After Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Gulf states cut ties with Doha in June 2017, Qatar turned to Turkey. This Arab-Turkish alliance is by no means novel. Here’s a quick look at ties between the small oil-rich state and Ankara.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar on June 5, 2017, accusing Doha of supporting terrorism. Qatar denied the accusations, digging its heels into a dispute that has entered its second year.
The five imposed trade and travel sanctions on Doha after it refused to accept over a dozen demands. These included shutting down the Qatar-funded Al Jazeera network, severing ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and removing a Turkish military base from Qatari soil.
As the blockade started to impact the oil-and-gas-rich Gulf state’s access to food supplies — especially the Saudi closure of Qatar’s only land border which saw the movement of food and construction imports — it turned to its neighbour Iran, with which it shares a massive gas field, and Turkey.
How did Turkey respond during the Gulf crisis?
Two days after the crisis started, Turkey fast-tracked two pieces of legislation to allow more troops to be deployed to a military base in Qatar that houses Turkish soldiers under an agreement signed in 2014. Other measures agreed upon included joint exercises between the armies of the two countries and the Turkish gendarmerie training Qatar’s gendarmerie forces.
Two weeks later, five armoured vehicles and 23 military personnel from the Turkish armed forces arrived in Doha as part of the new deployment plans.
As Turkey flexed some military muscle to show the world Doha was not alone, it also sent in other sorts of reinforcements.
When news spread that thousands of food trucks were stuck at the border with Saudi Arabia unable to cross over into Qatar, Qataris stormed markets to stockpile essentials. The trade war also meant Qatar’s sugar fix was also cut off as it depended on the UAE and Saudi Arabia for just under 100,000 tonnes of white sugar annually.
The fears were exacerbated by the timing of the blockade — in Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting in which food — especially sugar — plays an integral role.
Qatar’s population of 2.5 million people is largely dependent on imports of foodstuffs. About 80 percent of Qatar’s food requirements are sourced via bigger Gulf Arab neighbours, such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
But Turkish cargo planes were quick to fly in food products like dairy and chicken. Close to 200 planes airlifted aid supplies. The Turkish government also used more sustainable — albeit slower — shipping routes. The first of such ships carried 4,000 tonnes of food supplies from a port in Izmir.
In the four months which followed, Qatar’s Turkey imports increased by 90 percent to $216 million, Aegean Exporters' Association (EIB) said. Imports from Turkey between June and December 2017 grew to $523 million, 48.2 percent higher than in the same period the previous year.
Turkish investors also saw the situation as an opportunity to expand in the Qatari market, providing the Gulf state with an alternative to the Arab world. The crisis also resulted in Turkish contractors bidding for projects as Qatar pushed ahead with infrastructure for the World Cup 2020.
The value of projects handled by firms from Turkey crossed over $14 billion by January 2018.
As the Trump administration initially sided with the Saudi blockade — it reversed its policy in 2018, asking for an end to the embargoes — Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Qatar twice that year to shore up confidence in the isolated smaller Gulf state. He called the embargoes a “death sentence” and asked for the Saudi-led coalition to end their inhumane treatment of Qatar.
Qatar rallies the lira
The Turkish economy faced a turbulent year as the lira lost nearly 40 percent of its value, hit by concerns of a rift with Washington and interest rate hikes. Even as the Turkish lira received a boost in September after an improvement in ties with the US and the health of some banks, Qatar has acted as a boost.
The rich Gulf state pledged $15 billion of investment in Turkey in August. The Qatari money is expected to be channelled into banks and financial markets.
The central banks of the two countries also signed a currency swap agreement in the Qatari capital Doha, setting a two-way currency exchange line.
The move is aimed at providing liquidity and funding for the first phase of the swap is expected to be worth $3 billion.
In a more personal gesture, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani gifted Erdogan a luxury plane — a Boeing 747 which was refitted for 76 instead of 400 passengers.
Starting at the end of the Ottoman Empire
Turkey’s ties with Qatar date back to the tail end of the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th century when it was trying to expand into Arab territory.
The Turkish Ottoman forces landed in Qatar in 1871 and established a small military base there, or garrison, with the emir’s consent. The Ottoman forces withdrew around 1914 and by 1916, the state was operating as a de facto British protectorate.
The two states re-established ties in the 70s, which was celebrated by Qatar’s embassy in Turkey by a commemorative stamp in 2018.