Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Qatar’s Turkish Ally

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Qatar’s Turkish Ally

Article excerpt

In the Qatari capital of Doha, opening the fridge doesn't only lead to relief from the 113 degree heat these days-it also heralds a major diplomatic triumph for one of this tiny Gulf state's strongest allies.

"Inside, it's all bottles of Turkish milk," says Noha Aboueldahab of the Brookings Institution's Doha outpost. "Once, it would all have been Saudi."

The blockade recently imposed on Qatar by its Gulf neighbors-Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE-and Egypt has cut offthe land, sea and air routes that used to supply Doha with most of its produce. But since early June, all that and more has been flown in from Iran and Turkey, with daily deliveries being made from the dairies of Anatolia to the giant malls of Qatar.

"It's a constant reminder," she adds, "of how Turkey has stepped up."

Indeed, Ankara has rallied rapidly and decisively to support Qatar in the current confrontation-and not just with milk and cheese. Turkish armored vehicles could also be seen recently, parading through Doha's streets on their way to a joint Qatari-Turkish military base just outside the capital.

This deployment occurred after a resolution allowing it had been fast-tracked through the Turkish parliament in early June by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, just days after the blockade began.

This was but the latest step in a long-term relationship, however, as Turkey and Qatar have stood together diplomatically, politically and economically for many years now. Both supported the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) government in Egypt and the "Arab Spring" more generally, and have provided homes for MB leaders in exile. Both also have good relations with Hamas in Palestine, in contrast to the Saudis, while they have also shared support for the same anti-Assad rebel groups in Syria. Both also have a more nuanced relationship with Iran than the outright hostility shown by Saudi Arabia and its close allies, while Qatar has large investments in Turkey-and Turkish construction companies are big players in Qatar.

Yet despite this background of cooperation, Turkey was likely a more reluctant Qatari ally in this dispute than might at first seem.

Initially, when the crisis first blew up, President Erdogan's government appeared to have been caught out, with no knowledge that Saudi Arabia was about to act. Once the blockade had begun, however, Erdogan had thought his good personal relationship with Saudi King Salman, along with Turkey's long-standing good relations with Qatar, might place him in a good position to mediate in the crisis, rather than come down on one side.

Yet those hopes seem to have been quickly dashed when the removal of that joint military base was revealed as one of the 13 demands on Qatar made by the Saudi-led group. Questions over King Salman's influence in the crisis-as opposed to that of the rising star, now-Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman-also undermined Turkish hopes of being a go-between.

"Whether by design or default," says Galip Dalay, with the Sharq Forum think tank in Istanbul, "Turkey thus ended up having to come out more strongly on the side of Qatar."

Reinforcing this obligation was also the realization that the list of allegations against Qatar made by its adversaries could mostly be made against Turkey, as well: Ankara also refuses to condemn Hamas as a terrorist group; Ankara also gives shelter to MB activists; Ankara also has a less antagonistic relationship with Tehran; and Ankara, too, had been outspoken in its initial support for the Arab Spring and anti-establishment forces in the Arab world. …

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