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.

 

Rouhani seizes opportunity to get closer to Qatar

New crown prince widely welcomed in Saudi Arabia

Banned Bahraini newspaper fires staff

Iraq forces battle deep into devastated Old Mosul

Prime time for Ramadan on Gulf fashion calendar

Mali activists call for referendum to be abandoned

Iraqi forces control two thirds of Mosul Old City

Assad leads Eid prayers in Syria’s Hama

Lone-wolf attacks raise concern about new trend in terror

Erdogan slams Saudi demands of Qatar as illegal

Sudan making 'positive' steps on meeting US sanctions terms

Mecca suicide bombing injures six

Gulf crisis heats up as Qatar receives list of demands

Suicide attacks kill at least three people in Mosul

Civilians killed in Iraq suicide bomb attacks

UN warns Yemen cholera outbreak could infect 300,000 by September

Putin launches deep-water phase of TurkStream pipeline

Berlin warns Ankara against meddling in religious affairs

Asian states downplay 'Russia proposal' to send troops to Syria

Iran’s Salehi urges West to save historic nuclear deal

Iran, allies mark Jerusalem Day with rallies

US-led Syria strikes kill 472 civilians in one month

Morocco dismantles 'IS-linked cell plotting tourist attacks'

France sets out tough new anti-terror law

Russia warships, submarine strike IS targets in Syria

Trump-Saudi ties help pave way for new Saudi crown prince

Makeshift clinic saves lives near Syria’s Raqa

Egyptian fuel helps restart Gaza power station

Rights groups say Morocco protest leader 'severely beaten' during arrest

5 killed in Mogadishu car bomb attack

UN experts urge Egypt to halt executions after 'flawed trials'

Qatar emir congratulates newly-appointed Saudi crown prince

Kushner hails 'productive' Palestine-Israel talks

Macron says removing Assad no longer priority in Syria

Turkey sends first aid ship to isolated ally Qatar

Iraq PM says IS admitting defeat in Mosul

Egypt delivers fuel to ease Gaza electricity shortage

Saudi Arabia named after ruling dynasty

Turkey detains catering boss after army food poisoning

Israel says will unleash 'unimaginable power' in future Lebanon war

Brussels nail bomber identified as Moroccan

Saudi stock market bullish on new heir

Lebanon's Salame to be new UN Libya envoy

New Saudi heir is king's agent of change

Turkish President accused of influencing courts