October 21, 2022
A country’s foreign policy toolbox consists of several means of diplomacy which is nowadays more comprehensive and multilayered than ever. Today, diplomacy enlists other actors at the state level besides diplomats in shaping international relations, and they pursue different methods such as public diplomacy, cultural diplomacy, paradiplomacy, sports diplomacy and more.
As a complementary tool to traditional diplomacy driven by diplomats and foreign ministries, the developing concept of parliamentary diplomacy is gaining more attention. It involves elected members of a national parliament playing an important role in developing international relations and cooperation. Although parliaments are legislative bodies, most have foreign affairs committees and joint friendship groups that build and maintain relations between countries at the parliamentary level.
Members of the Turkey-Saudi Arabia Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group held talks in Riyadh last week to support the normalization process between the two countries. Saudi Shoura Council Speaker Dr. Abdullah bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh hosted the Turkish Parliamentary Friendship Group chairman Halil Ozcan and his accompanying delegation. The meeting focused on ways to improve cooperation between the council and the Turkish parliament.
The Turkish delegation was the first to visit the Shoura Council since it began a new session on Oct.16. After the meeting, members of the friendship committee had discussions at the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs and then moved to Jeddah for other contacts.
Meetings among other actors at the state level are important. Joint parliamentary friendship groups can play a critical role in institutionalizing relations on the state-to-state level and act as a crucial mechanism todeepen inter-parliamentary relations between countries.
Inter-parliamentary friendship groups are established mainly to develop cooperation between countries and parliaments, carry out official visits and exchange views on international affairs. There are now 147 inter-parliamentary friendship groups in the Turkish parliament, which recently established a new friendship group with Egypt and Libya. Turkey still does not have friendship groups with the parliaments of countries such as Greece, Syria and Armenia. Parliamentary friendship groups continue their contacts even at times of tension in bilateral relations and when other forms of diplomacy, including personal diplomacy, fail to solve the crises.
Although parliamentary diplomacy is by no means a substitute for state-level relations, it is important in supplementing official bilateral cooperation as a complementary forum that can serve strategic national interests and find common ground in ways that governments cannot. It enriches and stimulates traditional diplomatic channels. Thus, it is important to seize such incentives to emphasize the Turkish-Saudi normalization phase with institutional tools.
Perhaps one of the most significant initiatives that institutionalize political dialogue between Turkey and Saudi Arabia is the presence of the joint parliamentary friendship group, which continues to serve as a mechanism of greater institutionalized collaboration.
Parliamentary diplomacy between Ankara and Riyadh can provide a forum to promote political dialogue. Turkish-Saudi relations based on solid institutional cooperation can enable the two countries to find other ways of dealing with misunderstandings in relations. Therefore, such meetings among parliamentary friendship groups, which should also include different voices within, need to be promoted and given more space at the state level.
Moreover, parliamentary diplomacy should also be supported with public diplomacy, which refers to government activities to enhance a country’s image. For instance, Turkish soap operas have become non-governmental public diplomacy tools representing Turkey globally. It is noteworthy that the Saudi-owned MBC Group, the Middle East’s largest broadcaster, has just signed a five-year partnership with two Turkish production houses. MBC expanding its Turkish content is a significant indicator that the Turkey-Saudi Arabia normalization process is being supported at different levels.
Thus, both public and parliamentary diplomacy are crucial for inter-state and societal relations. The resilience of Turkish-Saudi relations largely depends on utilizing several tools of diplomacy in relations. If Turkish-Saudi relations develop along stable institutional and organizational lines, the two countries and their societies will benefit in the long term.
- Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz
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