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Shared regional agendas are stimulating the rapid rise of Turkey-Qatar cooperation

Recap meeting between Tayyip Erdogan and Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on 23rd October 2016. Kayhan Özer/Anadolu
Recap meeting between Tayyip Erdogan and Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on 23rd October 2016. Kayhan Özer/Anadolu

Located strategically between Europe and Asia, the Republic of Turkey has been increasing its cooperation gradually with Qatar, a Sunni-Arab state in the Gulf, and this has taken the shape of some degree of alignment. While Turkey’s major reason for this relates to its vision of becoming the major force to be reckoned with in the Middle East and the Muslim world, Qatar’s reasons are different. Besides protecting its sovereignty, Qatar needs Turkey in its major geopolitical ventures in order to ensure the country’s standing in the greater Middle East as an important international player.

All of the Gulf Arab States except Iraq are Sunni monarchies, a feature that has been the platform of their shared interests and policies in the region. However, it seems that Qatar has increasingly been taking steps that are not in line with its fellow monarchies; some of its policies conflict directly with those of its Sunni allies.

Despite being a monarchy, Qatar has been overtly backing the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation that promotes Islamic democracy, across the Middle East. Qatar sees the movement’s branches in the region as a way to project Qatar’s influence internationally and compete with other regional players.

Furthermore, although the Brotherhood and its spin-off groups have been perceived as major political problems for the ruling elites of Egypt and the Arab monarchies, Qatar’s commitment to the movement has acted as an insurance policy against religiously-inspired political opposition within the small state, where the Brotherhood disbanded voluntarily in 1999. Although this support has seen a number of Brotherhood exiles seeking safety in Qatar, in 2014 pressure from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States led to the government in Doha asking several of them to leave the country.

Turkey also backs the Muslim Brotherhood; its ruling Justice and Development Party promotes a mix of democracy and Islam like that of the Islamic movement. The aforementioned Brotherhood exiles who had to leave Qatar were told by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that they would find shelter in his country.

Besides the Muslim Brotherhood factor, the war in Syria also puts Turkey and Qatar almost on the same footing. Turkey has been seeking the defeat of Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad in order to pave the way for the formation of a new democratic government in Damascus that would be less hostile towards Ankara. This ambition is being challenged by Russian and Iranian support for Assad. Qatar also wants Assad’s defeat and has been sponsoring the same actors in the Syrian conflict as Turkey; they are, apparently, ideal partners in this venture.

The two states face several similar regional threats; support the same regional organisations; sponsor the same actors in Syria; and share similar agendas in Syria, Libya, Egypt and elsewhere. It is natural, therefore, that they are working closely together. The opening of a Turkish military base in Qatar a year ago is testament to this natural partnership.

The base gives Turkey direct access to the Gulf and takes it one step forward in its ambition of transforming its presence from a regional military player to the regional military power in the greater Middle East. Qatar, which has traditionally relied on Saudi Arabia for its security, gets additional security and stability from the deal. This gives Qatar other options as Riyadh puts pressure on Doha to take steps outside of its long-term vision for its future, including an end to its support for the Brotherhood. The tie-up with Turkey allows Qatar to reduce its dependency on Saudi Arabia.

In conclusion, it can be said that Turkey-Qatar military cooperation and the overall improvement of ties between the two countries will allow Qatar to manoeuvre its regional policies with reduced interference from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, all of which are unhappy with some or all of Doha’s regional policies and try to make it toe their line every now and again. By allying so closely with non-Arab Turkey, Qatar is hoping to reduce such involvement with its neighbours.

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