Erdoğan’s Gulf visit hints at an end to decade-long diplomatic row

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by Leo Kendrick

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a short visit to Qatar last Thursday as the two allies agreed to a series of new agreements aimed at strengthening bilateral ties and pushing foreign investment into Turkey’s ailing economy following weeks of record devaluation of the Turkish Lira. Anticipation surrounding the president’s Doha visit had been fueled by reports that he was planning talks with Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), a meeting that would have had major diplomatic implications after a decade of frosty relations with the potential to usher in a new era of Middle Eastern geopolitics.



The rumored meeting between President Erdoğan and MBS did not come to fruition after the Crown Prince reportedly canceled his plans to visit Doha for unrelated reasons. Although no formal plans had been in place, the meeting had been rumored due to the two leaders’ coincidental plans to visit the Qatari capital at the same time as well as Erdoğan’s reported openness to the idea of a summit with the Crown Prince.

President Erdoğan’s arrival on Tuesday (7 December) was greeted by a formal ceremony in Doha, followed by a press conference with reporters. The press conference was followed by a closed-door two-hour meeting in which reportedly 15 agreements were signed. The signing of these agreements had been preceded by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu‘s Monday meeting with his counterpart, Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, in which the two diplomats discussed plans to resume Turkish operations of Afghanistan’s Kabul Airport. Ankara had previously been in charge of the airport prior to Kabul’s fall to Taliban forces in August of this year. Erdoğan and Çavuşoğlu’s trip to Doha also fell approximately two weeks after United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayen Al Nahyan visited Turkey and secured a $10 billion investment deal amidst record devaluation of the Turkish Lira. An influx of foreign investment has been sought as a solution to Turkey’s current economic woes, and the President and Foreign Minister’s visit to the Qatari capital last week was seen as pursuing similar objectives. 


Increasing Emirati investment in Turkey and a possible face-to-face meeting between Erdoğan and Mohammed bin Salman have attracted attention due to their potential to upend a decade-long diplomatic row between Middle Eastern rivals. In the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring, Turkey and Qatar’s support of Muslim Brotherhood movements across the Arab World led to diplomatic fallout with Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, all of whom bitterly opposed the Brotherhood and its rise in neighboring states. Consequently, the region was split along such lines, with these two competing axes defining their relations for the better part of a decade. The melee reached a climax in 2017, when the UAE and Saudi Arabia imposed an embargo on Doha and recalled their ambassadors, during which Turkey stood staunchly by on the Qatari side; Ankara-Riyadh and Ankara-Abu Dhabi relations deteriorated to new lows as a result. However a series of diplomatic thaws throughout 2021, notably with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, have suggested that the schism might be soon coming to an end. President Erdoğan’s Tuesday visit to Doha and potential meeting with MBS was viewed in this type of context.

Following the president’s Doha visit, Medyascope‘s Murat Türsan interviewed Dr. Birol Başkan, an author and expert on Turkey-Gulf relations. Başkan underlined the uselessness of the ongoing rivalry between the two region axes, saying “Both sides came to the realization that there is no point in pursuing this.” As the diplomatic bad blood from the past ten years fades into the background, Turkey’s recent economic plight has increased the need for foreign investment. Highlighting the role this fact plays in the recent warming of relations, Başkan added “The Turkish economy is in deep crisis right now and it seems that the Qatari money is not enough to save Turkey from this trouble.” 

However, when asked whether the fundamental dynamics in the Middle East are shifting, or whether the Doha meeting changed anything, Dr Başkan urged caution, saying “The rivalry between the Turkey-Qatar axis on the one hand and the Saudi-UAE axis on the other hand didn’t go anywhere.” Speaking about the extent to which taking different sides on conflicts such as the Libyan Civil War has enervated both sides militarily and economically, he said “It didn’t produce any tangible outcomes except that these two groups of countries have exhausted each other’s resources.”  Başkan mentioned that Turkey-UAE relations remain icey and that Qatar is still deeply suspicious of Saudi Arabia and the UAE following the events of 2017. Nevertheless, he said, both sides have realized that their rivalry no longer benefits anyone, and that the current iciness would likely be overcome in time. Speaking about Ankara’s struggles to restore positive relations with Riyadh, Başkan said “Turkey and Saudi Arabia have no good reason to be in rivalry.”

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