Turkey accuses UAE of sowing chaos in the Middle East

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Turkey accused the United Arab Emirates of bringing chaos to the Middle East through its interventions in Libya and Yemen, the latest in a war of words between the two countries that is likely to inflame tensions.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was responding on Tuesday to criticism of Turkey’s role in the Libyan conflict, shortly after the foreign ministry in Ankara dismissed a declaration by Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, and the UAE that described Turkish military activity in the eastern Mediterranean Sea and Libya as seeking “regional chaos and instability”.

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At the beginning of the year, Turkey deployed military personnel to Libya, and it has helped send Syrian fighters to support the internationally recognised government in Tripoli, while the five countries party to the declaration have supported the forces of commander Khalifa Haftar in the general’s attempt to capture the Libyan capital.

The joint missive on Tuesday also condemned Turkish gas-drilling off of the island-nation of Cyprus as “illegal”.

Cavusoglu told Turkish broadcaster Akit TV that the UAE, along with Egypt and other countries he did not name, were “trying to destabilise the whole region”. But he singled out Abu Dhabi for particular criticism.

“If you are asking who is destabilising this region, who is bringing chaos, then we would say Abu Dhabi without any hesitation,” he said. “It is a reality that they are the force that unsettled Libya and destroyed Yemen.”

The UAE did not immediately respond to Cavusoglu’s criticism.

Strained ties

Ties between Turkey and the UAE have been strained in recent years, particularly over Ankara’s support for Qatar after four Arab countries, including the UAE, imposed sanctions on Doha in 2017 over its independent foreign policy.

The UAE has presented itself as a bulwark against political forms of Islam, of which it views Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development (AK) Party. The UAE has also condemned the party’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which Abu Dhabi opposes.

In January, Turkey, along with other parties to the conflict attending a high-profile conference in Berlin, pledged to uphold the United Nations arms embargo on Libya and end military support for the country’s warring factions. 

Last month, the UAE called on all parties to commit to the UN-supervised political process to end the war in Libya, where the UN says Abu Dhabi has supplied aircraft and military vehicles to Haftar.

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On Tuesday, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell issued a statement calling for Libya’s warring factions to lay down their arms and urging “all parties having committed to a truce and a negotiated ceasefire to follow up on these commitments”.

Support for al-Shabab

Cavusoglu, in his comments, also accused the UAE of supporting al-Shabab fighters in Somalia, where Turkey has a military base and is training Somali troops.

The UAE trained hundreds of Somali troo­­ps from 2014 onward as part of an effort by an African Union military mission to defeat the armed uprising in the country, until Somalia disbanded the programme in 2018.

Abu Dhabi was also a leading power in an alliance that intervened in Yemen five years ago against the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels. It reduced its presence in Yemen last year but remains a member of that coalition.

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