This report assesses the impact of Turkish-Qatari cooperation between 2002 and 2020 on conflict and geopolitical competition across the Middle East, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa based on close examination of its drivers. The report notes that neither ideological nor economic drivers adequately explain the recent blossoming of Turkish-Qatari relations. Converging political interests and pragmatism offer a more compelling explanation. On the one hand, Turkey aspires to play a regional leadership role and uses its cooperation with Qatar to strengthen its soft power claim to leadership of the Sunni world. On the other hand, Qatar seeks to ensure its territorial and dynastical safety from Saudi Arabia and its allies – the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain (the Quartet) – by working with Turkey, the recent thaw of the Al-Ula declaration notwithstanding. Turkish-Qatari collaboration is therefore best seen as a pragmatic partnership enabled by compatible geopolitical perspectives, particularly regarding the Muslim Brotherhood.
In terms of regional conflict and competition, Turkish and Qatari cooperation has created another regional axis in addition to the Emirati/Saudi/US/Israeli and the Iranian/Iraqi/Syrian/Lebanese (mostly sub-state in nature) blocs. While there are ties between these blocs, fault lines dominate. Between 2002 and 2020, competition between these blocs has deepened existing rifts within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), projected Middle Eastern crises into the Horn of Africa, and prolonged conflicts in Libya, Somalia and Syria.
Qatar shares many more tribal, religious and societal features with the Gulf countries than with Turkey. Doha also no longer pursues the assertive foreign policy across the region that it once did. But Turkish assertiveness nevertheless provides Qatar with the protection it needs to maintain an autonomous foreign policy that can withstand Saudi and Emirati pressure. Although the Quartet recently made a start in restoring relations and Turkish-Qatari cooperation might diminish somewhat in intensity, the Persian Gulf will feature a Turkish military presence for some time to come.
About the authors
Engin Yüksel is a research associate at Clingendael’s Conflict Research Unit who focuses on Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East. He is also a PhD candidate at the University of Leiden where he researches Russia’s historical and contemporary approaches to warfare.
Haşim Tekineş was an intern at Clingendael’s Conflict Research Unit and is also a master student at the University of Leiden.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, 15 August 2018
© Middle East Monitor