The evolution of the relationship between Turkey and Qatar from 2002 to 2020 can be broken down into four analytical periods that are demarcated by key domestic and regional developments.[6] The first period of 2002 to 2011 was marked by the start of Muslim Brotherhood-inspired Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule in Turkey, which opened up new avenues for collaboration with both Qatar and other GCC countries. The outbreak of the Arab Uprisings in 2011 offered Ankara and Doha an opportunity to push a shared agenda across the region. Between 2011 and 2013 they supported and strengthened a range of Islamist and revolutionary movements to expand their connections and shift the regional geography. Yet, this generated significant resistance from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which was amplified by the chief architect of Qatari foreign policy until 2013, Emir Hamad al-Thani. His successor, Emir Tamim al-Thani, pursued a more conciliatory and less confrontational foreign policy from 2013 to 2017, which put the brakes on further development of Turkish-Qatari relations. The Tamim al-Thani also prioritised improving relations with the GCC over expanding Qatar’s Muslim Brotherhood networks. But, emboldened by the US’s anti-Iranian policy shift under the Trump Administration in 2016, the Saudis and Emirati tried to make Qatari foreign policy entirely subservient to their own in 2017. The unintended effect of the blockade was that Turkish-Qatari relations blossomed: as an opportunity for Turkey and as an insurance policy for Qatar. We examine each period in turn.

From 2002 to 2011: Building soft power friendship

From 2002 to 2011, Turkey and Qatar focused on mediating regional crises. Ankara’s ambition to be on good terms with all its neighbours in the region was the starting point for Turkey’s early engagement with Qatar. For Doha, its initial ‘Hamadian’ foreign policy (named after Qatar’s emir) sought to enhance its prestige and position in the region by playing the role of ‘Hakam’ (mediator) in regional disagreements.[7]

From the perspective of Ankara, the initial deepening of Turkish-Qatari relations flowed logically from Ankara’s ‘no problems with neighbours’ foreign policy in which economic, cultural and societal relations with the countries of the Middle East took centre stage.[8] This policy paid off as Turkey became the first country with which the GCC established a bilateral strategic dialogue mechanism in 2008. Moreover, a memorandum of understanding was signed between Turkey and the GCC regarding a Free Trade Agreement in the same year.[9] The bilateral relationship between Ankara and Doha was firmly nested in the broader relationship between Ankara and the GCC at this time. From a GCC perspective, better (security) relations with Turkey offered enhanced insurance against the growing (perceived) threat from Iran. As a Sunni country featuring a capable government with a moderate Islamist orientation and a relatively positive Ottoman legacy, Ankara did not have the disadvantage of the US as a Western, Christian, capitalist power from outside the region.[10]

During the late 2000s especially, both Turkey and Qatar were considered models of Islamist modernisation in the Muslim World.[11] This image offered Ankara and Doha several opportunities to navigate the regional landscape to their advantage via high-profile mediation efforts and economic cooperation. In a sense, the outward-oriented soft power and conflict mediation-oriented foreign policies of Emir Hamad al-Thani and former Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu were a meeting of minds.[12] Qatar engaged in mediation efforts between Hamas, Fatah and Israel; between Libya, the US and the UK; between Saddam Hussein and the US; between the Lebanese state and Hezbollah; between Yemen and the Houthi; between the Government of Sudan and the Justice and Equality Movement; between Sudan and Chad, and between Morocco and Algeria.[13] Turkey focused on the regional aspects of mediation between Israel and Palestine, Israel and Syria, Iraq and Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, as well as between Iran and the West.[14]

From 2011 to 2013: Shifting the regional political geography

From 2011 to mid-2013, Turkey and Qatar supported revolutionary and Islamist actors linked with the Muslim Brotherhood across the region in a bid to fill the power vacuums created by the Arab uprisings.[15] The initial success of this policy in Egypt and Tunisia generated the first confrontation between Turkey-Qatar on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia-the UAE on the other.

Between 2011 and June 2013, Turkey and Qatar invested deeply in supporting revolutionary movements across the region that could bring Muslim Brotherhood-dominated governments to power based on the notion of ‘majoritarian democracy with Islamic foundations’.[16] The other Gulf states, however, viewed the Arab uprisings as a dangerous threat to the region’s political geography and exerted themselves in maintaining the status quo of rule by authoritarian regimes, whether tribal or autocratic. But Qatar and Turkey enjoyed a head start in 2011 because they were more in sync with the spirit of the times and because they could capitalise on the networks created by their mediation efforts and economic cooperation in the 2000s. Role-shifting from ‘arbitrator to actor, and from actor to activist’, both Qatar and Turkey came to heavily support mainstream Islamist groups with political, financial and military means.[17]

In Ankara’s thinking, the Arab uprisings were a logical step in the process of post-colonial ‘normalisation’ of the Arab world during which like-minded Islamist movements would eliminate national barriers and create a new regional order centred on a rising Turkey.[18] From Doha’s perspective, the Arab Uprisings offered an opportunity to emancipate itself from Riyadh and seek partners and connections outside of typical Gulf approaches to international policy by means of Muslim Brotherhood networks, while remaining within the GCC.[19] Pulling closer to Turkey, empowering mainstream Islamist movements, and remaining on friendly terms with Iran constituted Qatar’s key policy anchors.[20] However, Doha did not sufficiently take into account that this policy unsettled its neighbours.

The combination of a shared outlook in favour of anti-autocratic revolutions and the practical opportunities of 2011 enabled joint Turkish-Qatari interventions.[21] And indeed, the revolutions in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia saw Turkish-Qatari cooperation in support of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated revolutionary movements with significant effect. At the same time, in other countries such support was more contingent on geopolitical constraints and moderated with diplomatic caution. For example, neither Turkey nor Qatar intervened in Yemen or Bahrain to avoid provoking Saudi Arabia.[22] Moreover, Turkey and Qatar respected Saudi Arabia’s interests as their neighbour and worked with it to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.[23]

Even though Qatar and the UAE were the strongest advocates of the Arab uprisings in early 2011, they diverged in their stance and support, particularly in Libya and Egypt. The main reason is that Doha backed revolutionary Islamists whereas the UAE supported groups that were clearly anti-Islamist.[24] Their different templates for regional order after the Arab Uprisings were cast in even starker relief after the successful coup against Mohamed Morsi in Egypt in July 2013.[25] It took the heart out of the developing Muslim Brotherhood crescent from Turkey to Egypt.[26] When many Egyptian Muslim Brothers took sanctuary in Qatar, Doha faced serious pressure from the UAE and Saudi Arabia to extradite them. Ankara accused the West of aiding and abetting the coup by remaining silent but maintained good diplomatic relations with the Gulf countries.[27]

‘Following the Gezi protests in Turkey, the coup in Egypt, the resignation of Ennahda’s leader in Tunisia, and wavering US support for the Syrian opposition, Turkey and Qatar found themselves in a weaker position in 2013 while Saudi Arabia and the UAE claimed victory. As Turkey and Qatar became weaker, they did not really have a lot of other options besides each other,’ is how Shadi Hamid, senior research fellow at the Brookings Institution, summarised it.[28]

Box 1
Competing visions of regional order in the Middle East and North Africa

Since 2011, Turkey and Qatar have promoted political Islamists across the region, notably in Syria, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Somalia. While they are concerned about Iran’s regional influence, both countries have opted to maintain a constructive dialogue with Tehran. In Doha’s thinking, cordial relations with Iran could reduce Qatar’s security and economic vulnerabilities that result from lying directly across the Persian Gulf, especially regarding the South Pars/North Dome gas field that makes Qatar the richest country on earth per capita. For Turkey, diverging interests in Syria and Yemen must be balanced with shared interests in Syria (e.g. Astana) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in contrast, seek to maintain authoritarian governance across the region, eliminate Islamist movements as a threat to their own hereditary tribal rule, and focus on forming a Sunni/Israeli/US bloc against Iran. But this is not carried out consistently. For example, while the UAE has taken the lead in counter balancing mainstream Islamists in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, it also remains on relatively decent terms with Iran, while Saudi Arabia even backs the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Al-Islah Party in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has also refrained from establishing diplomatic relations and trade with Israel, unlike the UAE.

The ensuing divide in the Sunni world of the Middle East between Turkey/Qatar and Saudi Arabia/UAE has not only created a risk of direct conflict between these states, but also benefited Iran and Islamic State.

Source: Roberts (2017) op. cit.; Steinberg, G., Regional Power United Arab Emirates: Abu Dhabi Is No Longer Saudi Arabia’s Junior Partner, Berlin: SWP, 2020; Pala, Ö. and A. Bülent, ‘Practical Geopolitical Reasoning in the Turkish and Qatari Foreign Policy on the Arab Spring’, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, No:3, 2015, p. 298; Kinninmont, J., The Gulf Divided: The Impact of the Qatar Crisis, Chatham House, 2019; Haberturk, online (accessed 19 December 2020); Bakir (2019), op.cit.

From 2013 to 2017: Living apart together

From mid-2013 until the 2017 crisis, Doha focused on improving its relations with the GCC countries while Turkey’s pro-Islamist revolutionary stance remained unchanged. Qatari efforts to restore a sense of good neighbourliness did not, however, bear fruit. Partially in consequence, Turkey and Qatar drew somewhat closer over this period.

Although Turkey’s relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE had soured after the 2013 coup in Egypt, they did not collapse. Instead, the Syrian civil war gave their relationship a positive charge as they worked together in support of a range of armed Syrian opposition groups. From both a Turkish and a Qatari perspective, Saudi Arabia was a valuable ally. Two developments between 2015 and 2017 are worth highlighting. First, Ankara worked to enlist greater Saudi support for nationalist Islamist groups in the Syrian civil war in 2015–2016 (especially Ahrar Al-Sham).[29] This brought about friendlier relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Second, Turkey considered joining the ‘Sunni Alliance’ against Iran, which king Salman was building in 2015.[30] While Turkey decided not to get fully involved since this would complicate its fight against Kurdish separatism and securing Iranian gas,[31] it did maintain good economic and political relations with both Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This only changed in 2016 following the failed coup attempt in Ankara. Turkey sharply revised its foreign policy orientation and aligned with Russia and Iran after labelling the US the coup’s ‘main orchestrater’ and the UAE its ‘financial backer’.[32] In fact, Ankara and Tehran swiftly reconciled their views on regional issues (e.g. via the Sochi process of 2017) and increased economic cooperation.[33] Since then, different views on the regional political order, tensions over Turkish incursions in Syria, and Ankara’s tilt towards Iran have further degraded relations between Ankara, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

As to Qatar, its key foreign policy architect between 2013 and 2017 was the new Emir, Tamim al-Thani, who had ascended to power in 2013. He realised that Qatar’s foreign policy had antagonised its direct neighbours and sought to be more diplomatic. Despite the change in tone, substantial disagreements nevertheless persisted on how to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood. While the movement had dissolved itself in Qatar in 1999 in organisational form, it remained active in the UAE and to some extent in Saudi Arabia.[34] Subsequently, the Emiratis convinced the Saudis that Qatar needed to be reined in.[35] The 2014 withdrawal by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE (since called the Quartet) of their ambassadors from Doha was an unmistakable sign that Qatar’s policy of expanding its connections outside the GCC mainstream, including with the Muslim Brotherhood, could negatively and directly affect its own national security.[36] To assuage concerns, the new emir paid several visits to GCC states to assure them that Qatar had no intention of interfering in their internal affairs.[37]

Likewise, the Emir took a reconciliatory stance towards Egypt after the 2013 coup in order to restore diplomatic credibility and break Qatar’s isolation.[38] Emir Tamim al-Thani also sought to change Qatar’s international image in respect of any (perceived) support for ‘radical organisations’ such as Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. In his first address to the UN General Assembly in 2013, he said that ‘the State of Qatar aims to be a hub for dialogue and discussion among various parties to conflicts and not to be a party to such conflicts.’[39] Finally, Al-Thani sent 1,000 troops to Yemen in support of Saudi and Emirati forces in mid-2015 to curry favour with Riyadh.[40] On balance, he significantly downscaled Qatar’s regional foreign policy – especially in Syria and Libya – while Turkey maintained or increased its involvement in these countries.[41]

Yet, Qatar’s efforts to regain the trust of Saudi Arabia’s rulers fell short of their intended outcomes. Riyadh’s attitude remained suspicious and hostile. Although Emir al-Tamim was willing to be less confrontational, the two sides had drifted too far apart for an amicable make up. The 2017 shift in US policy on Iran – from accommodation to confrontation – also played a key role in that it emboldened Saudi Arabia to demand further concessions from Qatar.[42] In brief, the Quartet was not appeased and increased the pressure on Doha to comply more strictly with its own foreign policy objectives. However, Qatar had no intention of putting its autonomous foreign policy in jeopardy by capitulating to the demands of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.[43]

In this same period, Turkey and Qatar succeeded in incrementally improving bilateral relations, for example by forming a High-Level Strategic Council and signing a 10-year military agreement in 2014, even though their relationship was less intense than during the 2011–2013 period.[44] Qatar discreetly continued to create a security policy backup while Turkey kept expanding its small outpost in the Persian Gulf.

From 2017 onwards: Another special relationship?

From 2017 onwards, Ankara capitalised on the rift in the GCC by expanding its military presence and political influence in Doha. Qatar in turn refused to appease the Quartet and relied predominantly on Turkish military patronage to maintain a more autonomous foreign policy. As the fault line in the Gulf deepened, Syria, Libya and Somalia became battlegrounds for proxy confrontation.

After the 2017 diplomatic crisis, Turkey and Qatar rapidly upgraded their relationship. The establishment of two Turkish military bases in Qatar appreciably increased deterrence against a Saudi invasion (as happened in Bahrain in 2011 and Yemen in 2015), which was especially relevant since US security guarantees no longer fully reassured Doha despite the presence of the vast Al-Udeid airbase.[45] The Turkish military presence made it far easier for Qatar to resist the Quartet’s demands and maintain a more independent foreign policy. For example, Doha refused to attend the annual GCC meeting in 2018.[46] Economic relations between Turkey and Qatar also grew appreciably in many sectors – including defence, business and tourism – rising to a total trade volume of US$1.4 billion (2019).[47] Moreover, Qatar directly supported the Turkish economy during the 2018 devaluation of the Turkish lira and increased its foreign direct investment.[48] By the end of 2019, Qatar’s $20 billion worth of investments offered the Turkish economy much needed succor.[49] During the Covid-19 pandemic, Qatar signed a $15 billion swap agreement (mid-2020), which extended a further helping hand to lighten Turkish economic burdens.[50] One could argue that Qatar is reimbursing Turkey for its protection via investment and direct financial support.

The Turkish military base in Doha was initially destined to be a modest training facility since its capacity was limited. It served more as symbol of agreement than representing a functional military asset.[51] Nevertheless, the course of events after 2017 stimulated Ankara and Doha to upgrade the base’s capacity, and change its character (from a Turkish to a joint Turkish-Qatar base) and its deterrence posture. More specifically, the Turkish military presence in Doha – its first major military facility outside of the country[52] – was tasked with upgrading the Qatari Armed Forces through joint training and high-profile joint military exercises. To that end, Turkey deployed some mechanised troops on a permanent basis and supplemented these with air and maritime assets ‘on demand’.[53] Even though Ankara has argued that the end-state of Turkish military presence in Doha is to contribute to regional peace and stability, the Gulf States perceive it as Turkish military power projection.[54] Indeed, as Turkish-Iranian relations improved after 2016, Ankara’s military build-up in Qatar can largely be seen as serving to deter Saudi Arabia and the UAE from attacking Doha. ‘This alignment was a comfortable arrangement for Qatar because Doha keeps its powerful ally [Turkey] at a geographical distance and uses it to balance against Saudi Arabi and Iran,’ according to Professor Allen J. Fromherz.[55]

For the period(s) preceding 2002: Bakir, A., ‘The evolution of Turkey – Qatar relations amid a growing Gulf divide’, in Krieg, A. (ed.), Divided Gulf: The anatomy of a crisis, London: Palgrave, 2019.
Fromherz, A. J., Qatar: Rise to power and influence, London: Tauris, 2017.
Van Veen, E. and E. Yüksel, Too big for its boots, Turkish foreign policy towards the Middle East from 2002 to 2018, The Hague: Clingendael, June 2018.
Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, online (accessed 9 July 2020).
See: Bakir (2019) op.cit.
Başkan, B., Turkey and Qatar in the Tangled Geopolitics of the Middle East, New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2016.
Roberts (2017) op. cit.
Ibid; Fromherz (2017), op.cit.
Altunışık, M. Benli, ‘Turkish Foreign Policy in the 21st Century’, CIDOB International Yearbook, 2011.
Başkan and Pala (2020) op. cit.
Roberts (2017) op. cit.
Ahmet Davutoğlu, quoted in Başkan (2016) op.cit.
Based on an interview with Professor Allen J. Fromherz, Director of the Middle East Studies Center at Georgia State University (23 November 2020).
Roberts (2017) op. cit.
Pala, Ö. and B. Aras, ‘Practical Geopolitical Reasoning in the Turkish and Qatari Foreign Policy on the Arab Spring’, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, 17:3, 2015.
Başkan (2016) op. cit.; Roberts, D. B., ‘The United Arab Emirates’ Secular Foreign Policy’, Foreign Affairs, 2016.
Ulutas, U., Türkiye, Suudi Arabistan ve Orta Doğu'da değişim, Al Jazeera, 18 March 2014, online (accessed 2 September 2020)
Roberts (2016) op. cit.; Roberts, D. B., ‘Qatar and the UAE: Exploring divergent responses to the Arab Spring’, Middle East Journal, 71:4, Autumn 2017.
Baskan, B., ‘Turkey between Qatar and Saudi Arabia: Changing Regional and Bilateral Relations’, Uluslararası Ilişkiler, 16: 62, 2019.
Jordan’s King: Muslim Brotherhood Crescent Developing, 21 March 2013, online (accessed 21 October 2020)
Başkan (2016) op. cit.
Based on an interview with Shadi Hamid, Senior Research Fellow at the Brookings Institution on 3 December 2020.
Yüksel, E., The Strategies of Turkish Proxy Warfare in Northern Syria, The Hague: Clingendael, 2019.
Ibish, H., Saudi Arabia's New Sunni Alliance, New York Times, 31 July 2015, online (accessed 2 September 2020).
King Salman’s priorities: Revamping Alliances to Stop Iranian expansion, Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, 2015, online; Mat, F., The new international openings towards Iran introduce a possibility of economic cooperation between Ankara and Tehran, two regional powers so far divided, Osservatorio balcani caucaso , 2016, online (accessed 18 November 2020).
Süleyman Soylu açıkladı: Darbenin arkasında ABD var!, Yeni Şafak, 17 July 2016, online; BAE’den Cuntaya 3 milyar dolar, Sabah, 14 July 2017, online; Darbe girişiminin arkasında Mısır ve BAE var' Vatan, online; Hearst, D., EXCLUSIVE: UAE funnelled money to Turkish coup plotters, 29 July 2016, Middle East Eye, online (accessed 3 September 2020).
Sinkaya, B., ‘Turkey Iran relations after the JDP’, Istanbul: La Turquie aujourd’hui: 26, 2019.
Roberts (2016) op. cit.
Guardian, online (accessed 24 August 2020); Ulrichsen, K. C., ‘Qatar and its rivals in Syria’s conflict’, in: Hinnebusch, R. and A. Saouli, The War for Syria, London: Routledge, 2019; Roberts (2017) op.cit.; Boyce, G., ‘Qatar’s Foreign Policy’, Asian Affairs: 2013, 44:3, pp. 365-377.
Başkan (2016) op. cit.
For instance, the Emir congratulated Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour and committed not to renege on financial pledges made during Morsi’s Presidency. See: Pala and Aras (2015) op. cit.; Başkan (2016) op. cit.
‘Address by Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Amir of the State of Qatar’, United Nations, 24 September, 2013, online
Egypt Independent, online (accessed 13 August 2020).
F. Gregory Gause III, Beyond Sectarianism: The New Middle East Cold War, Brookings Doha Center, No: 2, 2014, online: link. (accessed 27 July 2020).
Maloney, Suzanne, Under Trump, U.S. policy on Iran is moving from accommodation to confrontation, Brookings, 2017, online; Novak, Jake, Trump may have pushed Saudi Arabia and Iran closer to war, CNBC, 7 Nov 2017, online (both accessed 29 November 2020).
Based on an interview with Shadi Hamid, senior research fellow at the Brookings on 3 December 2020.
Başkan and Pala (2020) op.cit.
Ahaber, online (accessed 24 August 2020); Fromherz (2017) op. cit.
The National, online (accessed 24 August 2020).
Turkish Statistical Institute online (accessed 26 July 2020).
TRT World, online; Cupolo, D., Qatar triples swap line with Turkey, Al-Monitor, 20 May 2020, online (both accessed 18 August 2020).
Another $7 billion of Qatari investments to flow into Turkey, Daily Sabah, 3 December 2019, online; Turkish central bank triples Qatar swap line to $15 bn, Reuters, 20 May 2020, online (accessed 19 November 2020).
Turkish central bank triples Qatar swap line to $15 bn, Reuters, May 2020, online (accessed 29 November 2020).
Derived from an email exchange with David B. Roberts on 9 December 2020.
Dalay, G., Türkiye neden Katar’da askeri üs kuruyor?, Al-Jazeera Turk, 17 June 2015, online.
Fırat, H., New Military Base in Qatar to inaugurate in Autumn, Hürriyet Daily News, 14 August 2019, online; Turkey launches first training ship for Qatar, TRT World, 9 October 2020, online; Ergan, U., Türk jetleri tatbikat için Katar'da, Hürriyet, 22 April 2018, online; Kübra, M., Türkiye ile Katar arasında askeri - savunma iş birliği, Defencehere, 1 September 2020, online (accessed 19 November 2020).
Aktaş, Y. and M. Tosun, Cumhurbaşkanı Erdoğan Katar dönüşü gazetecilerin sorularını yanıtladı, Anadolu Agency, 26 November 2019, online (accessed 19 November 2020).
Based on an interview with Professor Allen J. Fromherz, Director of the Middle East Studies Center at Georgia State University, 23 November 2020.