Senior AKP official resigns after controversial comments on UAE-Turkey relations

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Cahit Özkan, a lawmaker from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), resigned from his position as deputy group chairman after his comments regarding improving relations between the United Arab Emirates and Turkey drew intra-party criticism, local media reported on Thursday.

Releasing a written statement on social media, Özkan on Thursday said, “As a result of consultations … I’ve resigned as AKP deputy group chairman, which I have been doing for the past four years. I’m grateful to our chairman and president, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for the trust he has placed in me and the responsibilities he has given me so far.”

Özkan was replaced by Yılmaz Tunç, the party’s lawmaker from Bartın and president of parliament’s Justice Committee, who on Thursday told the ANKA news agency that his change in position was communicated over the phone, adding that Justice Committee member Abdullah Güler would replace him as its new president.

The development comes after Özkan recently told Armağan Çağlayan, a Turkish television producer and lawyer, during an online program on YouTube that the UAE “surrendered” after realizing it can’t “bring Turkey to its knees” and that regional and global developments against their interests would emerge if they didn’t rely on Turkey.

“That’s how I read it,” Özkan said, adding, “The international community accepted that a secure energy supply wouldn’t exist without Turkey.”

AKP spokesperson Ömer Çelik on May 15 said in a series of tweets that Özkan’s statements regarding relations between Turkey and the UAE didn’t reflect the views of the party. “Turkey-UAE relations are progressing based on mutual trust and respect with the common will of President Erdoğan and UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan,” he added.

https://twitter.com/omerrcelik/status/1525583305088897024

Following Çelik’s statement, Özkan on Wednesday shared a photo of him and Çelik, underlining, “No one can come between close friends.”

Meanwhile, İsmail Saymaz on Friday said in his column on the Halk TV news website that Özkan was forced out after he was “harshly warned and scolded” by Erdoğan for refusing to resign during the AKP’s Central Executive Board (MYK) meeting on Thursday.

For years, Turkey and the UAE have been on opposing sides of regional conflicts due to deeply conflicting ideologies. Erdoğan and his pro-Muslim Brotherhood AKP supported political Islam movements in numerous countries, something that’s seen as a threat to Gulf monarchies like the UAE.

In their competition for regional influence, Ankara and Abu Dhabi backed opposite sides of the bloody Libyan civil war. Turkey vociferously opposed the blockade that the UAE and other Gulf states imposed on Qatar from 2017 to 2021, and Erdoğan had previously accused the UAE of bankrolling Turkey’s 2016 attempted military coup.

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the de facto ruler of the UAE, traveled to Turkey in November 2021 in the first high-level visit since 2012. Erdoğan also traveled to the UAE in February to help further ties.

During Erdoğan’s visit, the two leaders, formerly adversaries, signed some 13 agreements in defense, trade, technology, agriculture and other sectors, along with significant investment pledges from the UAE.

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