Turkey’s military base in Qatar further antagonises Arab Quartet

The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported that the number of Turkish soldiers in Qatar was expected to increase this year.
Saturday 14/09/2019
A 2017 file picture shows Turkish and Qatari military personnel during a joint military exercise in Doha. (Reuters)
Shifting alliances. A 2017 file picture shows Turkish and Qatari military personnel during a joint military exercise in Doha. (Reuters)

CAIRO - Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry reiterated that the Arab Quartet boycotting Qatar is not letting up on its list of 13 demands. However, it appears the quartet may soon have to alter its demands regarding the closure of a Turkish military base on its soil. Before long, Doha will have two Turkish bases, not one.

The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported that the number of Turkish soldiers in Qatar was expected to increase this year with the opening of the new military base. Ankara, it said, would have an opening ceremony attended by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Military observers said this would give the Turkish Army a larger presence in the country than Qatar’s own army.

The move is likely to exacerbate a rift between Qatar and the Arab Quartet — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — that began more than two years ago. In June 2017, the four countries severed diplomatic relations with Qatar, suspended flights to and from the country, barred Qatari aircraft from flying through their airspace and imposed other economic sanctions on Doha because of its alleged support of terrorism and ties with Iran.

To normalise relations, Doha would have to meet 13 demands issued by the boycotting countries, they said. Among the demands were reducing Iranian diplomatic representation in Qatar, severing trade and military relations with Tehran, cutting ties with terrorist organisations and figures, closing Al Jazeera news channel and Turkey’s Al-Rayyan military base in Qatar.

Mohamed Bahaa Eldin, a political science professor at Suez University, said the effect of a new Turkish military base remains unclear. He said the quartet understands that “Qatar isn’t expected to be able to expel Turkish forces, which are better trained and equipped compared to the Qatari Army, especially given that its agreements to establish military bases may be irrevocable unilaterally.

“If the quartet believed from the beginning that Qatar would be unable to fulfil this demand, the presence of more Turkish forces in the new base will have neither a positive nor negative effect on the prospects of reconciliation.”

However, if the quartet issued the demand to put Qatar’s intentions to the test, he said, Doha’s latest move could antagonise the quartet.

“If Qatar had accepted the demand in principle, it would have been able to discuss and negotiate with the quartet on how and when to implement it but Qatar’s acceptance of a new Turkish military base shows that it is still refusing the demand in principle, which consequently reduces the chances of reconciliation,” he said.

The Arab Quartet is likely to remain sceptical of Qatar even if it attempts to comply with some of the quartet’s demands, such as ceasing support for designated terror groups.

Qatar previously clamped down on figures that were designated terrorists in Egypt before attempting to broker peace talks between Cairo and the Muslim Brotherhood, considered a terror group in Egypt.

In September 2014, Qatar expelled several Muslim Brotherhood leaders wanted in Egypt for allegedly inciting violence and conducting terrorist operations after the overthrow of Islamist President Muhammad Morsi following protests against his rule.

Observers described the step as evidence that Qatar, which has provided support to the Muslim Brotherhood, was reforming its ways and reaching out to Egypt. In March 2015, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi received Sheikh Tamim before the 26th Arab Summit.

However, relations deteriorated once more. In August 2015, Egypt accused Qatar of supporting terrorism after Cairo rejected Qatar’s offer to mediate a deal between the Egyptian government and the Muslim Brotherhood

Mahmoud Zahran, a journalist who focuses on Turkey, said the new Turkish base in Qatar would certainly hurt prospects for reconciliation between the two sides. The only exception, he said, is if “the quartet’s demands are negotiable according to changing political conditions, including the expansion of Turkish influence in Qatar, while Gulf and Arab influence reduces.”

“This is highly unexpected since preparations for Turkish military expansion in Qatar were revealed months ago, without any waiver from boycotting countries concerning their demands,” he added.