Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has arrived in Doha today with bilateral and regional issues high on agenda. Qatar is one of the strongest allies of Turkey in the Gulf region, with strong cooperation both in terms of security and trade. The visit of President Erdoğan comes at a very important time as a wave of normalization has started in the Middle East. Last week Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ) visited Turkey as both states seek to repair their bilateral relations.
At this point, we have asked the experts what the meaning of President Erdoğan’s visit to Qatar is and whether the ongoing developments will have an impact of Turkey-Qatar relations.
Helin Sari Ertem
Istanbul Medeniyet University
President Erdogan’s visit to Qatar serves as the proof of the rapprochement between Turkey and the UAE, so to speak. Tensions have already thawed between UAE and Qatar since the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit held in al-Ula at the beginning of 2021, and it was time for Turkey to normalize relations with the countries of the region. The atmosphere of dialogue that Turkey has initiated with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain in recent months has brought about normalization with the UAE. In a sense, Qatar has acted as a catalyst for all these normalization efforts. Therefore, there is nothing to worry about Turkey-Qatar relations; on the contrary, there is potential to further develop this cooperation.
Despite the troublesome processes and pressures in the region, both countries have been in cooperation for a long time. On the other hand, Turkey and Qatar have similar views on many global and regional issues, especially in Syria, Libya and Yemen crises, and thus they have established a strategic partnership. In this new period, which stands out with the emphasis on regional reconciliation and covers a wide part of the countries in the region, the cooperation between Turkey and Qatar will continue to get stronger in a more relaxed atmosphere.
It is possible to make sense of all these events in terms of systemic, regional and local dynamics. From a systemic point of view, it can be said that the global competition between the US and China is decisive. Focusing on competition with China, the American administration has followed a policy in Europe and the Middle East – since Former US President Barack Obama came to power – that champions that the countries of the region “solve their own problems themselves first”; in other words, we observe that it chooses the path of offshore balancing. From this point of view, both Turkey and other allied countries in the Middle East should minimize the problems between them; therefore, normalization is a situation that the US also wants to see in terms of systemic balances. Strengthening the ties between its allies will make it easier for these actors to intervene in regional crises instead of the US; and thanks to this, the US will be able to direct its attention to Asia-Pacific.
From a regional perspective, it can be said that countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are trying to benefit from the “unity in the Middle East” by pursuing policies that are more harmonious and open to cooperation. This approach is in harmony with Turkey’s recent expectations and needs. There is a deadlock in critical regional issues such as Libya, Syria and Yemen, and the leading countries of the region have no choice but to compromise or make concessions on certain issues in order to overcome this. The ongoing instability and pressures in the region harms the countries of it the most. At this point, all parties have understood that the improvement of relations has more benefits than worsening thereof.
Here, the positive impact of the said improvement on the domestic politics of the countries should be mentioned. Gaining a solid foothold in relations with the countries of the region will lead to a relative relief in domestic politics and to the strengthening of Turkey’s power against the problems it faces in other geographies (for example, in the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean). Thanks to the normalization with the Gulf countries, the hot money that can be directed to Turkey is a lifeline, especially in economic terms. Even if the flow of hot money does not occur to the expected extent, it will be perceived as a message of support by the public in the first place; and it will reduce the feeling of loneliness. The strengthening of the sense of unity in the Middle East will also have a positive impact on the peoples of the other countries in question; it will make it easier to overcome the introversion experienced during the pandemic period.
It has been clearly observed in recent years that returning to the “win-win” approach in the Middle East is much more advantageous not only for Turkey but also for other actors. We hope that the normalization moves we see in the region will be permanent in the long run. Because, if this situation can be evaluated wisely, it will create results most of which will be in favor of the peoples of the region; and it will contribute to the peace and prosperity of the Middle East by reducing the feeling of fragmentation that the Islamic world is suffering from, even if by a little bit.
Özden Zeynep Oktav
Istanbul Medeniyet University
Qatar and Turkey have been allies since 1972. There are two factors that lead to these two countries getting closer to each other. One of those factors is security, and the second is trade. In 2015, Turkey established a military base with around 3,000 troops in Qatar led by the Qatar-Turkey Combined Joint Force Command. Qatar’s total investments in Turkey have now reached $22 billion. Erdoğan visits Qatar amid Turkey’s warming ties with the UAE while Ankara aims for better ties with Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well. Here, the issue is about the position of Israel as Tel Aviv wants more and more actors to be a part of the normalization process. However, it seems quite difficult for Israel to make the regional actors including the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) accept Israel’s penetration into the Middle East and the Gulf as a leading actor. In this context, it can be said that the GCC countries’ (specifically Qatar and the UAE) main motive behind their enthusiasm to start or increase trade and security relations with Turkey is closely related to their strategic decision to rapidly diversify economy and security. With incumbent US President Joe Biden’s coming to power, Washington made it evident that human rights and diplomacy rather than a transactional relationship centered around oil, weapons sales, and the containment of Iran would be the new priorities in US relations with the Gulf. This also led to GCC states, primarily Qatar and the UAE, seeking more intra-regional cooperative relations.
As Turkey continues to work on the operation of Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport together with Qatar, both leaders will probably handle the security issue of Afghanistan on 6-7 December. Added to this, safety of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, which would be held amid the criticisms concerning Qatari violations of human rights will be the main concern of both leaders.
Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies
Since President Erdoğan’s last visit to Doha in December 2020, the regional and international settings have fundamentally changed. On January 2021, the al-Ula GCC summit in Saudi Arabia ended almost a four-year crisis that shattered the Gulf Club and could have led to its demise. Qatar-Turkey relations developed to a near-alliance relationship during that crisis. The two countries concluded a military agreement, allowing Turkey to deploy forces to the Gulf region for the first time since the collapse of Ottoman Empire in WWI.
The Arab Spring revolutions, which have also contributed to strengthening the relationship between the two countries, have ended in a fiasco. Turkey and Qatar supported democratic transition in the Arab world wherein Islamic forces stood to gain. These revolutions turned into bloody internationalized civil wars in Syria, Libya and Yemen. Even in Tunisia, which witnessed smooth and peaceful democratic transition, President Kais Saied suspended the constitution and froze Parliament in July 2021.
Internationally, former US President Donald Trump has left the stage after losing the November 2020 elections and his democratic rival, Joe Biden, came to power. Qatar, which suffered under Trump, who initially supported the blockade by accusing Qatar of financing terrorism, welcomed the news. Turkey, by contrast, was not very happy with the victory of Joe Biden, who was very critical of Turkey during his election campaign. Qatar became, therefore, the US’ favorite Gulf ally, especially after the chaotic withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan, whereas Turkey began having a hard time trying to cope with Biden’s Middle East policy especially in Syria, wherein the US supports the YPG/PYD and its umbrella organization SDF, both of which are listed by Turkey as terrorist organizations.
Yet, despite the changing regional and international environment, there is no reason to believe that Turkey-Qatar relations will suffer. On the contrary, they are expected to survive and thrive. The two countries have enough shared views and common interests to guarantee that. President Erdoğan’s Doha visit is meant to ensure and signal that Turkey’s changing regional orientations will not affect its strategic relations with Qatar.
Emad Y. Kaddorah
Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies
In the first place, President Erdoğan’s visit to Qatar, on December 6-7, 2021, will be within the regular annual meetings of the Turkish-Qatari Higher Strategic Committee (TQHSC), which was established in 2014. However, it is of especially great importance this year. Politically, this is the first visit to Doha after the end of the Gulf crisis in January 2021. It is also the first after the visit of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, to Ankara in November that established a new chapter in their bilateral relations and perhaps regional cooperation. The visit is expected to confirm once again that the changing situation in the Gulf and the new Turkish openness to the UAE does not mean that the Qatari-Turkish alliance will lose its momentum. Particularly, they are in agreement on most of the current regional issues. On the contrary, these positive developments may prove that the alliance has paid off, and it is important to discuss its development during the Summit.
Economically, everyone is currently focused on Ankara’s efforts to address the value of the Turkish lira against the dollar and to attract new foreign investments, including those from Qatar. But economic relations with Doha are broader than that. Since the establishment of the Turkey-Qatar High Strategic Committee, relations have deepened, and the two countries had signed 62 agreements. The volume of trade exchange doubled to $1.6 billion. Qatar’s investments in Turkey, amounting to $22 billion, exceeded those of all other GCC states. However, opening a trade route from Port Khalid in Sharjah (UAE), through Bandar Abbas in Iran, to the port of İskenderun in Turkey is likely to pose a challenge. Erdoğan’s visit is expected to emphasize the benefits of this path of regional cooperation and that it will not be at the expense of the relations with Qatar. Finally, this visit may focus on cooperation in the field of natural gas. New gas discoveries in the Black Sea do not diminish the importance of developing energy relations with Qatar. Turkey may need to strengthen its relationships with this traditional producer, both in exchanging experiences and in negotiating production quotas and market relations.
Qatar Strategic Studies Centre
Turkey and Qatar enjoy what is recognized as a “special relationship”, within the different levels of international relationships and cooperation. I expect that this visit comes as a response to some perceived threats in the region, while Erdoğan is working with his close ally, Qatar, to coordinate closely and unify the stand in front of these new developments. The Turkish Lira is coming under a major pressure and going through a critical retreat against the US dollar. The Lira retreat is causing much domestic pressure while Erdoğan fights against the establishment in the economy sector.
Also, the looming election in Libya might end up being a major turn-around of an event if things go wrong. Libya is heading to a presidential election with no guidelines or no constitutional rule regulating the electoral process , with Saif Al Islam Gaddafi and the Ret. General Haftar are both candidates. There is no chance of a fair election in Libya, and the outcome is very threatening as it stands. There is also the UAE rapprochement with Turkey, and the visit of Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ) to Ankara last week most likely has carried a lot of weight.
Erdoğan is seeking to open up a new chapter with Turkey’s regional rivals, and to reduce the tensions. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have been opposing to Turkey’s vision and aspirations in the region, while all of them paid the price for such contention and stress. The whole region is in a great need for a reconciliation and cooperation, and the visit of MBZ to Ankara is now more promising with Erdoğan’s visit to Qatar. Keeping in mind the strong UAE-Israel relationship, MBZ must have carried a lot with him in his Ankara visit.
I think the region is coming into new arrangements, and Erdoğan is visiting Qatar with many issues to discuss, and build a consensus on.
President Erdoğan will visit Qatar on December 6-7, 2021. First of all, President Erdoğan’s visit will enable political, military and economic relations between Turkey and Qatar to move forward. However, the visit in question can be dealt with on two main points. The first of these points is the political and military dimensions of Turkey-Qatar relations, while the second point is about the new page opened in Turkey-Gulf relations.
Having experienced a political normalization with Saudi Arabia and the UAE in 2021, Turkey strengthened its diplomatic relations, especially with Bahrain, and gained an significant room for maneuver in the Gulf. With the resolution of the Gulf crisis, the ongoing political and military relations between Turkey and Qatar have become a role model in the Gulf. In this sense, a face-to-face meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Ferhan has become possible, signifying the level of political normalization between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. In normalization with the UAE, the arrival of the country’s de facto leader, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, to Ankara, has showed that normalization was managed from the highest levels of both governments and it has also confirmed the mutual political will that was formed as a result of this. In this sense, with Erdoğan’s visit to Doha, the already strong partnership between Turkey and Qatar will be proven once again.
It is reported that President Erdoğan will also pay an official visit to the UAE in February. When evaluated in this sense, the signals that the normalization processes will be carried out with Egypt and Israel as they were done so with the UAE recently also make the said visit to Qatar more important in terms of timing. The visit, which will happen amid normalizations, may also include the issue of harmonization of positions the two countries take in various matters. In this sense, during the said visit, the reflections of Turkey-Qatar political relations on regional politics and the reflections of regional politics and normalization climate on the relations between the two countries are likely to be discussed. In this sense, it is likely that the two countries’ perspectives on the political normalization trends in the Middle East and the development of common ways of cooperation, Qatar’s role in Afghanistan and Turkey-Qatar military relations will also be discussed during the said visit.