This week Oman signed an agreement with a senior trade delegation from Turkey aimed at increasing Turkish investment in Oman’s Duqm economic zone.  The agreement is intended to fulfil long-held ambitions to deepen the economic relationship between the two countries.  It also seems intended, at least in part, to demonstrate that Turkey is not as isolated in the Arab world, and particularly in the Gulf. 

For Europeans, it also shows that Turkey retains the capacity to engage beyond the EU’s traditional sphere of economic interests.  Observers will not be blind to the fact that China already has a significant economic and strategic footprint in and around the port of Duqm and it seems probable that this will have been an important factor in Turkey’s decision to advance its ambitions in Oman.

Turkey and Oman have long maintained cordial relations.  True to its non-partisan approach to foreign policy, Oman’s leadership has largely avoided the more bitter exchanges that have emerged between Turkey and some Gulf states, particularly in the wake of the abortive coup in 2016 and the emergence of President Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman vision for the future of this country. 

Denied much of the energy wealth that has buoyed the other economies of the Gulf Cooperation Council member states for the past 75 years, Oman has long understood that inwards investment from diverse international sources is key to its long-term development interests, particularly in relation to its ports and infrastructure. Accordingly, it has been obvious that maintaining good relations with as many countries as possible is deemed crucial to Oman achieving economic diversification and continuing its track record of successful diplomacy beyond the Gulf region.  This policy seems unchanging under the new leadership of Sultan Haithim bin Tariq al-Said.

In 2012 Oman and Turkey signed a Memorandum of Understanding aimed at boosting cooperation in a range of economic and social activities, including education, technology, science and agriculture.  At the time, the then Chairman of the Duqm Economic Zone Authority, Yahya bin Saeed Abdullah al-Jabri expressed his hope that the new agreement would lead to deeper Turkish involvement in Duqm.  This week’s agreement suggests that ten years on, his wish is being fulfilled, but perhaps for broader reasons than simply a desire to develop Oman-Turkey economic relations.