Informed Gulf sources described Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s short visit to Doha on Thursday as a tax collection mission, just like his Ottoman ancestors used to do with their former Arab colonies for centuries. He was in Doha to get Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to dig deep in his pockets and come up with the necessary funds for the Eastern Mediterranean project.
This came at a time when former Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani hinted that Turkey was ready to fill the void that would result from a partial or full American withdrawal from al-Udeid Airbase in Qatar.
Erdogan arrived in Doha accompanied by his usual sidekicks on such missions, namely his son-in-law and Minister of Finance and Treasury Berat Albayrak, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and head of intelligence services Hakan Fidan.
The official Qatari news agency stated that Sheikh Tamim discussed with Erdogan "the strategic relations" between the two countries and ways to support and enhance them in various fields, especially economic, investment and commercial cooperation, energy and defence “in a way that realizes the common interests of the two countries and of the two brotherly peoples.” The Gulf sources said that the Turkish president is pressuring Qatar to finance his military campaigns in Syria and Libya, and the military show of force he is conducting in the Mediterranean Sea, in a throwback that illustrious the period of Ottoman piracy in the Mediterranean under the leadership of the fearsome Oruc Reis and Captain Hayreddin Barbarossa. These and all of Erdogan’s other foreign adventures require that Qatar keep its commitment to finance them.
The sources noted that Turkey is asking Qatar to fund the project that Ankara was unable to implement, despite pumping huge funds in order to impose the rule of Islamist groups in the countries of the “Arab spring." With logistical, financial and media backing from Qatar, Turkey is still pursuing that project through direct military intervention in Libya and the use of soft power in Tunisia, Yemen, Somalia and the whole of the Horn of Africa.
Qatar’s relationship with the new Ottoman sultan is certainly costing it an arm and a leg, and this is perhaps the heavy price of arrogance. Erdogan knew how to take full advantage of the incredible stubbornness and arrogance of the Qatari ruling class and succeeded in convincing them to stay away from the option of returning to the Gulf fold. His plan was, and still is, to blackmail them and turn them into the cash cow that will save the Turkish economy from its chronic structural crisis, as well as finance his imperial dream of restoring his Ottoman ancestors’ glory and influence, which means that Qatar is going to be haplessly stuck with the bill for an unknown period of time.
In return, the Turkish president is pushing the Qataris to let Qatar’s relations with its traditional allies fester and wither. This means Doha's relations in the Gulf, and especially with Saudi Arabia, and even the United States. Ccontroversial former Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim has hinted that Qatar has “alternatives” up its sleeve should Washington decide to reduce its military presence at al-Udeid airbase.
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim's statements about al-Udeid seem particularly strange because they coincided with Erdogan's visit to Doha. According to observers, they reflect a serious concern among Qatari officials about the United States making good on its threat to pull out its soldiers from al-Udeid base as a reaction to Doha's building of a network of ties to militant Islamist groups and spending billions in financing terrorist activities.
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim tweeted that the United States may lose “the advantages coming from selling sophisticated weapons and the strength that various American companies derive from American military power,” and that “when American military power withdraws from the countries where it is located, these companies will follow it, because many countries heed American influence only because of its military might worldwide.”
"As history has taught us, the rules of the game change dramatically whenever there is a withdrawal of world power. An example of that is the British military might, on whose worldwide bases the sun never set. (The British Empire) was reaping many advantages thanks to that might. But today, the world is witnessing how the British Isles are being dismembered now that its bases had disappeared and its sun had set,” bin Jassim added.
In other words, the former Qatari official was warning Washington that reducing the number of its forces in Qatar would automatically mean losing the economic benefits that American companies reap there. Observers of Gulf affairs remarked that Qatar is now adopting a bullying attitude because of Turkey's growing influence in the country. This influence has multiple facets but is mostly seen at the military level through increasing the numbers of Turkish soldiers at the military base.
For its part, Turkey is not shy about its desire to extend its influence over Qatar and turn it into an advanced base for its hegemony in the Gulf region. In fact, Erdogan himself hinted at that during his visit to Qatar last November, when he claimed that his country's military presence in Qatar protected it when its crisis with the Gulf states erupted.
It is no surprise then that Doha continues to defy its Gulf neighbours by ignoring their demands, especially those related to ending Turkish and Iranian interference that threaten the national security of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.