The relationship between Turkey and Saudi Arabia until now has been treated as almost sacrosanct and is one that is not argued about. Although Turkish and Saudi views on regional issues do not always coincide, both Ankara and Riyadh have kept their bilateral relations away from regional squabbles. Turks, in general, associate Saudi Arabia with pilgrimage (hajj) and oil prices. Aware of the tense rivalry for regional influence between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Turkey has tried to maintain good relations with both countries, and it was in Syria that Turkish and Saudi interests meshed. Although they agree that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must go, the Turkish-Qatari axis competes with that of Saudi Arabia in Syria. Some suggest that the failure of the Syrian opposition to get its act together was because of this competition. A similar rivalry is now seen in Egypt because of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s backing of the Muslim Brotherhood, and in Libya because of the AKP’s support of the Tripoli government instead of the one in Tobruk. Although Saudi Arabia is the most prominent supporter of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who toppled the Muslim Brotherhood, and of the Tobruk government in Libya, Turkey has not raised its voice against Riyadh while disparaging other countries. Now, Erdogan is adding a new controversial dimension to the unblemished Turkish relationship with Saudi Arabia.
During his visit to Saudi Arabia between Feb. 28 and March 2, Erdogan in his meeting with the new Saudi king, Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, reached an agreement to increase Saudi-Turkish support of the Syrian opposition to levels that would enable the two countries to achieve their goals there. According to journalists accompanying Erdogan, Salman also promised to support Turkey in declaring a no-fly zone.