ISTANBUL, June 14 (Xinhua) — As the crisis between Qatar and some Muslim countries continues unabated amid efforts for a settlement, Turkey’s siding with Doha has been criticized for not serving the country’s interests while ruining its chance of mediation.
“Ankara’s excessively one-sided intrusion in the crisis may lead to a loss of sympathy, respect and funds from Saudi Arabia and others in the anti-Qatar camp,” Faruk Logoglu, a former diplomat, told Xinhua.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain as well as several other Muslim nations including Egypt cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar at the beginning of last week. They also closed off sea, air and land links to the tiny Gulf country, accusing it of funding terrorism, hosting terrorists and interfering in their internal affairs.
Doha, for its part, dismissed the claim as unjustified.
Two days after the crisis broke out, the Turkish parliament swiftly ratified a deal to deploy troops to Qatar that was signed in late 2014.
Ilhan Uzgel, a senior analyst of international relations, feels that Turkey’s pro-Qatar policy brings serious risks to itself.
“By taking the Qatari side, Turkey confronts a huge Sunni block that stretches from North Africa to the Maldives,” he told Xinhua.
The Turkish military said in a statement on Tuesday that a three-member military delegation went to Qatar in preparation for the establishment of a military base there.
According to Turkish media reports, there are already around 100 troops and some armored vehicles stationed in the Turkish base in Qatar.
“Promptly dismissing all allegations against Doha and by squarely siding with Qatar, Turkey has effectively disqualified itself from any role in mediating the crisis,” said Logoglu, who once held senior posts in the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that Ankara would not abandon Doha, saying “we will continue to give all kinds of support to Qatar.”
He also expressed total disbelief about Doha’s alleged support for terrorism by declaring that “I’ve never witnessed Qatari support for terrorism.”
“Turkey is supposed to be one of the countries that could play a mediator role but it opted for a pro-Qatar position,” said Uzgel, who taught at Ankara University until a couple of months ago.
In a joint statement, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt accused 59 individuals and 12 charity organizations in Qatar of having links with terrorism, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the al-Qaida-linked terror group Fatah al-Sham, formerly known as al-Nusra Front.
On Tuesday, the Turkish president described the claims against Qatar as “slander” and stressed that the designation of Qatar as guilty would do no good to the region.
He also said that it falls on Saudi Arabia as the leading Gulf country to pave the way for the resolution of the conflict through dialogue.
Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt recognize the Muslim Brotherhood as a terror group, while it is not blacklisted as such by many others, including Qatar and Turkey, as well as the United Nations.
Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are also highly disturbed about Qatar having good ties with Shiite Iran, which they see as a major threat.
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) argued that remaining neutral in the conflict would serve more Turkey’s best interests.
“Turkey should have managed to remain neutral,” said Cetin Osman Budak, the party’s deputy chairman.
Stressing that supporting a party in a conflict makes one part of the problem, he added that “if you stay in the middle, then you would become part of the solution.”
U.S. President Donald Trump revealed that his administration is supporting the Gulf countries’ sanctions on Doha.
“During my recent trip to the Middle East, I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology,” Trump tweeted one day after the imposition of the measures. “Leaders pointed to Qatar.”
For Logoglu, Turkey as a non-Arab country should not take sides in an inter-Arab conflict.
“To stop further future damage to Turkey’s national interests, Ankara must stay put and mute and recalibrate its position to a balanced and non-interventionist mode,” he said.
Turkey has made efforts to soothe the conflict right from the start, creating an impression that it was ready to act as a mediator in the conflict.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu flew to Doha for talks on Wednesday, while a meeting was being arranged with his Saudi counterpart, as the minister said late Tuesday.
The top Turkish envoy said on the day the crisis broke out that Ankara was ready to offer any support for the conflict to be settled through dialogue.
President Erdogan had phone calls with the rulers of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Russia on the first day of the crisis.
Erdogan and Cavusoglu have kept up their telephone diplomacy on top of face-to-face meetings with diplomats of the Gulf countries at odds with Doha. Erdogan will also have a phone conversation with Trump in the coming days.
Ankara is including everybody in the process as it acts as a mediator in the crisis, Cavusoglu told reporters on Tuesday.
Voicing criticism of the sanctions, he said “some steps taken are unmeasured, wrong, neither humane nor Islamic.”
The analysts expect the crisis to get resolved most probably without leading to a military confrontation, but with Turkey remaining on the sidelines.
“Ankara’s decision to ratify the military agreements with Doha should only stiffen and exacerbate the negative perceptions against Turkey in the Arab world,” remarked Logoglu.
Qatar has vowed it would not bow to pressure. Its Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said on Monday that Doha and Washington were in touch with Kuwait and that Kuwait’s mediation efforts were appreciated by Qatar.
Kuwait and Oman are the two Gulf countries that have not severed ties with Qatar.
The Qatari foreign minister, who was touring some European capitals for support, also said there was no foundation for dialogue so far.
Many believe Turkey’s very close economic and political ties with Qatar are a major factor in Ankara’s siding with Doha, although Ankara has been careful to entertain good ties with Riyadh as well.
“Turkey’s openly pro-Qatar policy stems from its deep economic, political and military engagement which has been built up over the years,” stated Uzgel.
According to Turkish media reports, Qatar’s direct investments in Turkey are as high as 18 billion U.S. dollars.
As far as direct foreign investments are concerned, Qatar was the 7th biggest investor in Turkey last year, according to a report by Turkey’s International Investors Association.
In addition, the natural gas-rich Gulf country has purchased many Turkish companies in recent years.
Turkish construction companies have won tenders worth billions of dollars in Qatar so far and hope to get a significant share in the construction work the Gulf country will undertake as host of the 2022 World Cup.
Some believe Turkey is also targeted by the pressure being piled on Qatar, as Doha appears to be a major financial backer for Ankara.
Turkey’s military operation in Syria from August last year to the end of March, which blocked the Kurdish cantons from uniting, must have disturbed the U.S., argued Yusuf Halacoglu, an independent lawmaker.
“Punishing Qatar comes to mean punishing Turkey, as the Turkish economy runs thanks to hot money from Qatar,” he told Xinhua.
Burhan Kuzu, a top adviser to President Erdogan, believes Turkey is the real target in the crisis.
“They are trying to strike (Turkey) via Qatar. This is a project aimed at isolation,” he told the news portal gazeteduvar.com.tr.
Maintaining that Qatari financial investments in Turkey may even be bigger based on various reports in local media, Uzgel said “therefore the place of Qatar is indispensable for Turkey under current conditions.”
“Turkey’s disproportionate support to Qatar is clearly propelled by the heavy dependence of the Turkish economy on Qatari funds,” stated Logoglu.
Other than being a major direct investor, Qatar is estimated to be a leading provider of hot money for the Turkish economy, which is hugely dependent on foreign funds.
Many also feel that the swift support by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to Qatar has more to do with its financial ties with the Gulf country than with national interests.
The AKP’s financial interests rather than Turkey’s national interests play a determining role in the government’s position regarding the crisis, maintained Halacoglu.
Noting the ruling party did not move as fast in the past when some national interest was at stake, he said “those who govern Turkey are aware they can not remain in power if the inflow of Qatari money stops.”
“Such a policy would take Turkey nowhere,” Halacoglu cautioned, arguing that Ankara’s Middle East policy needs to be thoroughly overhauled.
Uzgel sees the Turkish military base in Qatar as a move aimed at securing the regime’s survival in return for an unending inflow of Qatari funds into the Turkish economy, which suffers from a chronic current account deficit.
Both Turkey and Qatar underlined that the Turkish military deployment is aimed at contributing to the security of the Gulf region.
Other than land forces, naval vessels and fighter jets will also be deployed in the Turkish military base in Qatar.
It is also widely speculated that the Turkish government has dubious financial dealings with Qatar.
In the past ten years or so, huge amounts of foreign money in the Turkish Central Bank’s reserves were designated as unregistered, or money with unknown origin.
Such unaccredited money was as much as over 10 billion dollars in 2015 and over 11 billion dollars last year, according to data by the Central Bank.
The claim was most recently cited by two CHP deputies in parliamentary questions submitted earlier in the month.
In his question, Aytug Atici drew attention to the serious increase in the past two years in the amount of unregistered money and demanded to know if Qatar may have been financing some terror groups via Turkey.
Turkey and Qatar have supported the same rebel groups in war-torn Syria.
Eren Erdem, for his part, demanded to know whether the Turkish government’s sensitivity about Qatar has anything to do with the huge amount of unregistered foreign money that appeared in the Central Bank reserves during the AKP’s term in power.
He also asked about the business ties between Qatar and the owners of some pro-government media outlets and high-level AKP figures.
Many fear Turkey would find itself in a hugely uncomfortable position should the Qatari regime yield or be overthrown under pressure from the U.S. and the Gulf countries.
“In the day after the crisis, Qatar itself may not be in a position to maintain the same level of ties with Turkey,” warned Logoglu. “Thus Turkey probably stands to lose no matter what happens.”
“In such a case, it may be very difficult for Turkey to mend the broken relations with Saudi Arabia and other countries,” Uzgel added.