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Turkey and Qatar look to be building a new alliance

The chairman of the Turkish parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Bara’a Juncker, announced recently that it had adopted a draft resolution for a cooperation agreement between Turkey and Qatar. The arrangement includes military training, defence industries, joint exercises and the deployment of military forces between the two countries when necessary.

Although it would be an exaggeration to call the growing connection between the two countries an alliance or a coalition, as such terminology has different connotations and conditions that are still absent at this stage, there is a new and advanced relationship between them; this is certainly a strategic agreement that hasn’t just sprung up overnight.

The relationship between Turkey and Qatar opened up during the rule of the current Qatari Emir’s father, Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa, when the strong convergence of their respective foreign policies attracted the attention of observers. This was especially true with regards to regional issues, mainly Palestine, although their views were different to those of their main ally, the United States. This pushed some circles to classify them as part of the “objection pact” at that time, particularly for violating the policies of the Arab “axis of moderation” and their open support for the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance.

The first wave of the Arab Spring allowed for the deepening of the relationship between Ankara and Doha; both governments stood with the people as they stood up against theirS regimes. Just as the Egyptian revolution finished off the “axis of moderation”, the Syrian revolt brought down the “axis of resistance” as we knew it, by siphoning off Turkey, Qatar and Hamas.

Today, with revolutionary forces retreating in the face of counter-revolutions around the region, Turkey and Qatar are maintaining their high level of coordination and cooperation.

The relationship continued to grow after Shaikh Hamad abdicated and his son, Shaikh Tamim, took over as Emir in Doha, and latterly after Recep Tayyip Erdogan went from being prime minister to president of Turkey. During Erdogan’s first visit to Qatar as president, the formation of a higher council for strategic cooperation between the two countries was agreed upon and announced last September.

So, what motivates such cooperation? The two countries have much in common, including a dream of a regional renaissance, with development and regional leadership for many years, especially in economic areas; they also have strategic importance for one another. Both suffer from unstable borders and neighbours, which place a limit on their foreign policy potential.

When it came to power in Ankara the Justice and Development Party inherited a weak state; over the past 13 years it has sought to increase its strength, openness and influence within the region, but it still has a long way to go. It was described by the Turkish ambassador in Yemen as a situation similar to that of a farmer who has planted olive trees and will have to wait many years to reap the benefits.

Turkey has been dealt a number of blows recently. Its attempt to gain influence through using its soft power in Syria, Iraq and Yemen has been confounded by Iran’s tougher approach, causing Ankara to make tactical retreats while preserving its power and ability to manoeuvre.

The transformation of the region from one of “zero trouble” to “zero calm” pushed Turkey to carry out serious revisions of its foreign policies and the theories upon which they are based. Its deteriorating relationship with Washington also forced it to look for ways to support its foreign policies independent, even partially, of the US.

According to this vision, the government in Ankara is looking for a regional partner which contributes to the process of balance and strengthens the various Turkish positions. This is nothing new; Turkish officials were the first to visit Cairo after the revolution that brought Mohamed Morsi to power and proposed support and cooperation, hoping to become the new Cairo government’s first partner in the region.

It also appears as if the energy portfolio is an important and sensitive element in cooperation between Turkey and Qatar and their future plans. For Turkey, Qatar represents a possible alternative to Russian and Iranian natural gas, which will ease those foreign policy pressures which have helped to weaken its effectiveness over Syria and its inability to impose or market its vision for a solution to the conflict there.

The two countries can also support each other across the Arab world, and in the Balkans and Caucasus. Africa, meanwhile, represents a promising area for development and cooperation that is expected to welcome Turkish and Qatari projects. It also looks as if Turkey sees Doha as a gateway towards the other Gulf States, particularly Saudi Arabia. At least one parliamentarian in Ankara has said as much.

Turkey certainly realises the importance of the Saudi role and its influence on various regional issues, making it a strong candidate for strategic cooperation to face the current threats. These include Iran’s growing influence in regional capitals and a possible agreement with the US over its nuclear programme. This explains the keenness of the Turks to keep at least the bare minimum of relations with Riyadh and not get involved in any friction with the kingdom as happened in the past. It also demonstrates the rationale behind the clear Turkish initiatives towards the new government in Saudi Arabia.

Thus, unlike previous agreements which were mostly economic, the latest one – once signed – presents different and more advanced moves towards cooperation between Turkey and Qatar, which may become the means to win over other countries in the region. It may also mean a new Turkish strategy for getting engaged in regional matters and abandoning soft power approaches which thus far have been Ankara’s only way of dealing with thorny issues. It is a trend, if it happens, that will have consequences for the future; the first step will be to transform increased cooperation with Doha into a strategic alliance.

Translated from Arabi21 8 March, 2015

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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