Much of the current literature on Turkish and Qatari cooperation pays attention to the importance of shared ideology because the ruling elites in both countries are deemed to be strong backers of the Muslim Brotherhood movement.[56] The founders of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came from the Milli Görüş movement, which is part of a larger Muslim Brotherhood network. Muslim Brotherhood-oriented concepts and ideology have influenced foreign policy decisions of the AKP throughout its rule, although with varying intensity.[57]

While the AKP is firmly ensconced in the Muslim Brotherhood’s ‘ecology of thought’, Qatar’s rulers are Wahhabis – as are Saudi Arabia’s. The largest state mosque in Doha is named after the founder of Wahhabism, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab.[58] Qatar is also a constitutional tribal monarchy, ruled on the basis of sharia law. So, what explains Doha’s pro-Brotherhood attitude and policies? For a start, Qatar’s ‘Wahhabism of the sea’ – in contrast with Saudi Arabia’s ‘Wahhabism of the desert’ – is much more tolerant of the Shi’a faith and of Muslim Brotherhood exiles who have been welcomed by Doha since the 1950s and 1960s.[59] Moreover, the exiled Muslim Brotherhood community in Doha – the Mecca for regional exiles (Kabaa al Madiyoom) – is not politically active in Qatar and is not perceived as a risk to the security and stability of the kingdom.[60] Lastly, there are deep personal connections between the Qatari elites and Muslim Brotherhood leaders. For example, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian theologian and spiritual leader of the Brotherhood, became the Islamic scholar of the Al-Thani Family. More generally, kinship ties have also facilitated a shared view on critical issues such as the unity of the Muslim community, conciliatory approaches towards Iran, and support for Hamas.[61]

Ultimately, Qatar’s state structure and ideology are more like the Wahhabi dominated Arabian Peninsula than Turkey’s pro-Islamist majoritarian democracy. The Al-Thani family has no ideological objection to the Muslim Brotherhood and sympathises with aspects of its approach but does so without being part of the Brotherhood ecology itself. [62] Moreover, it is not strongly committed to maintaining Doha as an active political base for the Brotherhood’s activities outside of Qatar, at least not in the more recent past. As a result, the ideological ties between Ankara and Doha are relatively weak. Instead, the key drivers of Doha’s positive relationship with the Brotherhood are good personal connections, a generally tolerant religious attitude, and the fact that the Brotherhood is not perceived as a threat.[63]

Box 2
Wahhabi and Muslim Brotherhood ideologies

The ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood offers an alternative to Wahhabi ideology for the governance of Islamic societies. Simply put, Wahhabism justifies authoritarian and dynastic rule with reference to the obligation of the faithful to obey their ruler. According to Wahhabism, leaders receive their sovereignty from God and must be obeyed so long as they do not breach Islamic morality. In exchange, Wahhabism is the state religion supported by the royal family and is at liberty to maintain conservative social arrangements through religious dogma. Note that ultimately political power tends to trump religion in for example Saudi Arabia or the UAE.

On the other hand, Muslim Brotherhood ideology (Hassan al-Banna; Sayyid Qutb) aims to build a modern majoritarian – or even theocratic – form of democracy based on Islamic principles. Hassan al-Banna advocated for a political ideologisation of Islam by means of Islamic governance, institutions and structures. On the other hand, Sayyid Qutb tended towards radicalisation and laid the foundation of the idea of jihad by means of violence. Historically, the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood has challenged the more hereditary and conservative aspects of Wahhabi/Saudi rule by inspiring reformist movements across the region. It is for this reason that the Arab uprisings represented an existential threat to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Consequently, the Muslim Brotherhood group has been designated a terrorist organisation and banned in both countries, as well as in Egypt.

Source: El Karoui, H., The Islamist Factory, Institute Montaigne, 2018, online; Mulcaire, C., Hasan al-Banna and the Political Ideologization of Islam in the 20th Century, E-International Relations, 2016, online; Meijer, R., The Muslim Brotherhood and the political: An exercise in ambiguity, The Hague: Clingendael, 2013; Reuters, 3 May 2019, online (accessed 3 September 2020).

In a similar vein, several reports suggest that economic cooperation between Turkey and Qatar plays an important role in shaping their relationship.[64] However, a brief examination of trade data since 2002 suggests that Turkey’s trade volume with Saudi Arabia and the UAE has been consistently and significantly higher than its trade with Qatar. In the two years following the 2017 Qatar diplomatic crisis, Turkey’s trade volume with Saudi Arabia declined from $15 billion to $8 billion and remained at the level of $5 billion with the UAE. However, the trade volume with Qatar reached just about $1.4 billion – i.e. roughly one-sixth of trade with Saudi Arabia and one-third of trade with the UAE (see Figure 1 below). Furthermore, Turkish-Qatari trade today sits at a level already achieved in 2008. Taking these observations together suggests that the Turkish-Qatari partnership does not have strong economic drivers.

From an economic point of view, we should also note an important factor that helps explain Qatar’s need for an autonomous and Iran-friendly foreign policy. Qatar shares the world’s largest gas field with Iran (North Dome/South Pars).[65] While their joint possession and exploration does not create many operational dependencies on a daily basis, they do generate broader supply chain, and longer-term production and commercial, dependencies that are coordinated and optimised through Iran and Qatar’s membership of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF).[66] Being seen to contribute to sanctions against Iran, or facilitating strikes against it, would be likely to trigger retaliation. As Qatar is much more dependent on the North Dome gas field than Iran is on the South Pars field, any rupture in its relations with Iran would threaten the source of revenue that makes Qatar the richest country in the world on a per capita basis.[67] It is in large part for this reason that Doha ‘has avoided assimilation with Saudi foreign policy to limit the risk threats against its offshore gas and oil fields from Iran’.[68]

Figure 1
Turkey’s trade volume with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar from 2002–2019[69]
Turkey’s trade volume with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar from 2002–2019

Ideological and economic considerations aside, it is worth noting that the Brotherhood’s organisational network and political infrastructure also serve as an important capacity enhancement for Turkey and – especially – tiny Qatar. As it is, both countries have weak institutional capacities to pursue their foreign policies. A 2012 Turkish think tank report notes that the country had only 26 Arabic-speaking diplomatic personnel in 2011, of whom only six were working in the Middle East.[70] With a population of just 300,000, Qatar has also struggled to provide enough staff for its roughly 100 diplomatic representations around the world to pursue its foreign policy aims effectively.[71]

Taking the absence of ideological and economic drivers together, it appears that Doha has largely aligned itself with Ankara for pragmatic reasons. In other words, to protect itself from worse than the Quartet embargo.[72] After the Qatar diplomatic crisis of 2017, Qatar had little choice but to strengthen its pragmatic hedging policy under Turkish leadership. Today, Doha is largely dependent on Turkey (and, paradoxically, the US) for military protection to safeguard its space for pursuing an autonomous foreign policy. For Turkey, partnering with Qatar has been an opportunity to shift the balance of forces in the Gulf as far as its bid for soft power leadership of the Sunni world is concerned. While this claim has been accepted in some East Asian Muslim countries (example.g. Malaysia and Pakistan), it has been challenged by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt.[73]

Başkan (2016) op. cit.; Vidino, Lorenzo and Kamal Helbawy, Pioneer of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West, GW Program on Extremism, Washington: The George Washington University, 2020 online (accessed 27 July 2020).
Veen and Yüksel (2018) op. cit.
Başkan (2016) op. cit.
Note that the Shi’a-Sunni divide is largely non-existent in Qatar. Both Hamad and Tamim al-Thani built close personal ties with Iran’s political elites to insure themselves against attacks linked to the presence of the US’s Central Command in Doha. Fromherz (2017) op. cit.; Roberts (2017) op. cit.
Even though the movement has expanded its influence in places like Qatar’s education ministry and Al-Jazeera. Based on an interview with Professor Allen Fromherz, Director of the Middle East Studies Center at Georgia State University, 23 November 2020; Roberts (2017) op. cit., p. 184.
Roberts (2017), op. cit; Başkan, B., ‘Making Sense of Turkey’s Foreign Policy: Clashing Identities and Interests’, The Muslim World: 2016.
Based on an interview with Shadi Hamid, Senior Research Fellow at the Brookings Institute on 3 December 2020.
Roberts (2019) op. cit.
Küçükaşçı, E. S., Entente Cordiale: Exploring Turkey Qatar Relations. TRTWorld Research Center, 2019, online; Schmid, D. and J. Subervie, Turkey/GCC economic relations, Ifri, 2014, online (accessed 19 November 2020).
North Field, online; Regencia, T., Qatar-Gulf rift: The Iran factor, Al-Jazeera, 6 Jun 2017, online (accessed 29 November 2020).
GECF History, online (accessed 29 November 2020).
Fromherz (2017) op. cit.; Richest Countries in the World 2020, Global Finance, 3 August 2020, online (accessed 26 November).
Fromherz (2017) op. cit.
Turkish Statistical Institute online (accessed 26 July 2020).
Bahadir D.O. – Mustafa Kutlay, Turkey's power capacity in the Middle East: the limits of the possible, (Türkiye'nin Ortadoğu’daki güç kapasitesi: mümkünün sınırları), USAK reports, No:12-03, (April 2012): 19, online.
Roberts, D. B.,, Reflecting on Qatar’s “Islamist” Soft Power, Washington: Brookings Institution, 2019.
Kinninmont (2019) op. cit.
Young, M., In an interview, Soli Özel explains the multifaceted nature of Turkey’s ambitions in the Middle East and North Africa, Carnegie Diwan, 2020 online (accessed 18 August 2020); Sabah, online and Asia Times, online (accessed 21 October 2020).