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Erdogan’s bet on Qatar is misplaced

It is time that Washington, Brussels and Nato got together to mull alternative options

Gulf News

America and the European Union have quietly tolerated Qatar’s dubious links and dodgy beneficiaries primarily because it hosts the US Central Command airbase as well as coalition personnel. If Doha were shorn of that facility and its satellite network Al Jazeera closed down, the Qatari government’s international clout would be severely diminished.

Qatar’s co-ideologue Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also been greatly emboldened by his country’s usefulness to western powers. Both Muslim Brotherhood-defending countries consider themselves to be indispensable US partners, free to pursue widely frowned-upon foreign policies without fear of damaging repercussions.

Turkey is a member of Nato. Its strategically located Incirlik airbase has been home to the US Air Force’s 39th Airbase Wing since 1955 and houses up to 5,000 American airmen as well as US tactical nuclear weapons. Following last year’s coup attempt the Pentagon was briefly deprived of its access to the facility, which was a temporary blow to its military campaigns in Syria and Iraq.

Ankara’s flirtations with Washington’s nemesis Moscow and its recent rapprochement with Tehran, currently positioning itself as Qatar’s best friend, are of concern to Turkey’s western allies. However, they abide by self-imposed constraints, unwilling to risk severing their friends-with-benefits association with Turkey.

Turkey’s bombing of Kurdish YPG fighters, a successful ground force in close cooperation with the US military to eviscerate Daesh in Syria, go unpunished.

Pot calling the kettle black

During an iftar dinner last week, Erdogan launched a thinly veiled attack on America, saying, “Those who justify terrorist organisations for the sake of their regional policies by depicting them as militia, instead of taking a decisive stance will soon realise they made a vital mistake.”

His outrage is a case of pot calling the kettle black. He has given asylum to wanted terrorist members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jamaa Islamiya, the group responsible for killing foreign tourists in Egypt. He has allowed Daesh militants to be treated in Turkish hospitals and just last year, he prodded Washington to remove the terrorist branding from Al Qaida’s former affiliate Jabhat Al Nusra that attempts to sanitise itself with name changes.

The country’s relationship with the EU is also stained over its appalling record on human rights and limitations on free speech. Recent years have witnessed media shutdowns and crackdowns on opposition activists. Protesters have been subjected to police brutality. Dozens of journalists and editors have been imprisoned on flimsy charges. Tens of thousands of police, academics, judges, civil servants and generals have either been arrested or fired from their jobs.

“Qatar is neither isolated nor in its death throes. Supermarket shelves have been replenished.”
-Linda S. Heard
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Despite Erdogan looking more like a tyrant than the leader of a democratic nation, criticisms from EU officials tend to be measured. Their hands are tied simply because Ankara wields a Damocles’ sword over their heads.

His commitment to ensure the flood of desperate refugees heading to the shores of Greece hoping to find sanctuary within the EU is no more than a trickle is considered paramount to Europe’s security. Imagine 28 European states are dependent on the whims of Turkey’s neo-Sultan. He must be laughing up his sleeve.

For years, he has been hurling abuse and threats in the direction of Egypt battling to recover from post-revolution turmoil. Now he has turned his ire on Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies vowing to stand by his “Qatari brothers” in the ongoing Gulf feud over Doha’s ties with Iran and extremist groups. He has hysterically described Qatar’s isolation as “inhumane and against Islamic values” adding, “It’s as if a death penalty decision has been taken for Qatar.”

Offering support to death cults who slaughter innocents is against everything Islam stands for. Besides, Qatar is neither isolated nor in its death throes. No Qatari is starving. Supermarket shelves have been replenished. The closure of Saudi, Bahraini and UAE airspace only applies to Qatari-owned commercial aircraft. Families are not being split-up. Whereas Qataris have been given notice to leave Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Qatari spouses are exempt. All the Qatari emir has to do is broadly comply with the commitments he made to his neighbours in 2014 for business as usual to ensue.

The Turkish leadership is holding the US and Europe to ransom. The presence of a major US airbase emboldens tiny Qatar to flex its muscles. Perhaps it is time that Washington, Brussels and Nato got together to mull alternative options.

Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.

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