Turkey’s Growing Clout in Qatar

President Erdogan. Source : PixaBay.com
President Erdogan. Source : PixaBay.com

Turkish Parliament’s expedited approval to send  troops to Qatar indicates Turkey’s longing to assert itself as a key player in the Saudi dominated Gulf region.

The latest diplomatic strife among the Gulf states continues for the second week,  with no signs of immediate end to the latest instability in the region. On  June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia with its three biggest allies severed diplomatic ties with Qatar accusing their gas-rich tiny neighbor of funding terrorism and radical Islamic groups. At the core of the dispute, however, is Saudi Arabia’s objection to Qatar’s increasingly independent foreign policy objectives and Qatar’s powerful media franchise Al-Jazeera, which is known to be fairly critical of the monarchies in the Arab region, except of course, the one from Qatar.

The Saudi led demands have been rejected by the foreign minister of Qatar Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who affirmed that Qatar is “not prepared to change its foreign policy” and insisted that Qatar has “never experienced such hostility even from an enemy”.  Citing deployment of Turkish troops in Qatar, the Foreign Minister claimed,  “Qatar has the backing of the international community” and that the country will “manage to mitigate the consequences of this crisis”.

It can be argued that the Qatari  ‘independent‘ foreign policy may have caused the current dispute with Saudi Arabia, however, that same independent foreign policy may end up being Qatar’s savior. Both Turkey and Iran have shown strong support to Qatar.

Qatar is reported to maintain that there is not a military solution to the current problem, and that the contingent of Turkish troops set to be deployed in Qatar is going to bring security to the entire region.

While it is now clearly siding with Qatar,  Turkey is expected to continue its existing strong strategic relationship with both Saudi Arabia and UAE — two countries behind the latest diplomatic stand-off against Qatar. On Friday, Turkish President Erdogan insisted on Gulf unity and urged the parties to patch up the rift by the end the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.  Erdogan urged Saudi Arabia to act like the custodian of two holy mosques of Islam, while emphasizing that Turkey will not  abandon its “Qatari brothers”.

Deployment of Turkish Troops Was Contemplated Prior to the Recent Dispute

Turkish parliament ratified two agreements recently, one for increasing the number of Turkish troops deployed in Qatar, and the other for approving increased military training cooperation between Turkey and Qatar. Both these deals were in the works even before the latest diplomatic spat involving Qatar. Both the agreements were sponsored by MP’s from Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the agreements passed on an expedited basis.

Qatar is reported to maintain that there is not a military solution to the current problem, and that the contingent of Turkish troops set to be deployed in Qatar is going to bring security to the entire region.

Turkey first set up a military base in Qatar in 2014.  However, there have been about 200 Turkish troops stationed in that base currently. The base could hold up to 5,000 troops, which implies that the base in Qatar so far has been mostly symbolic. The latest diplomatic standoff brings opportunity for Turkey to increase its troops presence in Qatar, which already houses one of USA’s largest military bases in the Gulf.

The move by Turkey  to send more troops to Qatar embodies Ankara’s ambition to recreate an orbit of influence in its former Ottoman territories.

Given that Turkey’s relationship with most of the GCC states, especially with Saudi Arabia and UAE, is vital to Turkey’s military and economic objectives, the country is less likely to antagonize Saudi Arabia or UAE to a breaking point.  Therefore, it is expected that Turkey will take a pro-Qatar stance with the objective of a United Gulf”, minimizing the notion that Turkey is pursuing an overt attempt to undermine Saudi Arabia.

Turkey-Qatar’s Pursuit of Common Interests

Qatar and Turkey have been co-operating in several areas of common interests for some time. When the monarchies of the Arab world were scared and busy dealing with the aftermath of the Arab springs,  Qatar and Turkey appeared to have taken a pro-Arab Spring stance with their overt and covert foreign policy actions in the region. 

Both the countries maintained patronage of Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and Hamas of the Palestinian Territories, with both organizations operating offices in Qatar, and enjoying regular coverage in the Qatar based Al-Jazeera. Qatar also supported Egypt’s now defunct Muslim Brotherhood government with economic aid worth billion dollars. Qatar based Al Jazeera had live coverage of protests by Brotherhood supporters when President Morsi was deposed by the current Egyptian President Sisi.  

Erdogan is now paying back Qatar for all its generous support during last year’s failed coup in Turkey, while at the same time , advancing Turkey’s long-standing dream of getting back the influence it once had in the Ottoman periphery.

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is known to be an off-shoot of the wide Muslim Brotherhood network originated in Egypt. President Erdogan has often showed publicly expressed softness for the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Both Turkey and Qatar housed Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood leaders and provided them safety.

With their ambitious foreign policy agendas, Turkey and Qatar both have working relationship with almost all major players in the region, including Iran and Israel.  Both countries have been very careful in their involvements in the simmering disputes between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Both Turkey and Qatar are keeping cards in their pockets when it comes to Saudi and Iran, and never going full throttle to any specific camp.

It can be argued that the Qatari  ‘independent‘ foreign policy may have caused the current dispute with Saudi Arabia, however, that same independent foreign policy may end up being Qatar’s savior. Both Turkey and Iran have shown strong support to Qatar.

Gas and Media — Qatar’s Soft Weapons

Turkey is one of the most energy-hungry countries in the region with its surging economy and population. The country is largely dependent on Russian supply of natural gas and oil. Qatar, on the other hand, is world’s biggest liquified natural gas exporters and plays a smaller part in the global oil market as well. Turkey sees its relationship with Qatar as a mutually beneficial option for diversification of its reliance on Russian energy. 

Qatar now has the strongest media arm in the middle east.  While rest of the Arab media is dominated by state sponsored media entities with central command and control, Qatar’s media tend to be as free as it can possibly get in the region. Qatari media espouses democratic values and free expression of popular views, which often irks the Arab monarchies.  Turkey, being a fellow sympathizer of the Arab Spring, finds Qatari media as a smart choice for shaping up a better perception of Ankara’s own influence in the region. For their part, Qatar and its media have been non-hesitent in their support of President Erdogan when he dealt with the failed coup attempt on July 23, 2016.  Qatar had supported Erdogan’s government before, during and after the failed coup.

Erdogan is now paying back Qatar for all its earlier generosity, while at the same time, advancing Turkey’s long-standing dream of getting back the influence it once had in the Ottoman periphery.


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About Masum Billah 4 Articles
Masum Billah is a Staff Writer for The GeoStrategists. He is a human rights activist and a graduate student of the International Relations Department of University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Contact: Website

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