Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is travelling to Qatar for a two-day visit aimed at enhancing cooperation between the two allies, Turkish state media said.
Erdogan and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani will preside over the 7th Qatar-Turkey Supreme Strategic Committee meeting on Tuesday. A Turkish delegation of ministers and business leaders will meet Qatari counterparts as well.
Turkey’s ambassador to Qatar, Mustafa Goksu, told Al Jazeera Arabic the summit would include the signing of agreements in a variety of fields including culture, trade, investment, relief, sports, development, health, and religious affairs.
The two countries have already signed tens of agreements since the first meeting of the Supreme Strategic Committee in 2015. Trade between Doha and Ankara is expected to increase this year over last, Goksu said.
Thousands of Turkish soldiers are based in Doha in Turkey’s only military base in the Gulf region. Several hundred Qatari troops and 36 fighter jets are expected to be deployed temporarily to Turkey, part of an effort to enhance the training of Doha’s air force.
Turkey is facing depleted foreign currency reserves as a result of an economic crisis and rapid devaluation of the lira, and Qatar currently provides it with the equivalent of $15bn in currency swaps, the limit was raised from the equivalent of $5bn after talks between the two countries in May 2020.
The two countries became closer in 2017 after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt imposed a blockade on Qatar. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt accused Qatar of meddling in their affairs and backing groups associated with the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings in the region.
Diplomatic ties, as well as trade and travel, with Qatar were severed by the blockading countries, raising fears of disruptions to regular imports such as food items.
Within days, however, Qatar and Turkey agreed on new import deals that saw Qatar bringing in a range of essential Turkish goods by air. Soon after, an announcement was made that Turkey would deploy several hundred additional troops to its military base in Qatar.
The blockade was lifted in January of this year and Sheikh Tamim attended a Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Saudi Arabia subsequently.
A thaw on many fronts?
Turkey also seems to be seeking to restore ties with Gulf powers in recent months, according to Bulent Aras, adjunct professor at the Gulf Studies Center, Qatar University, and professor of international relations at the Istanbul Policy Center, Sabanci University.
“Turkey and Qatar see eye to eye on almost each and every issue in the Middle East, and it is worth pointing out that this rapprochement between Turkey and the GCC happened only after the Gulf crisis was over, at least on paper,” he told Al Jazeera. “So you can guess there was coordination between Turkey and Qatar on the rapprochement issue and its timing.”
A thaw appeared on the horizon when Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, met Erdogan in Ankara last month where they signed several agreements, including investment deals worth billions of dollars, a much-needed injection of foreign investment amid Turkey’s crisis.
There are other signs that relations between the two countries are warming. Mehmet Ali Ozturk, a Turkish businessman held in the UAE since 2018 on charges of financing “terror” groups in Syria, was released and travelled back to Turkey. Sedat Peker, a convicted Turkish mob boss whose sensational internet videos issued from exile in Dubai have included scandalous accusations against top Turkish officials, has also gone silent and could be returned to Turkey, which has long sought his extradition.
Erdogan will visit the UAE in February and has said in recent weeks that Turkey is planning a rapprochement with Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
The Turkish president has previously been outspoken about Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and how he came to power in what Ankara said was a 2013 military coup. The two withdrew their ambassadors from each other’s capitals soon after the start of el-Sisi’s rule.
Turkey has also had frosty relations with Saudi Arabia, particularly after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a team of Saudi agents in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018. But those, too, appear to be easing; a Turkish court trying Saudi officials in absentia over the murder said it would not retry defendants if Riyadh has already prosecuted them.
Aras said Turkey’s shift was driven by a number of factors, including a sense that Ankara is militarily overstretched with overseas commitments. As the 2023 elections in Turkey approach, Erdogan is seeking to extricate himself from thorny international tensions and bring foreign investment into the country to try and prop up a slumping economy, he said. “If elections are coming you need a more calm atmosphere, and your foreign policy and domestic policy should be controlled.”
He added that the response from regional countries seems to be driven by an effort to separate political goals from pragmatic needs such as economic cooperation.
While Qatar and Turkey cooperate on almost all issues, Aras said, there has been a recent point of tension.
In the Eastern Mediterranean, Ankara says its maritime rights and those of Turkish-backed Northern Cyprus extend to overlap claims by Greece, Egypt, and Libya. At stake are important oil and gas reserves and rights to drilling.
Last week, the government of the Republic of Cyprus agreed to grant a license for exploration to Exxon Mobile and Qatar Petroleum, a move condemned by the Turkish foreign ministry.
However, according to Aras, Turkish diplomats expect that, going forward, disputes would not spill over into larger economic or military tensions or an all-out standoff.
“The countries in this geography are trying to at least compartmentalise relations, so they can have good economic relations but differences in, for example, Libya or the Eastern Mediterranean,” Aras said. “This is a kind of result of a learning process, and they recognise they cannot be in conflict at all levels on all issues.”