Turkey wants to end a feud with the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and get 54-year-old Mehmet Ali Ozturk, one of its senior MIT (Turkish Intelligence) agents released from prison. This is part of an effort to improve relations with Arab states and the West, including Israel. As expected, the UAE negotiators were formidable and got more out of the Turks than Erdogan wanted to give. The UAE made it clear that if they agreed to a settlement with Turkey over this matter, it would be much easier for Turkey to mend relations with other countries on their long list of nations they have offended in the last decade and turned into enemies.
Turkey’s bad relations with the UAE were also the result of Turkish president Erdogan accusing the UAE of responsibility for the alleged 2016 military coup against Erdogan, who had become unpopular with many Turks since he formed a pro-Islam political party in 2001 and was elected president in 2014 on the promise of reducing corruption. Two years later Erdogan accused his former mentor and political partner Fethullah Gulen of organizing a military coup against Erdogan. Gulen gad moved to the United States in 1999 to get away from the often violent politics in Turkey and make it easier to expand his international network of schools teaching a form of political Islam that emphasizes democracy and clean government. As Erdogan became more dictatorial and corrupt, he often accused Gulen of secretly plotting against him. This led to the 2016 coup, which was more about Erdogan creating an excuse to purge the Turkish media, academia and government, including the military, of anyone who disagreed with him or was suspected of such subversive thinking.
Erdogan wanted to reverse the Turkish secular revolution that occurred after World War I in which army officers, led by Kemal Ataturk, turned Turkey into a secular republic. Ataturk was not anti-religion, he just wanted, along with many other Turks, to be rid of the corrupt and increasingly ineffective Ottoman monarchy, which depended heavily on Islam to justify and maintain its power. For example, the Ottoman Sultan reinforced his power in 1517 by conquering Egypt and taking control of the Moslem holy cities of Mecca and Medina in what is now Saudi Arabia. That made the Moslem Sultan the guardian of Mecca and Medina and powerful enough to claim he was the head of an Islamic caliphate, something that had disappeared centuries earlier and not expected to return. No other Islamic ruler was able to challenge the Sultan. This move was very unpopular with Arab subjects of the Ottoman empire and that resentment simmered until Ataturk declared Turkey a republic. Mecca and Medina were administered by a prominent Arab family with no military or political power and subordinate to the Ottomans. That was one reason why the Saud clan took control of Mecca and Medina in 1924 during its campaign to create the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This move was also unpopular with many Moslems, including Arabs but more tolerable than what the Ottomans did.
Since becoming a republic Turkey had stayed out of Arab politics and was an early supporter of Israel and the secular West. That led to Turkey joining NATO in 1952. Turkey also wanted to join the new European Union and applied for admittance in 1995. Turkey ran into problems because of rampant corruption in its economy. This was also a problem with neighboring Greece, but the Greeks managed to get into the EU long before (1981), mainly by being more effective at deceiving EU auditors. The Turks saw this as an insult, ignoring the substantial corruption problems in Turkey. This resistance to dealing with corruption was taken advantage of by Erdogan who made some progress on eliminating corruption before becoming dependent on corruption and deception to stay in power. This led to conflicts with Israel, NATO and most Arab nations. Erdogan was looking for the most effective way out of this mess and that led them to the UAE.
The agreement with the UAE was even more painful because the UAE is currently rated the least corrupt nation in the Middle East, rated as the 20th least corrupt nation in the world, with Israel in 35th place and Turkey in 39th.
The UAE’s corruption score has not changed much since the 2011 Arab Spring revolution. The UAE achieved the most favorable corruption score in the region because it has long depended on foreign trade to survive and, to make money in that business, you must be known as an honest trading partner. Israeli corruption is largely internal and less present when making trade deals. The UAE is also different in that it is a federation of formerly independent “emirates” that realized the wisdom of joining forces. Laws and customs vary somewhat among the emirates and some are more gangster than others. Overall, the UAE is a place where foreigners, and locals, feel comfortable doing business. Before the 2020 peace deal with Israel, there was always some unofficial Israeli business being done in the UAE. Turkey wants to regain that kind of access to the UAE.
The Turks got Mehmet Ali Ozturk freed from a UAE prison where he was serving a life sentence for running a Turkish government-sponsored Islamic terrorist network that was part of a secret Turkish effort to create and use suitable Islamic terror groups to support Turkish foreign policy throughout the Maddie East. This included areas like Syria and Libya where Turkey and the UAE were opponents. The Turks believed it was safe for Ozturk to travel to the UAE, which he did in 2018 on a business trip for BLC, the successful family firm he worked for.
Ozturk has spent most of this life with his family run firm and was recruited by MIT in 2012 because Ozturk supported Erdogan and the use of cooperative Islamic terror groups to do business with, including covertly hiring them as mercenaries. Turkey maintained the loyalty of these Islamic radicals by providing them access to Turkey to obtain supplies and sometimes as a safe place to put their families while the men were off fighting for their cause.
In 2018 Ozturk was arrested in the UAE and changed with a long list of crimes involving Islamic terrorist groups. A diplomat from the Turkish embassy was at the trial, which took ten weeks to complete. The Turks learned that the UAE intel officials knew a lot more about Ozturk and his work for MIT than the Turks realized. The Turks continued trying to get the Turkish businessman Ozturk freed from prison and all the Turks were offered in return was the possibility of freedom for Ozturk if Turkey provided confirmation of the charges against Ozturk and details of Ozturk’s work for the Turkish government. Erdogan resisted that until he realized that the UAE and Israel had long been sharing intelligence data, that all the details of MIT operations the UAE wanted would probably come out soon anyway, and here was a chance to come clean and repair relations with the UAE, Israel and maybe even the Americans all at once.
The Turks confirmed that the Ozturk network was one of several operating in the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia and Europe. The primary purpose of these groups is to protect Turks, especially Turkic minorities in other countries that are persecuted because they are a minority, not just because they are Turkic. This aid even extends, from time to time to the Turkic Uyghurs in northwest China. Uyghurs are being persecuted, jailed and killed for not cooperating with Chinese efforts to turn them into loyal Chinese citizens. Most of the MIT efforts with Islamic terrorists have less noble goals, usually involving supporting Turkish foreign policy. That is what MIT sought to do in Syria to maintain good relations with the Iranians while persecuting the local Kurds and placating the Iran-backed Assad government of Syria. The goals in Libya are purely about money and gaining access to Libyan oil and offshore deposits in waters between Libya and Turkey that by international law belong to Greece.
The MIT networks often disguised themselves as humanitarian groups to provide cover for MIT operations that often caused or exacerbated humanitarian disasters. Ozturk was released from prison at the end of 2021 and was hailed as a Turkish hero back home and became a popular speaker at pro-Erdogan gatherings in Turkey. Erdogan now has to clean up the mess all these recent MIT revelations identified. This was the cost of getting a key MIT operative out of jail and was considered worth it by supporters of the Erdogan-run Turkish government.