Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently embarked on a two-day trip to the Gulf, in the latest international effort to help resolve the diplomatic crisis between Qatar and the Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ), comprising Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. The trip included Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both actors in the crisis, as well as Kuwait, the main mediator, whose role is difficult and should be appreciated.
There were two aspects to Erdogan’s Gulf tour: Sanctions on Qatar, and the recent violence in Jerusalem following Israeli restrictions on Al-Aqsa Mosque. The visit aimed to show Ankara’s intention to keep balanced relations with Doha and Riyadh. Despite adopting a pro-Qatar stance, Erdogan does not want to harm Turkey’s relations with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries, particularly as Ankara’s relations with the West continue to deteriorate.
So the visit was not only solution-oriented; it also aimed to strengthen political and economic ties with the Gulf. Although the visit revealed that the crisis will not end anytime soon, it aimed to reduce pressure on Turkey, which is caught between two fires. That is why the first stop was Saudi Arabia, which Erdogan referred to as “the region’s big and wise country.”
Ankara has learned a great deal from the Arab Spring and its aftermath. As a power seeking a greater regional role, Turkey cannot turn its back on regional developments. But the lessons learned over the past few years has made Ankara more aware of its limits, capabilities and interests, and pushed it to avoid becoming trapped by regional crises.
Despite adopting a pro-Qatar stance, Recep Tayyip Erdogan does not want to harm Turkey’s relations with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries, particularly as Ankara’s relations with the West continue to deteriorate.
That is mainly why Turkey is walking a fine line between actors in the Gulf dispute, adopting a balanced and pragmatic stance along with Kuwait. Ankara’s policy of non-escalation in the crisis serves Turkey’s long-term interests.
Another encouraging indication is that the ATQ no longer insists that Qatar comply with a list of 13 demands it tabled last month. The demands have been whittled down to six that were agreed by the disputing parties in 2014. The softening of the tone and the role of the mediators is “the good” of the crisis.
As in every dispute, there are winners and losers. The real victims of this one are not only the countries involved, but also those in the wider Middle East and the Muslim world. The worst diplomatic crisis between powerful Arab states in decades hurts Arab and Muslim unity, which is needed more than ever amid violence in Jerusalem and other problems in the region.
Unfortunately, for several years the Arab and Muslim worlds have failed to form successful political or economic blocs. One that succeeded, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), faces the risk of breaking up due to the Qatar crisis. This is “the bad,” while “the ugly” is the role of external and internal actors that benefit from prolonging it.
Turkey will do whatever it takes to resolve it. It may even withdraw its troops from Qatar or tone down support for the Muslim Brotherhood. But Erdogan said neither the Saudi king, crown prince nor Kuwait’s emir raised the issue of Turkey’s military base in Qatar during his visit. The coming days will reveal what was discussed in private. Western media readings of Erdogan’s visit as a failure are unfair; diplomatic talks do not bear fruit in a day.
• Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes mainly in issues regarding Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. She can be reached on Twitter @SinemCngz