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Qatari investments in Turkey: An urban legend
The sudden embargo on Qatar by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates perplexed us all this month. It was a half-baked regional response to the half-baked American ideas presented during President Donald Trump’s recent visit. The tiny Qatar is probably going to resist a bit to preserve its dignity, but will eventually have to bow to the powers that be. The Turkish response to the crisis has been more clear-cut. Ankara stands by Qatar, its seemingly closest friend in the region; that much is clear. The motivations for that stance are more interesting. Why is Turkey so vocal on this point?
Turkish people are oblivious to the intricacies of Gulf politics, and our media was dumbstruck by news of the crisis. In a TV interview at the outset of the crisis, a citizen on the street was asked what Turkey needed to do in a situation like this. “Turkey needs to take the side of Muslims,” he said, asking a question of his own “so Qatar or Saudi Arabia, which side is Muslim?” “Both,” said the interviewer. “If both are Muslim,” the guy continued, “which of them is Sunni, the Qataris or the Saudis?” “Both,” replied the interviewer. “If both Qatar and Saudi Arabia are composed of Sunni Muslims,” said the guy “which side has more money?” “Both have a lot of money,” said the interviewer, adding “they are oil exporting [SIC] countries with a lot reserves.” “In that case,” said the guy, with a lightness of finally having understood the situation, “Turkey needs to bring Saudi Arabia and Qatar together and help them settle their differences. Turkey can turn this into an opportunity if it does not take sides.” Not bad. Say what you will about the man, but Ankara could have benefitted from his thought process early on in the crisis.
Turkey’s reaction to the sudden embargo on Qatar was just that - a reaction. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called the embargo “neither humane, nor Islamic.” The front pages of newspapers were covered in photos of Turkish dairy products on the shelves of Qatari supermarkets. All sent there by Turkish airplanes. There are obvious ideological connections that could prompt such a response, but more concrete reasons remain elusive. There have also been newspaper reports about Qatari investments in Turkey. Some have said the Turkish Lira only survived consecutive shocks because the Qataris swooped in to save the day by pumping the Turkish economy with much-needed investments.
This is an urban legend. Let me give a few figures. In the 11 years between 2003 and 2014, the cumulative foreign direct investment (FDI) into Turkey was $130.5 billion. Qatar’s share in this total? A meager 0.3 percent. Not even 1 percent, mind you. Qatari FDI into Turkey in these 11 years? Just around $400 million. Not even a billion in 11 years. Saudi FDI in Turkey? Around $4.9 billion. UAE FDI? $5.1 billion. Total GCC investments? $10.8 billion. Total U.S. investments? $15.3 billion. Cumulative EU-based FDI flow into Turkey? $65.2 billion.
So what is Qatar to Turkey’s economy? Nothing. Not even 1 percent of FDI inflows.
These figures show one thing: Qatar does not have enough money invested in Turkey to float a regional industrial giant. Qatar cannot help Turkey, but Turkey can help Qatar, if need be. But why do that? Trump’s recent visit has brought a half-baked idea to our region: a SunniNATO as a line of defense against Shia expansion. Saudi Arabia and the UAE were encouraged by Trump’s warm handshake and lashed out against their unruly brother. That is what the Qatar crisis is: a tribal feud.
All this shows us that nothing has changed in this part of the world in the last 1,000 years. When the first crusaders came in 1099, some Arabs saw an opportunity to settle their scores with rival tribes. As they colluded with the new coming “Franj,” the Crusaders were able to reach Jerusalem very rapidly. Read Amin Malouf’s “Crusades through Arab Eyes” for a clearer picture.
No matter how Islamic we are in Turkey, we are not part of that Arab tribal dynamic, nor do we have the know-how to navigate its depths as outsiders. Ankara has a recent history of recklessly entering regional disputes based on purely ideological reasons. Turks like to project their own history onto others, creating good guys and bad guys out of thin air, and charging into holy war like Don Quixote against the windmill.
This time might be a little different. This time it seems that the Turkish elite finds Qataris more personable than the Saudis. Why? Beats me. But underneath the ideological factors might be more worldly things at stake. Time will tell.