Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Gulf nations severed diplomatic relations with Qatar in a coordinated move on Monday (AFP/file)
Turkey’s parliament expected to fast-track legislation allowing troops to be deployed to a Turkish military base in Qatar
Turkey’s parliament looks set to fast-track legislation to allow its troops to be deployed to a military base in Qatar, in a move that is likely to increase tensions in the Gulf.
Officials from the ruling AK Party and nationalist opposition said the legislation would allow troops to be deployed to a Turkish base in Qatar, amid reports Turkey is also set to offer food and emergency supplies to the country.
The move appears to support the Gulf Arab country as it faces diplomatic and trade isolation from some of the biggest Middle Eastern powers. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain severed relations with Qatar and closed their airspace to commercial flights on Monday, charging it with financing militant groups.
Kamal Alam, a visiting fellow at diplomatic and defence think-tank RUSI, told Middle East Eye that a prolonged crisis in the Gulf could see Turkish military power in Qatar grow.
“It won’t happen immediately,” he said. “But the Saudi Islamic Arab coalition could fall apart and, maybe, if the situation continues we might see the first steps of replacing US protection in Qatar for Turkish protection.”
The Turkish move comes as the Islamist political group the Muslim Brotherhood has called on Saudi Arabia not to listen to “corrupt princes of oppression” in the United Arab Emirates.
The Brotherhood rejected what it said were false accusations of terrorism by Saudi Arabia, and called on the kingdom to cease its support for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and to not listen to the rulers of the UAE.
The growing Gulf crisis has also pulled the Kremlin and the White House into its orbit, as Moscow dismissed allegations that Russian hackers helped spark tension between Qatar and its former allies.
US officials believed hackers were responsible for the false news story on the state-owned Qatar News Agency last week that precipitated the conflict, CNN reported on Tuesday
Andrei Krutskikh, a Kremlin adviser on cybersecurity, told the Interfax news agency: “We’re getting tired of reacting to unsubstantiated banalities.”
“Whatever happens, it is hackers. It’s a stale claim and as ever there is zero evidence, and conclusions are drawn before the incident is even investigated.”
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain severed diplomatic relations with Qatar in a coordinated move on Monday, with Yemen, Libya’s eastern-based government and the Maldives following suit later. The shutdown came just two weeks after the demand by US President Donald Trump for Arab states to fight terrorism.
Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, told CNN on Tuesday that the hacking of Qatar’s national news agency was “proved by the FBI”.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigations had sent a team to the capital Doha to assist Qatari authorities in finding out what happened.
“Whatever has been thrown as an accusation is all based on misinformation and we think that the entire crisis is being based on misinformation,” he said. “Because it was started based on fabricated news, being wedged and being inserted in our national news agency which was hacked and proved by the FBI.”
Doha in talks about shortages
Meanwhile moves against Qatar have continued, as former allies ramp up the pressure.
Qatar is in talks with Iran and Turkey to secure food and water supplies amid concerns of possible shortages, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
“We are in talks with Turkey and Iran and other countries,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, adding that the supplies would be brought in through Qatar Airways cargo flights.
The official said there were enough grain supplies in the market in Qatar to last four weeks and that the government also had large strategic food reserves in Doha.
Already, 85 percent of Qatar’s imports have been cut and food trucks at the Saudi border have been forced to turn around.
The United Arab Emirates warned on Wednesday that anyone showing sympathy with the emirate over sanctions imposed by its Gulf neighbours could face up to 15 years in prison.
“The UAE attorney general warns that any participation in conversation or social media or any other means that demonstrates sympathy to Qatar or protests the position of the UAE and other states against the Qatari government may face a prison sentence of three to 15 years and a fine of no less than 500,000 dirhams ($136,125),” said a statement carried by the Gulf News and Al-Bayan newspapers.
The four governments also closed their airspaces to all Qatari flights and banned Qatar-based news network Al Jazeera. Saudi Arabia has closed Qatar’s only land border.
Article 29 of the UAE’s cybercrime law criminalises any online publication carrying information “with intent to make sarcasm or damage the reputation, prestige or stature of the state or… any of its symbols”.
Jordan said it is reducing its level of diplomatic representation in Qatar, cancelling local registration for Al-Jazeera TV, according to an Associated Press report late on Tuesday.
Hamas shocked at funding threat
Allies of Qatar have also rallied to support the emirate.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is to visit Turkey on Wednesday at his own request, Turkish foreign ministry sources said. The sources said Zarif would discuss bilateral and regional matters.
Hamas expressed shock on Wednesday at Saudi Arabia’s demand that Qatar end its support for the Palestinian movement.
On Tuesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said that to rebuild relations, Doha must cut its support for “extremist” groups, including Hamas.
He said Qatar-supported Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, “undermines the Palestinian Authority”.
But in a statement on its website, Hamas said the party felt “deep regret and disapproval” at the Saudi statement.
“These statements are a shock to our Palestinian people and to our Arab and Islamic nation, which considers the Palestinian cause its central cause,” the statement said.
And Qatar said on Tuesday that another ultimatum issued by Saudi Arabia and its allies – that the emirate’s citizens leave the kingdom by mid-June – is a violation of human rights that requires UN intervention.
Ali bin Smaikh al-Marri, chairman of Qatar’s national human rights committee, said that the move would break up families and disrupt young people’s education.
“We have moved from severing diplomatic relations to a comprehensive blockade of international conventions and human rights conventions, not only for Qataris but also for citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries,” Marri told a press conference on Tuesday evening.
“Qataris who study in Saudi, the UAE and Bahrain, we’ve had information that they were requested to leave immediately and they were not allowed to continue their final semester exams,” he added.
‘Trumpification’ of relations in the region
The United States was pulled further into the crisis on Tuesday when President Donald Trump effectively backed the Gulf blockade of Qatar.
In a series of tweets, Trump said that his trip to the Middle East in May was “already paying off” as Gulf leaders followed through on their promise to take a hard line on the funding of militant groups.
He said “all reference” to funding extremism pointed to Qatar.
“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!” Trump said in a series of Twitter posts.
The crisis is continuing to impact world markets, which have seen little movement since its inception. Traders are also anxious about other events, including the UK election, the European Central Bank policy meeting and the testimony of sacked FBI boss James Comey to Congress about Trump’s possible campaign links to Russia.
Germany on Wednesday expressed alarm at the sudden escalation of tensions, warning of the dangers of “Trumpification” of relations in the region.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who is due to meet Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister on Wednesday, said he was surprised by the intensity of the tensions erupting in the Gulf region.
“Such a Trumpification of relations with one another is particularly dangerous in a region that is already rife with crises,” he told Germany’s Handelsblatt newspaper in an interview published on Wednesday.
“Qatar is apparently to be more or less completely isolated and existentially targeted,” he said, adding: “A further escalation serves no one. The Middle East is a political and military powder keg.”
Gabriel, a longtime critic of German arms sales, also attacked Trump’s recent large US weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Gulf.
France said it would not takes sides in the diplomatic row – but urged Qatar to be transparent and answer the questions its neighbours had asked it.
“Our will is not to take sides, but Qatar must be completely transparent and answer its neighbours’ questions,” government spokesman Christophe Castaner told reporters in a weekly briefing.
Castaner was responding to a question on whether Paris considered that Qatar supported terrorist groups.