With his fate still uncertain just hours after the launch of the July 15 coup, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan received his first call of support from a foreign leader.
On the other end of the line was Qatar’s emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, giving his unequivocal backing for the embattled leader, Erdogan told Turkish media.
“It was a significant show of political support at a time when the situation in Turkey was still highly uncertain,” said Rice University’s Kristian Coates Ulrichsen.
“And it contrasted sharply with the lukewarm statements that came out of Western capitals, both at the time and in the weeks since the attempted coup.”
Those tepid reactions from elsewhere have been readily highlighted by Erdogan supporters.
And at the same time that Turkey has grown suspicious of some in the West, it has ostentatiously thanked the Gulf emirate, especially in Doha.
August is a hot and sticky month in the Qatari capital when many envoys flee the heat and head overseas, but not so Turkish ambassador Ahmet Demirok who has been conspicuous only by his presence.
In the days following the coup, Demirok hosted a press conference at his embassy in part to give a government overview of the situation back home for the up to 8,000 Turks living in the emirate, and also to thank the Qataris.
Earlier this month Demirok, together with the local Turkish Chamber of Commerce, hosted an evening at a top Doha hotel complete with canapes, speeches and a presentation on the economic ties between the two countries.
– Good coup for some –
The affable ambassador has also been pictured meeting Qatari government officials.
“We have a very strong relationship with Qatar,” Demirok told AFP.
“We have no problem in our history with Qatar. There’s cultural and policy similarities and the people are very close and the relationship between our leaders is excellent.”
The love-in has continued with Turkish First Deputy Prime Minister Omer Faruk Korkmaz giving an interview to Qatar’s Arabic-language newspaper Al-Sharq to further praise the emir.
And on August 24, Doha and Ankara signed twinning agreements.
That came one day after a Turkish company won a $2-billion (1.8-billion-euro) contract to build a 10-lane highway in northern Qatar, and two days before ubiquitous Qatari broadcaster beIN Media announced it had purchased Turkey’s pay TV company Digiturk.
Moving into the Turkish market was “essential”, said beIN chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi.
Relations post-July 15 have built upon an alliance which has proved strong in recent years.
Both benefit from the economic alliance — trade between the two countries at the end of 2015 stood at $1.26 billion, up from $769 million in 2013 — according to Turkish government figures.
Politically, and for reasons of security, it has also proved crucial.
– Counterweight to Saudi and Iran –
Qatar and Turkey have backed opposition groups in the Libyan civil war, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and also supported rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime.
Their alliance provides a counterweight to other regional powers, particularly Saudi Arabia and Iran, and is viewed with “suspicion” by the United Arab Emirates, said Ulrichsen.
And Turkey has a military base in Qatar which houses up to 3,000 troops or possibly more “depending on the needs”, said Demirok.
“In my view the Qatar-Turkey axis has some important common ground,” said Christopher Davidson, an academic in Middle East politics at Britain’s Durham University.
“Both have cultivated political Islam at home and abroad to press their agendas, both see each other as a useful partner in countering rival powers, whether in Riyadh or in Tehran.”
And while the military base is “symbolic”, it provides “a clear signal to Washington, Riyadh, and Tehran, that Ankara is well placed to take over the US role in the future if the need arises”, he added.
Are there any fault lines?
Possibly Turkey’s evolving stance in Syria which potentially is “something to keep an eye on”, said Davidson.
Ulrichsen says the two countries will be increasingly focused on domestic issues in the near future.
Demirok, though, is clear that the alliance is strong.
“We are very good teammates,” he said.