Analysis - Political Transformations
The Reasons of Turkey’s Bias to Qatar during the Gulf Crisis
Sunday، July 02، 2017
On June 5, the Gulf-Qatari crisis erupted as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut political and economic relations with Doha after they accused the latter of supporting terrorist organizations. Since then, Turkey has sought to play a mediation role between Doha and the Gulf countries, which severed ties with it, as it seeks to prevent further escalation and to find a quick solution to the crisis.
As Turkey’s efforts to calm down the situation stumbled and as more countries reduced their diplomatic representation with it, Ankara sided with Doha and provided it with political, economic and military support to confront the Gulf measures taken against it.
Developments of the Turkish Stance
The Turkish stance towards the Gulf-Qatari crisis went through three basic phases, which are:
1. The first phase is “relative neutrality and seeking to play the mediation role:” This phase began on the first day when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut their diplomatic ties with Qatar. Some Turkish officials, primarily Prime Minister Binali Yildiri and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, voiced their regret that Gulf countries cut ties with Qatar and called for resolving issues through dialogue and negotiations. They confirmed Turkey’s willingness to contribute to solving the crisis and voiced their concern over the Gulf region’s stability.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyipd Erdogan received several calls from a number of Gulf and world leaders to discuss the Qatari crisis. On June 5, Erdogan called Kuwait’s emir, the Saudi king, Qatar’s emir and the Russian president. On the next day, he called the French and Indonesian presidents, the Bahraini and Jordanian kings and the Lebanese and Malaysian prime ministers. During these calls, Erdogan voiced the importance of resolving problems in the region through dialogue and diplomacy, and voiced his country’s willingness to mediate to resolve the crisis and provide all that is needed to decrease tensions between Qatar and the three Gulf countries.
2. The second phase is “Turkey’s bias to Qatar when confronting Gulf measures:” This phase began on June 7, when Erdogan said the sanctions and measures taken by the three Gulf countries against Qatar are unacceptable and that boycotting Doha is “inhumane,” and as “if a death penalty decision has been taken for Qatar.” Erdogan emphasized that his country will resume strengthening and developing relations with Qatar. Turkey took this stance after its attempts to calm down the crisis failed.
As food supplies in the Qatari market decreased, due to cutting diplomatic and commercial ties, Turkey rushed to provide food products and shipped them by air to cover any shortages in the Qatari market.
In addition to political and economic support, Turkey provided Qatar with military support. On June 8, the Turkish parliament ratified an agreement that allows the deployment of Turkish troops in Qatar. The agreement was signed on April 28, 2016 by the Turkish and Qatari defense ministers during Turkey’s former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s visit to Doha. The Turkish president approved the agreement the next day and it went into effect. On June 12, Ankara dispatched a military delegation to Doha for reconnaissance purposes and preparations for deploying Turkish troops. There are currently around 200 Turkish military consultants in Qatar to train Qatari troops. It is expected for Turkey to send between 3,000 and 5,000 Turkish infantry and air and naval units as part of this recently ratified agreement.
3. The third phase is “combining between supporting Qatar and mediation to solve the crisis:” This phase began on June 9, when Turkey sought to play a mediation role. It focused on Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait as Turkish President Erdogan implored Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz that he leads the efforts to solve the crisis. One June 10, Erdogan received Bahraini foreign minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad al-Khalifa and called for finding a solution to the Qatari crisis before the end of Ramadan. Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in a press conference with his Bahraini counterpart that Ankara would resume its efforts to defuse tensions between the Gulf brothers.
On June 12, Turkey’s foreign minister received the Saudi and Emirati envoys and the charge d'affaires of Bahrain in Turkey to discuss the developments of the Gulf crisis. On June 13, Turkey’s foreign minister said his country is leading a mediation initiative with Finland adding that in the upcoming days, the two countries will organize a mediation forum for the crisis in Istanbul.
In parallel with its efforts to mediate to solve the crisis, Turkey continued to support Qatar and criticized the other parties involved in the crisis. Erdogan criticized the joint terror list, which the three Gulf countries and Egypt issued that included 59 individuals and 12 entities, including Qatari associations. He rejected accusations that Doha supports terrorism and rejected listing Qatari associations as terrorist organizations.
On June 13, Turkey’s foreign minister described the measures, which were taken against Qatar, as unbalanced, and rejected the accusations of Doha’s rapprochement with Iran and support of terrorism. On the next day, the Turkish foreign and economic ministers visited Doha where they met with Qatar’s emir and the Qatari foreign and economic ministers and discussed recent developments. Turkey’s foreign minister said, “Qatar is a brotherly country and the Qataris are our brothers,” adding “We are here in solidarity with them.” He also described the relation between Erdogan and Qatar’s’ emir as perfect.
Within the framework of Turkey’s attempts to calm down the situation between the parties involved in the crisis and to propose its vision for a solution, the Turkish foreign minister visited Saudi Arabia on June 16 to meet with King Salman bin Abdulaziz.
The Turkish stance in support of Qatar is based on a group of considerations. The most prominent ones are:
1. Qatar is considered Turkey’s most important and basic ally in the Arab region, as the two countries adopt matching policies towards the region’s causes especially in Syria, Iraq and Libya. They support political Islam movements particularly the Muslim Brotherhood and utilize it, as it is their influential tool to implement their policies in the region.
2. Qatar’s importance for Turkey as a major ally in the region increased in the light of the challenges, which have been confronting the Turkish role in the region ever since the Muslim Brotherhood rule was toppled in Egypt and ever since the decline of Ankara’s influence in the Syrian crisis. This influence receded due to the consecutive defeats of Syrian opposition groups that Turkey supports. The success of Gulf pressures on Qatar and responding to these pressures’ demands, which mainly include ending support to political Islam groups, will be viewed as a deathblow to the Turkish project in the region.
3. Decision makers in Ankara think that pressures on Qatar aim to impose more restraints on the countries, which support political Islam groups and to paralyze their movement in the region. They think Turkey may be the second target after Qatar especially that it adopts regional policies that are similar to Doha’s.
4. Turkey is afraid that the Gulf-Qatari crisis’ negative repercussions on the Qatari economy will lead to the decline of Qatari investments in Turkey. These investments are worth an average of USD 20 billion and are mostly in the sectors of agriculture, tourism, real estate and banking. This would have negative consequences on the Turkish economy, which has been suffering already due to the failed military coup in July 2016. Erdogan’s popularity inside Turkey has decreased as a result, and he is therefore working to secure his victory in the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2019 by betting on the improvement of the economic situation in the country.
5. Turkey seeks to exploit the fact that Saudi Arabia and the UAE severed commercial ties with Qatar so its food products can gain access to Qatari markets. The export of Turkish food products has been negatively affected due to Russian economic sanctions, which were imposed on Turkey. Therefore, the current crisis will benefit the Turkish economy as the Turkish products would serve as an alternative to the Saudi and Emirati products.
Two Possible Paths
It is probable that Turkey’s political, military and economic support to Qatar will continue during this current crisis as Turkey adopts parallel paths based on the developments of the crisis, and they are as follow:
1. The first path: Intensifying efforts to communicate with Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, to find a solution for the crisis and prevent its escalation so it can eventually prevent straining relations between the Gulf and Turkey. Ankara had worked hard to restore these relations during the past years.
What strengthens this idea is Turkeys’ confirmation that standing with Qatar does not mean it stood against anyone or chose to side with one party against another. On June 14, Turkey’s foreign minister said in a phone interview with Al-Arabiya television channel that President Erdogan’s statements about the crisis did not target Saudi Arabia and that he greatly respects the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.
2. The second path: Turkey will head toward establishing a Russian-backed Turkish-Iranian-Qatari alliance to confront the Saudi-Emirati-Egyptian alliance, which is supported by the US as Turkey perceives it. It’s probable that Ankara will resort to this path if the efforts to settle the crisis fail and if Gulf countries continue to boycott Qatar, or if Turkey senses that what’s happening will subject it to a regional siege and limit its influence in the region, particularly in case it loses its Qatari ally.