The Gulf Cooperation Council today faces a period of internal tension and political division unprecedented since its conception in 1981. Following several disagreements between Qatar and its neighbouring states of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the U.A.E, over post-Arab Spring regional policies relations among these former allies have culminated in a relative blockade on Qatar.
Those Gulf States at odds with Qatar have been joined by Egypt through the breaking of diplomatic ties, closure of air and sea space, and the imposition of a trade embargo on the small Gulf Emirate. The Gulf states involved in the diplomatic row had taken the extra step of expelling all Qatari citizens from within their borders, and have removed Qatar from the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
The states blockading Qatar claim that this is in direct response to alleged Qatari support of Islamist movements in the region, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, and the perceived suspiciously close ties with regional rival Iran. While Qatar vehemently denies any of these accusations, it has nevertheless faced a list of 13 demands from this new anti-Qatar coalition. These demands include shutting down the state run Al Jazeera news network, curbing ties with Iran, and accepting the demands within 10 days.
While the Sultanate of Oman and the Emirate of Kuwait, two of its GCC neighbours, have taken a neutral stance in this political dilemma, the mounting political pressure has forced Qatar to look elsewhere for support. Enter Iran and Turkey, two unlikely partners who are more than willing to aid Qatar in the face of this blockade, though their actions are far from altruistic in nature.
On the 7th of June, the Turkish Parliament ratified an agreement to permit the deployment of Turkish troops in Qatar. While the Turkish military base in Qatar was established in an agreement in 2014, it is clear that this deployment is Erdogan’s message to the Saudis and Iranians that Turkey too is willing and able to protect its regional interests.
Turkey and Qatar have a track record of aligned regional policies in the post-Arab Spring Middle East. They both expressed support for the Muslim Brotherhood’s electoral victory in Egypt while refusing to support the military coup that followed against the Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, and both countries continue to provide support to rebel groups fighting the Syrian government.
It is imperative however not to consider this deployment as Ankara classifying Riyadh and its allies as political rivals. It is far more favourable for Turkey that the GCC remain stable rather than in its current fractured state, hence the initiatives taken by Erdogan’s government to resolve the conflict to supplement those efforts of Kuwait’s Emir. Furthermore, as Turkey faces an ever more precarious situation with the now empowered Kurds within its borders and beyond, in Iraq and Syria, it is even more unlikely that Ankara seeks to extend its list of political rivals.
In the upcoming weeks, two key factors need to be observed in order to understand the potential consequences of Turkish military presence on the Arabian Peninsula. The first is the Qatari reaction to the list of demands, which may be extended to make note of the Turkish deployment. The second will be the political manoeuvring of the new Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, whose endless ambition and growing influence will surely impact the Kingdom’s foreign policy as he prepares to inherit the Saudi throne. In order to mitigate, rather than escalate, this regional divide, Erdogan would be wise to tread carefully and ensure that his deployment of troops in Qatar will not be perceived as anything more than a message.