Qatar rushes to Turkey’s aid as Erdogan’s crisis with US deepens

Doha’s pledge comes as the Turkish-Qatari alliance appears to have tightened.
Sunday 19/08/2018
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in Ankara, Turkey August 15, 2018. (Reuters)
To the rescue. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in Ankara, Turkey August 15, 2018. (Reuters)

Mohammed Alkhereiji and Thomas Seibert

LONDON/ISTANBUL - Qatar has pledged $15 billion to prop up Turkey’s ailing economy at a time when Ankara’s ties with the United States have worsened.

“Turkish-Qatari relations are based on solid foundations of true friendship and solidarity,” Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin posted on Twitter on August 15 in announcing the pledge. It came during a meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in Ankara.

Qatar went to Turkey’s aid amid one of the biggest financial crises facing the Erdogan government. The Turkish lira has been in free fall, losing nearly 40% of its value against the US dollar this year.

Market worries over Erdogan’s increasing control of Turkey’s economy have been a major factor behind the lira’s downturn, which turned into a nosedive when US President Donald Trump announced punitive tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminium imports on August 10. That move was tied to a dispute over the detention of US pastor Andrew Brunson in Turkey.

The Trump administration threatened Turkey with additional sanctions on August 16 and Trump accused Ankara of holding Brunson “hostage.” Writing on Twitter, Trump said the United States would “pay nothing for the release of an innocent man” and that his administration was “cutting back on Turkey.” The Erdogan government said it would retaliate against any US action.

Even a quick resolution to the row over Brunson would likely leave significant tensions in Turkish-US relations. Like Qatar, Turkey has remained on good terms with Iran despite US efforts to isolate Tehran.

Erdogan has said Turkey would not abide by Trump’s new economic sanctions against Iran. “If you think relations cannot get any worse, think again,” Gonul Tol and Engin Polar of the Middle East Institute in Washington wrote in an analysis. “Iran sanctions will complicate Turkey-US relations even further.”

This comes as the Turkish-Qatari alliance appears to have tightened. “We stand by our brothers in Turkey,” wrote Sheikh Tamim on Twitter following his meeting with Erdogan.

Sheikh Tamim stressed what he called Turkey’s support for “the causes of the [Arab] nation and Qatar,” a reference to tensions between Turkey and other states because of Ankara’s pro-Qatari stance in a dispute between the country and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt.

Those countries severed ties with Doha in June 2017 over what they claimed was the Qatari government’s support for terrorism, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, as well as its ties to Iran, generally viewed as a destabilising regional force. Ankara’s decision to set up a military base in Qatar was interpreted as a threat by some Gulf Arab states.

Ahead of the Qatari pledge, the Kuwaiti government denied reports in Turkish media of a $1.6 billion bailout of Ankara.

The denial came despite Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Kuwait, including clerics and members of parliament, telling Kuwaitis it was their Islamic duty to support the Turkish lira.

Officials in the Gulf remained mute on Turkey’s problems for the most part but news of the fall of the Turkish currency was celebrated on social media. The Arabic hashtag “the Turkish lira collapses” was trending in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.