Turkey and Saudi Arabia are battling for influence and strategic power in the Middle East and beyond through attempting to damage each other’s reputation and interests.
Saudi authorities recently blocked access to the websites of the state-run Anadolu news agency and the Arabic channel of Turkish public broadcaster TRT, Anadolu reported.
The kingdom has not made any official announcements on the move, which might be followed by other Gulf states. The block came just after a social media campaign in Saudi Arabia calling for the Turkish news platforms to be banned.
In its report on Tuesday, TRT accused Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of responsibility for the block and Arab news networks of bolstering the Saudi efforts. “Under the stewardship of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (also known as MBS), Saudi Arabia has taken an increasingly antagonistic stance towards Turkey. … Their efforts are bolstered by networks, such as the UAE-based Sky News Arabia and Al Arabiya, which regularly beam out negative coverage of Turkey.”
“It’s not immediately clear what led to the Saudi authorities blocking two Turkish online news portals, TRT Arabi and Anadolu Agency, but the decision is in continuation of Riyadh’s recent policy towards Ankara,” the Turkish public broadcaster stated.
In January 2020 Egyptian authorities arrested four people at the Anadolu office in Cairo on allegations of spreading false news and operating without a license. Agency employees were released the same week.
The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate General in Istanbul has put a spotlight on the deteriorating relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Since the eruption of the Arab Spring, however, relations between the two countries have gradually, but systematically, deteriorated. During the Arab revolutions, Turkey supported the Muslim Brotherhood as a political movement in various Arab countries and armed and funded radical jihadist groups. However, the leadership of Saudi Arabia is opposed to the brotherhood and sees it as a threat to their own domestic stability.
The critical watershed moment in Turkish-Saudi relations really came in June 2017, when Saudi Arabia, joined by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and took a number of punitive measures against the emirate, including imposing a total blockade. Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood along with several other militant Islamist groups in the region. Turkey then came to the aid of Qatar, transporting goods there that had been disrupted by the Saudi Arabia-imposed sanctions. Turkey also increased its military cooperation with Qatar by adding to the number of troops it maintains in that country.
Following the diplomatic crisis in 2017, the website of the Qatari-state-funded Al Jazeera news channel was also blocked in the kingdom, Bahrain and the UAE. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other Arab countries then closed Al Jazeera bureaus in their territories and revoked the channel’s operating licenses.