Walking through Doha, one cannot help but notice the increasing presence of Turkish nationals and businesses in the city. This presence was first seen in the early 2000s, but it became particularly pronounced after the onset of the 2017-2021 Gulf Crisis, in which Saudi Arabia and several other Arab states blockaded Qatar. Turkey in particular played a major role in assisting Qatar during the darkest days of the crisis, helping to ensure a stable supply of food and other needed goods in the country. Relations between Turkish and Qatari leaders improved dramatically during this period, and increased political, economic, and cultural ties have followed.
With the apparent end of the Gulf Crisis in January 2021, it has been speculated that relations between Qatar and Turkey will decrease in regional significance as commercial ties between Qatar and Saudi Arabia are re-established. But there is little evidence that this will be the case. On the contrary, the Qatari-Turkish strategic partnership has benefited both nations, and the countries’ leaders realize that keeping the alliance intact will do much to ensure the economic and political stability of the troubled region. While a Saudi-Qatari rapprochement is excellent news, Turkish-Qatari ties are likely to endure, if not strengthen.
Turkey and Qatar: Growing Ties
Turkey and Qatar’s relationship dates back to the late 19th century, when the Ottoman Empire absorbed the eastern Arabian Peninsula, including modern-day Qatar, into its sphere of influence. After a few decades of tension, conflict, and sometimes peace and cooperation, the Turks abandoned their claims to Qatar in July 1913.
Given the small size of Qatar’s population and economy, and Turkey’s lackluster economic performance towards the end of the 20th century, economic relations between Turkey and Qatar were minimal until the late 1990s and early 2000s. With the onset of the 21st century, Qatar emerged as a major player in the global liquified natural gas (LNG) market and Turkey was able to address persistent hyperinflation and political instability that had crippled its economy since the 1960s.
The emerging correlation between the economic growth and stability of the two nations provided new opportunities for trade and economic cooperation. In 2000, trade volume between the two countries stood at a mere $38 million. By 2016, this figure had increased by more than 21 times to roughly $818 million.
Qatari-Turkish Ties After the Gulf Crisis
As a direct consequence of the 2017 Saudi-led blockade of Qatar, trade volume between Turkey and Qatar jumped to approximately $2.2 billion in 2019 (Table 1). The past decade has witnessed Turkish exports to Qatar rise continuously–a whopping 587% growth rate between 2011 and 2019–while the volume of Qatar’s exports to Turkey have seen ups and downs from one year to another, reflecting the volatile nature of LNG prices in global markets. Despite this, Qatar’s exports to Turkey have experienced an overall increase of about 25% in the same period (Table 1).
Table 1. Qatari-Turkish Bilateral Trade, 2011-2019
|Year||Qatar’s Export to Turkey
|Turkey’s Export to Qatar
Not only have the trade volumes between the two countries been on the rise, but the two economies are also becoming salient trade partners. This is shown by the fact that Qatari-Turkish bilateral trade, as a share of each nation’s total trade, increased continuously between 2011 and 2019 (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Qatari-Turkish Bilateral Trade as a Share of their Total Trade, 2011-2019
The increasing economic relationship between Turkey and Qatar has been reinforced by increasing military cooperation between the two nations, starting in 2002. The 2015 agreements paved the path for the establishment of a Turkish military base in Qatar and vice versa. With the onset of the 2017 blockade, the Turkish military presence in Qatar increased tenfold to around 3,000 military personnel. Turkey’s cultural presence in Qatar has also been on the rise; as of 2021, two schools in Doha operate according to the Turkish curriculum, catering to the increasing population of Turks residing and working in Doha.
Doha-Riyadh Rapprochement Will Not Impact Qatari-Turkish Relations
The recent steps taken to normalize relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia have raised concerns about the nature of the bond between Qatar and Turkey. However, Qatari officials have reassured their Turkish counterparts that any normalization with Saudi Arabia will not impact Qatar’s economic, political, and military ties with Turkey. The reason is clear: such Qatari-Turkish ties have grown substantially in recent decades, and the two countries agree on many political and security-related issues in the MENA and the Gulf regions, including agreements that a renewed Saudi-Qatari bond is unlikely to affect.
To put that in context, in November 2020, Ankara and Doha signed 10 new agreements after the sixth meeting of the Turkey-Qatar Supreme Strategic Committee chaired by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir of Qatar. The number of economic, military, and cultural agreements between the two countries stands at 62. Also, as of 2019, more than 500 Turkish and 170 Qatari firms and institutions have begun operations in each other’s territory. Right now, Turkish construction companies are playing a major role in Qatar’s infrastructure development before the 2022 World Cup. Since 2002, more than $18 billion worth of construction contracts have been signed between Qatar and Turkey. In 2019, Qatar was the seventh largest construction market for Turkish companies, with projects worth around $1.5 billion.
More recently, in May 2020, the currency swap agreement between Turkey and Qatar increased from $5 billion to $15 billion. This helped Turkey to shore up its capital and foreign exchange markets and ease the recent depreciation pressures on the Turkish lira. This is in addition to Qatar’s pledge of $15 billion of investment in Turkish markets. In the past two decades, Qatar’s direct investment in Turkey has totaled $3 billion, and this is only expected to increase. Many of the goods and services traded between the two countries are strategic in nature and vital to the well-being of their economies and residents. Major Qatari imports from Turkey include iron and steel, electrical machines and equipment, construction services, tourism, tools and equipment, dairy and dairy products, and vegetables and fruits. Differently, Turkish imports from Qatar include LNG and petroleum oils and its products. Turkey is eying Qatar as its best alternative in reducing dependence on gas imports from Russia in the long term.
Turkey’s Important Role in the Gulf’s Stability
Qatar and Turkey’s economic, security, and cultural ties are substantially stronger now than they have ever been in the past, and any normalization between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and the other blockading countries is not expected to lead to any changes in this relationship. Indeed, Turkey has welcomed the recent agreement ending the blockade of Qatar as a positive step that will contribute to the stability, security, and prosperity of the Gulf and MENA regions.
The rapprochement between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, alongside the change in the new American administration, which favors diplomacy and dialogue over coercion and conflict, and Qatar’s recent offer to re-establish talks between Iran and the Arab Gulf states, have all created new opportunities for stability and peace in the Gulf region. Without a doubt, Turkey will have an increasingly important role to play in making the most of these opportunities.
Amin Mohseni-Cheraghlou is an assistant professor in the Department of Economics at American University in Washington, D.C. He has also taught at the University of Tehran in the faculties of Economics and World Studies. His areas of expertise are Development Macroeconomics, International Political Economy, Economies of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and Islamic Economics and Finance. A research consultant for the World Bank Group since 2007, Amin writes frequently on topics related to development economics and economies of the Gulf and the MENA region. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics, an M.A. in International Development, and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Gulf International Forum.