From Syria to Qatar

From Syria to Qatar

Turkey should reconsider the not-so-easy and unfortunately disastrous path it followed in the Syria crisis before indulging into undertaking any sort of mediation in the crisis between Qatar and a Saudi-led block of nations accusing the gas-rich state of supporting and abetting terrorism. The hasty decision to push through in parliament an authorization bill to establish a 3000-troop military base in Qatar and repeated statements of the country’s sole decision maker, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, of aligning Turkey with Qatar but underlining his government’s strong rejection of the alienation of Doha indicate the problematic course ahead.

There is need for mediation efforts by some regional, and perhaps, international actors. Yet, mediation will not be easy at all. With so many countries joining their “bash the Qataris” move, the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates cannot afford to step back without achieving some tangible results of their demands. Similarly, Qatar cannot afford a cave-in to Saudi and the UAE demands that would humiliate the country and effectively turn it into a Saudi vassal.

Could Turkey be a regional power to help diffuse this crisis? As absurd as the idea might sound, can Washington play such a role? In view of the fact that the Qatar crisis evolved immediately after President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia during which fingers were pointed at Doha as a financier of terrorism, Turkey’s mediation offer was not definitely as mediocre as the American expression to assume such a role. 

One precious opportunity for dialogue came from Kuwait. The Kuwaiti sheikh spared no effort to use his personal influence on the Saudi, UAE and the Qatari leaders but could not succeed so far. No one should perhaps expect a quick resolution anyhow. Iran, as this crisis effect might also be a proxy war with Tehran, cannot be a mediator either. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was trying to understand Ankara’s perception of the development during a half-day trip on June 7 while terrorists were staging some deplorable attacks back in Tehran. For understandable reasons Iran getting worried and even alarmed with the Gulf divide is quite understandable.

If the Trump-instigated Saudi-UAE push against Qatar aimed at forcing the Gulf state 1- to stop being a spoiler of efforts aimed at achieving the isolation of Iran, and 2- to distance itself from Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood; or if the current crisis is a product of a concerted effort to at least undermine the rule of Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani or force a palace coup there, how could mediation work?

Turkey swiftly getting its parliament approval of deployment of its troops – slated to fight terrorism – would help Qatar stiffen its resolve to resist the Saudi and UAE-led pressure to force it to change its stance regarding groups such as Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah. Particularly, as Ankara does not consider the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group or de facto ignores the presence of Hamas on its own terrorist groups list, how would it be possible for Ankara to play a trustworthy mediator role in this crisis? Can Ankara’s ruling political Islamists advice Qatar to shun Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood while they themselves see both two groups as members of their own family? Secondly, was it not Ankara who objected even to embargoes on Iran, refused to be part of an anti-Iran campaign?

Well, some people might remember that Bashar al-Assad of Syria was the “brother” of Erdoğan up until a five-hour-long talk in August 2012 between al-Assad and Turkey’s then-premier Ahmet Davutoğlu.

With Qatar, Turkey has been enjoying exemplary relations. Qataris are buying whatever possible in Turkey, making huge amounts of direct investment much needed by the economy surviving on hot money flow. Yet, Turkey has precious deals with the Saudis as well as the UAE, and of course their big brother: the United States. Thus, the risk of Turkey abandoning either camp to please the other appears to be rather incompatible with intumescent Turkish expectations from both sides.