The meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Emir of Qatar on 2 December had all the features of a special relationship and an ever-more deepening alliance. The nature of their meeting in Doha duly reflected the shared interests and similar projections of both countries for the re-emerging regional order. Before delving into particularities of the meeting, it is important to focus on its symbolic value. The fact that this meeting took place at a crucial time – after Turkey shot down a Russian jet violating its airspace and Russia in return threatened Turkey with severe consequences and sanctions – was important. Qatar strongly threw its weight behind Turkey in this discord and pledged to meet any energy deficit that Turkey might experience in the case of Russia withdrawing energy supplies as a way to settle the score with Turkey.
Despite the fact that the relations between Qatar and Turkey are very advanced especially at the leadership level, they can be considered as weak and not institutionalised for a long-lasting and strong cooperation. However, President Erdogan’s visit to Qatar with nine ministers of the new Turkish cabinet reflects the fact that regional crises have created opportunities for turning political will into practice. Between them, Erdogan and the Qatari Emir signed 16 agreements, an important step to consolidate ties between the two nations in areas including energy, defence, education and tourism.
The motivations and processes behind these agreements and such an alliance are worth-stressing. The two countries have important fields of cooperation, including foreign policy, and a shared perspective about the region. In Egypt, even though Turkey has more staunch position against the coup d’état, both sides backed the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi’s government. While Qatar keeps its supportive position towards Muslim Brotherhood, it has recently – especially as a result of internal Gulf relations – softened its language and formed some form of relations with the Al-Sisi government. In Syria, the two countries focused on supporting the moderate opposition against Al-Assad and tried to lead the international community to act against the regime in every possible international platform. Another field of cooperation is in Libya, where both Turkey and Qatar support the Tripoli government that is seen by another GCC member, the United Arab Emirates, as illegitimate. The UAE supports General Khalifa Haftar, who is fighting against all Islamist groups and has accused Turkey and Qatar of fuelling instability in the country. Supporting the Palestinian resistance movement, particularly Hamas, is another shared foreign policy file for the two allies.
The military agreement between both sides has also increased the sustainability of the relationship and added an institutional dimension to what was primarily the product of elite agreement. The deal allows Turkey to establish a military base in Qatar and also allows the deployment of joint forces if needed. This agreement is significant because it will allow both countries to hold joint military exercises, cooperate in the defence industry, exchange operational training experience, and make use of each other’s ports, airports and air space. Considering the United States’ relative withdrawal from the region and nuclear deal with Iran, it is clear that the GCC states have started to diversify their security partners. In such an environment, Gulf countries including Qatar are in favour of supporting Turkey as a way to balance Iran. Nevertheless, for the Turkish-Qtari alliance to remain strong political, economic and military dependency should be increased in order to make it long-lasting and robust. President Erdogan’s visit was thus a step in the right direction.
Of the 16 files agreed upon during this visit, the most important is the agreement between Qatar Petroleum and Turkey’s Petroleum Pipeline Corporation (BOTAS) for the trade of liquefied natural gas (LNG). It is particularly important given Turkey’s need to lessen its energy dependency on prickly Russia and Iran, hence increasing its energy security. After Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet, this issue has acquired new urgency. Turkey’s new investments in LNG terminals can easily foster energy trade in the short run, whereas a gas pipeline from Qatar to Turkey, which was proposed in 2009, might be an option in the long run, building on mutual trust and interdependency. As in energy, Turkey and Qatar have complementary economic structures. Turkey can easily contribute to Qatar’s food security as well as provide infrastructure services and construction machines and materials.
Even though President Erdogan stated that “Turkey and Qatar share excellent relations that derive their power from their shared history and culture,” the road to a stable relationship is not free from challenges. First of all, in a region full of conflicts and crises there are naturel limitations for the two countries. The Syrian civil war and unstable Iraq near Turkey’s border, along with Turkey’s internal Kurdish problem, constitute major challenges to the relations between the two allies. For Qatar, internal Gulf relations pose limitations: Saudi influence over Qatar’s foreign policy could be one of the political challenges, while differences between the UAE’s and Qatar’s regional vision could be another source of conflict. All in all, Turkish-Qatari relations are evolving towards a model partnership, which can provide hope for a more peaceful mutual interdependency in a crisis-ridden region.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.