Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made urgent phone calls to world leaders in an attempt to use his position to resole the current Qatar crisis in which Saudi Arabia led the charge to totally isolate the small Gulf state.
The UAE, Bahrain, Hadi government in Yemen, Tobruk government in Libya, the Asian Republic of Maldives and perhaps most importantly, the largest Arab state, Egypt have all severed all diplomatic and business ties with Qatar. Qatar’s neighbours have also started to close off land and sea routes to Qatar.
Turkey while technically maintaining a position of neutrality, clearly leans towards Qatar’s side of the dispute.
Now, Erdogan has made a series of phone calls to try and alleviate the situation.
Erdogan ran the risk of openly taking a pro-Qatari stance that could alienate Turkey from the few parts of the Arab world that are not entirely fed up with Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman antics.
It seems that for now, he has taken a more subtle, yet nevertheless hands on approach to the matter. One of the first leaders he called was Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A statement published by the Office of the Russian President details the nature and tone of the conversation,
“The two presidents discussed the developments around Qatar and called on all interested countries to engage in dialogue with a view to reaching a compromise for the sake of preserving peace and stability in the Persian Gulf area.
It was emphasised that the grave crisis in the Middle East requires well-orchestrated efforts and close coordination of the international community in fighting the terrorist threat.
Both leaders agreed to continue joint efforts to facilitate a settlement in Syria, in part by implementing the agreements on de-escalation zones as soon as possible.
They also discussed certain issues pertaining to bilateral cooperation, noting the progress toward fully restoring Russian-Turkish trade and economic ties and implementing the Turkish Stream project”.
This comes as both leaders look to fully normalise trade relations between Moscow and Ankara after lingering sanctions dating back to late 2015 when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet on the border between Syria-Turkey
Erdogan is not one to express humility, but he is all too aware that under difficult circumstances and with continuing differences over key regional policy matters, namely Syria, Russia under President Putin has shown tact, patience and respect towards Turkey, something Turkey’s traditional western partners have done the opposite of.
In phoning President Putin, Erdogan has demonstrated that he wants to play his hand as part of the wider non-Arab international community and the eastern portion at that, rather than as a neo-Ottoman Sultan trying to stick his hands into internal Arab issues. Indeed, Turkey is not always welcomed as a mediator in Arab affairs for the very reason that for so long, the political independence of the Arab’s was subjugated by its Ottoman overlord.
Erdogan also spoke with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait in an attempt to defuse the situation. It is of note that Kuwait is one of only two Gulf Cooperation Council members not to break off relations with Qatar, the other being Oman.
According to Hurriyet, a source close to Erdogan described the conversations in the following way,
“The importance of regional peace and stability was underlined in the talks, as well as the importance of focusing on the path of diplomacy and dialogue to lower the current tension”.
This indicates a more nuanced stance than Erdogan doubtlessly privately maintains.
Erdogan has become increasingly close to Qatar at a time when he is growing increasingly isolated from Levantine Arab states. Of course he is positively loathed by Syria and much of Iraq for meddling in both countries. In the case of Syria, Erdogan’s Turkey has engaged in an illegal war of occupation which has been accomplished through Turkish backed jihadist terrorist groups like the FSA.
Egypt crucially did not feature on the list of countries which Erdogan phoned. Egypt’s secular President Sisi will likely never forgive Turkey nor Qatar for their role in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood’s brief period of rule over Egypt between 2012 and 2013. The Brotherhood is once again outlawed in Egypt as it first was under the leadership of President Nasser.
Erdogan thus far has taken cautious steps in respect of the Qatar crisis. By associating himself with the wider non-Arab world, he has thus far avoided neo-Ottoman grandstanding on a delicate issue that could ultimately lose Erdogan the few real allies he has in the Arab world at this point.
It is anyone’s guess how long the notoriously flippant Erdogan can maintain this position.