The future of the Turkish-Saudi relationship

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Jess Diez
Managing Editor & Research Associate, Middle East Policy Council


On Thursday, April 28, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Saudi Arabia to meet with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, marking the first visit since the killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi, which strained ties between the two countries. Erdoğan described the visit as the manifestation of Saudi Arabia and Turkey’s common will and interests and an entry into a ‘new era’ of bilateral relations. 

President Erdoğan was greeted in Jeddah, a Red Sea port city, with various roads decorated with both Saudi and Turkish flags. Erdoğan met with Saudi King Salman in Al Salam palace in an official ceremony prior to his sit-down discussion with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Writing for Daily Sabah, journalist Meryem Ilayda Atlas highlighted both leaders’ willingness to engage in a stronger symbiotic relationship for greater stability. Erdoğan expressed hope that joint bilateral efforts will bring benefits to both countries and the region: We are determined to continue this effort for our common interests and the stability of our region…I believe my visit will herald a new era in the ties between our two countries. We have demonstrated our common will to enhance ties on the basis of mutual respect and trust, most clearly and at the highest level.”

Turkey’s newfound attempt at a renewed relationship with Saudi Arabia can be economically traced back to Turkey’s current economic crisis. Turkey is combating rising bread prices and overall rising Turkish currency, which have been catalysts for many protests nationwide and growing dissatisfaction with Erdogan’s regime. The country’s deepening financial crisis has become a large incentive to look for outside help such as oil-producing Saudi Arabia. According to Gulf News, a Western diplomat stated that “Erdogan is pragmatic and a political animal, and his polls may not hold up for a year unless he can boost jobs…so he is partly seeking deals and funding in Saudi, and a swap line for perhaps $10-$20 billion would be something worthwhile.”

Turkey is also likely looking to strengthen its relationship in light of economic complications resulting from the Russia-Ukraine war. Formerly, Turkey received 45% of its natural gas from Russia and Russia has also continually been Turkey’s largest source of tourists, making Turkey dependent on Russia financially. Gulf News highlights that the visit comes as Turkey grapples with the economic fallout from the war between its Black Sea neighbours Ukraine and Russia. Diplomats and analysts say the overtures are needed to help relieve economic and political pressures after Turkey’s policies in Syria, Libya and elsewhere in recent years left it increasingly isolated.”

Inversely, Saudi Arabia’s GDP has enjoyed major growth in 2022’s Quarter 1 thus granting the Kingdom the capital necessary to invest in strategic neighbors, such as Turkey. Dubai-based media company Zawya dives further into Saudi’s economic growth: Saudi Arabia’s real gross domestic product (GDP) rose 9.6 percent year-on-year (YoY) in Q1 2022, achieving the highest growth rate since 2011, data issued by the General Authority for Statistics (GASTAT) showed…The figures showed that the seasonally adjusted real GDP in the Kingdom grew by 2.2% in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the previous year. This increase was due to the positive growth in oil activities by 2.9%, and an increase in non-oil activities by 2.5%.”

Within rising terrorist activity and regional leaders struggling to either balance or outcompete, Turkey is arguably seen as an important Saudi partner for the stability and security of the Gulf region and MENA region as a whole. According to AzerNews, Erdoğan highlights Saudi’s benefit in partnering with Turkey. Erdoğan states: We express on every occasion that we attach as much importance to the stability and security of our brothers in the Gulf region as our own. We underline that we are against all forms of terrorism and that we attach importance to cooperation with the countries in our region against terrorism. I believe we will take our relations to a level beyond what they were previously.”

Nevertheless, growing cooperation between the two countries seems to extend beyond the economic sphere and spill onto cultural and social spheres. A major example includes Saudi’s interest in becoming the next host for the World Expo in 2030, continuing the trend of an Arab country host. Following the end of the 2020 Dubai World Expo this past March 2022, the Saudi Gazette underlines one of Erdoğan’s first renewed non-economic support of Saudi: Erdogan affirmed that his country would back Saudi Arabia’s bid to host the 2030 World Expo in Riyadh.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Scroll to Top