Qatar’s isolation deepens Turkey’s ‘regional solitude’

Sunday 11/06/2017

Time and again, the Middle East is pushing back to the Old Order, which has remained shattered since the 2011 Arab uprisings. The radical shift in the US presi­dency has triggered an anti-Iran dynamic and emboldened Saudi Arabia to forge ties with Egypt with the objective of annihilating everything connected to the name of Muslim Brotherhood in the region.

This line pushed by US President Donald Trump’s administration is bound to converge with the intensifying battle against jihadists in the area.

The sudden isolation of Qatar must be seen as part of this large context, with the aim of bringing the remaining at-large players into a line now to be defined by Riyadh. The message to Doha, wrote Martin Chulov in the Guardian, is that it must recognise the similar threats and disavow the same foes as with the rest of the peninsula and beyond.

“Doha knows it has little room to move,” he wrote. ”It cannot afford to leave the Gulf Cooperation Council, which offers collaborative security and a trade bloc. It cannot afford to be isolated but nor does it want to fold too quickly. Having spent decades building a brand as the state with a stake in everything, bowing to a master will starkly expose its limits.”

Reality has made it clear that no other power in the region is closer to Qatar than Turkey. Due to its fluctuating economy, the latter has become, to a great extent, dependent on Qatar, which has run to its rescue by injecting money whenever needed.

The two countries have relentlessly sought to expand their influence in the region and the Islamic sphere by supporting Islamist rebels in Libya and Syria, backing Muslim Brotherhood activities across MENA while constantly deepening military cooperation. The Turkish-Qatari Military Pact, in early 2015, sealed a strategic alliance that went as far as Turkey pledging to defend Qatar against external threats.

So close were the leaderships that, as Middle East Monitor reported: “Doha sent 150 elite members of its Special Forces to protect President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan during the failed coup attempt on July 15 last year upon his request.”

So, the current crisis with Qatar at its epicentre will have an inevitable effect on Turkey, regardless of how primary Saudi- Iran tension may appear to have led to it.

In a powerful essay in the National, Hassan Hassan correctly divided the post-Arab uprising countries in the region into two camps — “one that seeks to advance its foreign interests through the support of Islamists and one whose foreign policy is guided by opposition to the rise of Islamists.”

The chronology of events triggered by the Arab uprising — the sequences tying Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and those related to Hamas — should have told the Qatari and Turkish leaderships that their bet has turned into a lost one.

If Hassan’s description points to a deeper regional dynamic, Trump’s speech and meetings in Riyadh, which were aimed at “driving out the Islamist extremists” — as he expressed it — could spell a much more concerted regional action to wipe out or marginalise anything that is related to the Muslim Brotherhood phenomenon.

This is how the severing of ties with Qatar has been read by Erdogan: As a primal threat to what he sees as the role of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) as a leading force meant to unite Muslim Brotherhood movements across the region.

An anonymous Turkish source with links to the AKP told journalist Amberin Zaman that Erdogan and his team “see parallels between (former Egyptian President) Muhammad Morsi’s ouster and what’s happening to Qatar now. They see it as part of a concerted campaign orchestrated by Israel and the United States against the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies with whom they feel an ideological affinity and they are connecting the dots to the July 15 coup.”

The Turkish president’s offer of mediation must be seen as a result of this sort of perception but apparently Qatar decided to opt for Kuwait in that role instead, delivering another blow to Ankara, increasing its isolation. It adds to Erdogan’s remarkable absence in Riyadh, marking a rapidly opening gap as allies between the United States and Turkey.

No matter how long the current conflict lasts, it is the one in which Qatar will never have an upper hand. Doha will have to compromise and bow to the emboldened Saudi power, with Egypt lurking behind.

It will push Erdogan’s Turkey to a more delicate position than ever, on many levels.

As the crisis erupted, Turkish and German foreign ministers reached a rupture point, prompting Germany to move its troops from the Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey to Jordan — another blow to Turkey’s ties with the Western bloc.

Left with no leverage to halt the growing Kurdish role in Syria and regional power gravitating towards Saudi Arabia, the Qatari crisis leaves Turkey face to face with two historic arch-rivals: Russia and Iran. No matter what, it is not possible for Erdogan to turn this equation into a win-win.