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The Muslim Middle East and Northeast Africa: The Interaction of Geopolitics, Economic Interests, and Regional Rivalry

Michael B. Bishku

Abstract


Over the last few decades, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia have become very active in Northeast Africa. In addition to developing bilateral relations with countries in the region, they regard the area as the gateway to connections with the rest of the continent, although they are guided by different motivations. Turkey’s expansion of its interests in Africa is both a reaction to the European Union’s rejection of its membership and an opportunity to expand its trade, which has been hindered by instability in the Middle East in recent years. Like Saudi Arabia, it views Northeast Africa as a place to extend its cultural influence with that region’s indigenous Sunni population. Saudi Arabia has used its wealth to curtail Iran’s attempts to expand its influence in the region, while Turkey has provided on-the-ground technical assistance to enhance its political and economic connections in the region. In recent years the two countries have been drawn together by Iran’s involvement in Yemen, although Turkey has sought to avoid becoming involved in local political disputes. Rather, it has served in multinational peacekeeping efforts and actions to prevent piracy in the sea lanes off the coast of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. However, since the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar over the latter country’s relations with Iran that began in June 2017, some tension has arisen between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. While Iran also wants those sea lanes to be freely open to traffic—as they were during the time of Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi—it also wants to counteract Israeli involvement in Northeast Africa. Turkey has made great inroads politically and economically in Northeast Africa in recent years, while Saudi Arabia has gained the upper hand in its rivalry with Iran.


Keywords


Northeast Africa; Middle East; geopolitical rivalry

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Published by the University of Florida Press on behalf of the Association of Global South Studies.