Qataris having second thoughts over ‘partnership’ with Turkey

Turkey’s extensive economic and financial cooperation with Qatar reveals the extent to which the leading Justice and Development Party (AKP), headed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is relying on Qatari gas funds to help ease its economic crisis.

In recent years, the Turkish president has come under increasing pressure as the opposition blames him for the country’s deteriorating economic conditions.

Economists in the country and elsewhere have not hidden their concerns, with some of them branding the crisis “a great catastrophe.”

The Turkish government has employed two primary strategies to access and exploit Qatari wealth. The first is obtaining aid and Qatari financial grants, some of which are public while others are secret. These are obtained under the guise of paying Qatar’s contribution in support of Islamist allies who are fighting in conflicts in the region, especially in Syria, Libya and Azerbaijan.

The second way Turkey is extorting Qatar is binding Doha to treaties and cooperation agreements in various fields. Most of these agreements are somewhat unfair, only benefiting Turkey by attracting Qatari capital to invest in Turkey or activate commercial exchanges, which usually mean exporting Turkish goods to Qatar.

 There are also defence and security agreements, under which Turkey sends its forces to Qatari territory in exchange for agreed sums of money. Qatar fully bears the expenses of these forces, paying for their salaries, transportation and accommodation costs.

Just as Turkish Ambassador to Qatar Mustafa Goksu announced Wednesday that his country had signed numerous agreements with Qatar in a wide range of fields, the Qatari Emiri Court announced Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani’s intent to visit Ankara on Thursday to join Erdogan in chairing a meeting of the sixth session of the Qatari-Turkish Higher Strategic Committee.

The Qatar-Turkey Higher Strategic Committee’s annual meeting “reflects the desire of both countries in expanding and diversifying fields of cooperation,” said Goksu, adding that a number of new agreements are expected to be signed at the upcoming session.

A statement issued by the Emiri court stated that “the sixth session will deal with ways to consolidate the strategic partnership between the two countries in various fields and exchange views on regional and international issues of common interest, in addition to signing a number of agreements and memoranda of understanding.”

Qataris, however, have begun questioning whether the term “strategic partnership” is accurate. They have started to view the unusual ties between their country and Ankara as unequal, and feel Turkey is exploiting Qatar for its wealth after encouraging it to isolate from its Arab Gulf environment

They have suggested that upcoming agreements between the two countries could be part of Turkey’s attempt to ensnare Qatar so that it is completely bound to its relationship with Ankara.

By signing such agreements, they say, Qatar will be unable to change course in the future and relieve the large financial burden it bears due to its relationship with Turkey and involvement in foreign conflicts that Doha may lose interest in.

The Turkish ambassador revealed that more than eight new agreements will be signed between his country and Qatar during the sixth meeting of the joint Higher Strategic Committee on Thursday in Ankara.

In an interview with Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, Goksu said, “the agreements cover a range of fields such as defense military cooperation, economic and industrial cooperation, in addition to the field of international trade, free zones and water resources management, as well as an agreement in the field of Islamic, religious and family affairs.”

He also revealed that “two new investments by Qatar in Turkey will be officially signed, one in the field of sea ports and the other is a huge investment in one of the well-known major shopping centres in Istanbul.”

The Turkey-Qatar Higher Strategic Committee was established in 2014, and Doha hosted its first session in December the following year. So far, Qatari-Turkish meetings have resulted in the signing of 52 agreements in various fields.

“The committee, over the past five sessions, has contributed to the transfer of bilateral relations to the ranks of a comprehensive strategic partnership,” Goksu said.

Among the agreements expected to be signed is an agreement for “joint promotional activities in the field of free zones,” Goksu said.

The Turkish ambassador explained that “the existence of a Turkish free zone in Qatar will be a major turning point for the unique trade relations between the two countries, and will contribute to attracting more Turkish investments to Qatar, and creating more job opportunities.”

He noted that Qatar is a labour importing country, which means the new job opportunities the ambassador is talking about will only benefit the Turkish labour force.

In a clear indication of how Turkey is benefiting from its “partnership” with Qatar, Goksu stated that Turkish exports to Qatar have tripled over the past five years, and that the total trade volume between Turkey and Qatar amounted to $2.24 billion last year.

Turkey’s appetite for Qatari money reveals the extent of its economic and financial crisis.

Earlier this month, the crisis prompted the Turkish president to make an urgent change in the leadership of the Central Bank, whose president, Murat Uysal, was dismissed.

Erdogan has also dismissed his son-in-law and close adviser Berat Albayrak, once a strong candidate to succeed the president, as finance minister.

Atilla Yesilada, an analyst at GlobalSource Partners, said influential voices had convinced Erdogan that “catastrophe was imminent” and “urged him to reassess the situation on the ground and the chances that his regime will survive the crisis.”

The article was first published in the Arab Weekly and reprinted with permission.