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‘Extraordinary Security’ as Saudi King Meets with Turkey’s Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz at the airport in Ankara on Monday, as the Saudi monarch is en route to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Istanbul later this week.

“As part of [K]ing Salman’s official visit to the country, regional and international issues are expected to be discussed in meetings between Turkish and Saudi officials,” al-Arabiya writes. “The two countries have developed close relations in recent years on issues regarding the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen.”

King Salman came to Ankara from Cairo after his first official visit to Egypt. The five-day visit was seen as a show of support for Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, “marked by lavish praise and multi-billion dollar investment deals,” according to France24.

The Saudis are eager to support Egypt against the Islamic State insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, and also to firm up an alliance with Egypt against Iran’s Shiite axis. The Saudis were reportedly dismayed by Egypt’s reluctance to join the campaign against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.

Among the agreements reached between Saudi Arabia and Egypt was a plan to build an immense bridge across the Red Sea and the transfer of two islands in the Straits of Tiran into Saudi authority – an arrangement decried by Sisi’s critics as selling the islands for (much-needed) Saudi cash.

Salman also wants to build a metaphorical bridge between Egypt and Turkey, with Hurriyet Daily News citing comments from President Erdogan that “Saudi leadership was pressing both sides to reconcile their relations.”

“Another top issue will be the ongoing unrest in Syria, as Saudi Arabia and Turkey share similar views that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should leave his post,” Hurriyet adds. “Saudi Arabia has deployed four warplanes to Turkey’s İncirlik Air Base in recent months to actively participate in international efforts to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).”

Naturally, given the spate of terrorist attacks in Turkey, security for the Saudi king’s visit was “extraordinary,” including bulletproof glass for every window in the 5,000-square-foot King Suite at the JW Marriot Hotel in Ankara, in addition to bomb-proof cement on the walls.

“The hotel has been booked for the king for three days, and a team of 300 Saudi officials arrived there a few days ago to coordinate private preparations. It is reported that the total cost of preparations at the hotel was around $10 million,” Hurriyet reports, by which they mean every room in the hotel was booked for the Saudi party. King Salman’s retinue also required the rental of about 500 luxury cars.

The UK Guardian describes Salman’s visit to Turkey as an exercise in “opulence and paranoia,” portraying Erdogan as a wannabe “sultan” who lives quite an opulent life himself.

The Guardian also notes that Erdogan, “a devout Sunni who has broken with the Turkish republic’s secular tradition, is sympathetic to the Saudis in their rivalry with Shia Muslim Iran for regional power and influence.”

The Guardian adds:

Like King Salman, Erdoğan is under fire from European and American politicians and pressure groups for his authoritarian behaviour and widespread human and civil rights abuses. Erdoğan, in turn, regularly accuses the EU of irresponsibly blaming its refugee problems on Turkey. Both leaders are critical of what they see as weak American leadership, not least because of last year’s nuclear compromise between Washington and Tehran. As a result, both appear to be backing away from traditional [W]estern allies.”

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