests in Saudi Arabia when the kingdom executed Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in January. The burning barricades and stun grenade-wielding protesters who greeted the crown prince in Ankara demonstrated the level of ire that anti-Crown Prince sentiment among Turks had incited. Still, the visit was able to reach a number of major agreements, such as the Saudi investment in a high-speed rail link between Istanbul and Ankara.
The Crown Prince of the UAE, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, came to Turkey in May. The reasons for his trip are often the same as Mohammed bin Salman’s visit. Like the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Al Nahyan had to face protests after visits abroad, despite his supposed strong relations with the US. In 2010, demonstrators denounced Al Nahyan’s visit to visit its former ruler, Emir Moammar Gadhafi, in Tripoli.
Al Nahyan also received a grilling when Turkey hosted a reception for the UAE’s foreign minister. Protests turned into riots in a matter of minutes when the minister spent too long responding to local calls for a mention of the UAE’s support for the PKK terrorist group which the Turkish government views as a major security threat. Protesters, some with flags of the PKK and the Syrian rebel group al-Nusra Front, shouted “rebel” and “traitor” as the envoy boarded his plane.
The relationship between the US and Turkey has been strained by Turkish distrust of its NATO ally, Hillary Clinton’s alleged secret favoritism toward the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) nations, and Erdoğan’s recent “America First” ideology. The appearance of Middle Eastern overlords visiting Turkey as leaders of monarchies indicates how influential the relationship can be – and yet also highlights its difficulties.
—By Todd J. Gillman