First Published: 2017-06-18

Taking sides with Qatar could adversely affect Islamist foreign policy
Turkey faces increasing isolation in the region and has seen its influence waning over the conflicts in Syria and in Iraq.
Middle East Online

By Constanze Letsch - ISTANBUL

Demonstration in favour of Qatar in central Istanbul

The dramatic political crisis unfolding between Qatar and several other Arab states might have nega­tive implications for Tur­key, the small Gulf state’s staunch­est supporter, analysts said.

“We will continue to support Qa­tar in every possible way,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told members of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) during iftar June 9 in Istanbul. “We will continue to take the side of the op­pressed.”

He added that the embargo im­posed on Qatar “should be lifted completely because such things should not happen between broth­ers.”

He later told Bahrain’s foreign minister that the dispute between Qatar and its Arab adversaries should be settled by the end of Ramadan, Turkish media reported. Several Turkish analysts said that Erdogan’s chances of brokering an agreement were slim, however.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Yem­en severed diplomatic ties with Qatar on June 5. Other countries soon followed. They accuse Qatar of supporting Islamist groups, includ­ing the Muslim Brotherhood, and of entertaining an inappropriately close relationship with Iran. Qatar dismissed the allegations as “base­less” and “slanderous.”

The Turkish parliament fast-tracked legislation allowing the deployment of Turkish troops to Qatar, where it has a military base and approximately 150 soldiers. The law permits the Turkish Army to conduct joint military exercises with Qatari troops and foresees the provision of military training to the Qatari gendarmerie.

Turkey has also sent food and water supplies to Qatar after other Arab countries imposed economic sanctions, closed their airspace and shut all land borders with the small Gulf country.

Turkey faces increasing isolation in the region and has seen its influ­ence waning over the conflicts in Syria and in Iraq. Some were puz­zled that Ankara threw all its sup­port behind Qatar, risking alienat­ing Saudi Arabia. It appears that the AKP government chose to interpret the actions against Qatar as a hostile act against Turkey.

“It didn’t take Ankara long to reach the conclusion that, after Qa­tar, Turkey is the likely next target,” Fehim Tastekin wrote in Al-Mon­itor. “All the reasons cited by the Saudi king and the US president to declare Qatar a ‘supporter of terror’ could easily be applied to Turkey.”

Qatar and Turkey have long shared similar views and strate­gies on regional issues and both have backed the same actors in Egypt and Syria. Both countries are known to be staunch supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and both have granted refuge to Egyptian members of the group after they were ousted from power by Egyp­tian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in 2013. This support for the Muslim Brotherhood has long strained their relationship with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Turkey and Qatar have long worked on expanding bilateral ties. In December 2014, Turkey and Qatar signed a memorandum to establish a “High Level Strategic Committee” with the aim of forging agreements concerning the joint development of science and technology, the de­fence industry, military training and the deployment of Turkish military forces in Qatar. Since then Turkish and Qatari leaders have conducted regular meetings.

Now analysts warn Turkey’s un­questioning support for Qatar might have serious repercussions.

“If this crisis gets worse and ends with the disintegration of Qatar, Turkey, as its ally, might find itself in a tight spot,” journalist Rusen Cakir said. He cited the diplomatic rift following the military coup in Egypt, during which most coun­tries, with the exception of Turkey and Tunisia, supported Sisi against the ousted president Muhammad Morsi. “Turkey is still dealing with the regional, economic, but fore­most strategic problems resulting from this.”

He added that the AKP-govern­ment will face difficulties trying to rally support among their support­ers who, like most of the Turkish public, see Qatar as a rich country and not an oppressed victim.

“It is impossible to turn this into a struggle resembling the struggle for Palestine,” Cakir said. “People might form an opinion by looking to President Erdogan but there is no real desire to become defenders of Qatar.”

Despite Erdogan’s staunch sup­port for Qatar, his tone towards the bloc around Saudi Arabia has been unusually mild. Calling on the Saudi leadership to take the lead in reconciliation efforts in the Gulf, he warned that there “would be no winners in a war among brothers.”

However, the rhetoric might well start to heat up. In reply to a state­ment by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE, accusing a dozen charity organisations and 59 individuals in Qatar of links to “terrorism,” Erdogan said: “There is no such thing. I know those foundations. I have not witnessed Qatar supporting terrorism.”

Turkish opposition parties urged Erdog­an to remain neutral and “stay out of the Gulf quagmire.” Oguz Kaan Salici, an Istan­bul MP for the main opposition Repub­lican People’s Party criticised the rushed parliamentary vote on the bill allowing for Turkish troop de­ployment in Qatar. It was, he said, “a sign that Tur­key tries to take sides.”

Ziya Pir of the pro- Kurdish Peoples’ Dem­ocratic Party said the allegations against Doha made Turkey’s uncritical stance to­wards Qatar very problematic. “Tur­key takes the po­sition of Qatar,” he said. “There are allegations that Qatar funnels money and weapons to the Muslim Brotherhood, to al-Nusra and to [the Islamic State]. This agreement should not have been made now.”

Constanze Letsch is a contributor to The Arab Weekly in Istanbul.

This article was originally published in the Arab Weekly.

 

US says Iran supplied ballistic missile to Yemen rebels

UN 'appalled' at mass execution of jihadists in Iraq

Palestinians call for protests against Pence Jerusalem visit

Over half Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in 'extreme poverty'

Palestinian activist killed in Gaza protests

Palestinian billionaire detained in Saudi Arabia

Egypt opens Rafah crossing for four days

Turkey court releases 7 suspects in New Year attack trial

Foreign fighters a worry as IS struggles to survive

Palestinians killed in continuing protests over Jerusalem occupation

Bourita: Extraordinary meeting between ECOWAS, Morocco to be held beginning of 2018

Saudi-led air strikes, clashes as Yemen forces battle rebels

Sahel force funding shows terrorism fight is Saudi 'priority'

Iraq's Sistani says Hashed should be under government control

Middle-class Egypt adapts as costs soar

Somalia's budget meets IMF terms

Israel PM questioned in graft probe

Lebanon approves bid for oil, gas exploration

US to present 'irrefutable evidence' of Iran violations

Istanbul 'to remove Gulen links' from street names

Iraq hangs 38 jihadists

Pence to visit Middle East despite controversy

Hamas chief calls for continued Jerusalem protests

EU to repatriate 15,000 migrants from Libya in two months

Syria Kurds fear US ally will desert them after IS defeat

Israeli drugmaker Teva to cut 14,000 jobs over two years

Turkey rescues 51 migrants stranded on rocks

Saudi, UAE hold talks with Yemen Islamists

18 killed after bomber strikes Mogadishu police academy

Israeli air strikes target Hamas military facilities

US-led air strikes kill 23 civilians in Syria

Israel union calls nationwide strike over pharmaceutical giant job cuts

UN envoy urges Putin to press Assad for elections

Yemen's Huthi rebels release pro-Saleh media staff

Israel intelligence minister invites Saudi prince to visit

Saudi-led strikes kill 30 in rebel-run Yemen prison

Saudi king says Palestinians have 'right' to Jerusalem

Erdogan urges world to recognise Jerusalem as Palestinian capital

Saudi King says determined to confront corruption

South Sudan needs $1.7 billion humanitarian aid in 2018

UAE oil giant floats 10 percent of retail arm to strong interest

US skeptical about Putin's declaration of military victory in Syria

Growing concern about rise of far-right in Austria

Saudi, UAE seeks to help West Africa fight terrorism

Somali journalist dies after Mogadishu bombing