Tuesday,26 March, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1349, (15 - 21 June 2017)
Tuesday,26 March, 2019
Issue 1349, (15 - 21 June 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Turkey and Qatar

Erdogan’s siding with Doha threatens to diminish even more Turkey’s standing in the region, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Turkey and Qatar
Turkey and Qatar

After a long reclusion in protest against the switch to the presidential system, former Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu suddenly resurfaced last week to declare to the Turkish people, who had thought he had retired from public life, his affection for Qatar that had stood by the Ottoman empire during its declining years. Such was the gravity of Doha’s plight that he was moved to break his silence and call upon Turkey to stand by its Qatari sister.

How deep does this bond run in the descendant of the “sick man of Europe” in its neo-Ottoman, Islamist Erdogan robes?

Really deep, at least to judge by a periodical known to be very close to the Presidential Palace and that accused an American newspaper of “Islamophobia” because it was critical of Qatar which had built a mosque in Sweden. “What a dirty war is being fought against the Muslim people,” the paper exclaimed. Hundreds of other newspapers, opinion pundits and television personalities from the pro-Erdogan and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) media armies echoed such sentiments as they shouted down criticisms against that tiny peninsula jutting out into the Gulf.

Naturally, such sentiments do not spring from nothing. For the past 15 years, the bonds have expanded, deepened and proliferated thanks to the billions of dollars that have wended their way into Anatolian coffers in the form of investments to bolster the Turkish lira in its fierce war against the dollar and to found charities and philanthropic societies that made beautiful façades for activities that were anyone’s guess. Albeit not for long, since as “coincidence” would have it news reports accompanied by what was claimed to be incontrovertible evidence emerged revealing very solid bond that linked these two countries with jihadists and takfiris in conflict-plagued Syria and divided Iraq. Soon the AKP’s thin veneer of secularism cracked further allowing its true colours to emerge more clearly. It was perhaps best expressed following last year’s failed “coup attempt” by a Qatari writer who could not contain his overwhelming jubilation over the “victory that God has granted Erdogan because he is the leader who has freed the land of the caliphate from the legacy of the heretic Ataturk and revived the heritage of the great Seljuk forefathers who had raised aloft the banner of Islam”.

In short, Doha had created a base of support in Anatolia with officials to champion it in every apparatus of the AKP-controlled government where an Islamist mentality closely intertwined with takfiri trends would naturally erupt in anger against the siege against Ankara’s unjustly maligned friend and spiritual ally.

Anyway, according to Hurriyet and other sources, the AKP-dominated parliament hastily approved two bills on 7 June, the day after the rupture: one to deploy troops in a Turkish base in Qatar and the other ratifying an accord between the two countries on military (gendarmerie) training cooperation. Signed into law by Erdogan the next day, the purpose of the legislation was to convey a message that Turkey was determined to rise to the defence of its ally.

Just as quickly, the powers that be in Ankara realised how precipitous they had been in throwing down the gauntlet to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE (Egypt was not in the picture here since Ankara’s relations with Cairo were already on the rocks). Social networking sites in the Gulf were heating up with calls for a resolute stance against Turkey, another trouble that the ruling AKP hardly needed at this time, so the presidential palace issued the directive to tone down the rhetoric. The change of tenor was manifested just after the end of talks with the Bahraini foreign minister, who had passed through Istanbul for a few hours. His Turkish counterpart Mevlut Çavuşoglu, in a press statement, explained that the parliamentary action was purely a matter of protocol and that the military base was there to protect the whole of the Gulf and not any one country in particular.

On this occasion, even ruling party circles and Erdogan’s loyal supporters were divided. Turkey should not do something that causes it to lose everything, some voices said, arguing that Ankara had vital interests at stake with the countries that had ruptured relations with Qatar and that Ankara’s support for Doha would court dire consequences for Turkey. Some in this camp went further to suggest that the current Gulf crisis presented Ankara with the opportunity to assume the role of mediator and peacemaker.

Observers also cautioned that Ankara’s defence of Qatar would render it vulnerable to the same accusations that have been levelled against Qatar, namely that it supports terrorists and extremists. They argued that the AKP government is in a very awkward position and ultimately it will have to choose between extremists or the opposing camp.

If the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) has always eyed Riyadh with a suspicious eye, on this occasion it could not help but to agree that Doha is a major supporter of Islamist fundamentalists. CHP leader Kemal Kiliçdaroglu held that the only solution to the crisis was for Qatar to sever its relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and he simultaneously appealed to the government in Ankara to cease its support of that organisation and to take an unequivocal and resolute stance against terrorism and the funders of terrorism.

Turkey’s intelligentsia watches helplessly as their country’s regional role and status declines by the day as Erdogan drags it deeper and deeper into the quagmire of the Middle East. They have reached the conviction that Erdogan will not ease up on his polarising politics until he wakes up to the news that Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Manama have recalled their ambassadors from Ankara, too, and that Cairo has closed its embassy and consulate.

Some of Erdogan’s advisors urged him to act prudently and not side with Qatar so far as to put Turkey’s vital strategic interests at risk. But will he listen?

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