Panel| Trends in Turkey-GCC Relations

OxGAPS presented a panel on “Trends in Turkey-GCC Relations” during the 6th Bosphorus Summit on the 11th of December 2015, where a report on the same subject was launched. The Panel was moderated by Dr. Dennis Sammut, Director, LINKS (Dialogues-Analysis-Research) who opened up the discussion by emphasizing the importance of this emerging relation. The first panelist was Suliman Al-Atiqi, Committee Chairman, OxGAPS, who elaborated on how changing regional dynamics over the past decade have brought Turkey and the GCC states closer together. Al-Atiqi started by stating that barriers to closer ties between Turkey and the Gulf states linked to Arab politics of the past century were no longer in the way of strategic relations in the 21st century. Furthermore, the downfall of the Baathist regime in Iraq and an unstable Egypt—both traditionally serving as regional bulwarks to Iranian influence in Arab affairs—meant that GCC countries needed another strong regional ally to fill that vacuum, and that Turkey was their answer. Al-Atiqi concluded by examining the institutionalized relations between Turkey and the GCC states since 2005 and how they have contributed to sustained economic relations, exemplified in the increasing bilateral trade volume.

The second panelist was Prof. Dr. Ozden Zeynep Oktav, Yildiz Technical University, who offered insights on the diverging and converging interests between Turkey and the Gulf states after the Arab uprisings that broke out in late 2010. Despite improved relations there remains some thorny issues between the two sides especially on the Muslim Brotherhood. While Qatar and Turkey sided with the Islamist group in Egypt and elsewhere, other GCC countries were supportive of the Egyptian military coup led by Abdel Fatah Al-Sissi. Dr. Oktav also discussed how closer political views between Qatar and Turkey drove them towards a military agreement. The third panelist, Emre Caliskan, Research Associate, OxGAPS, elaborated on the varying policy divergences between Turkey and the Gulf states. For instance Turkey and Qatar were supporting Islamist groups in the Misrata region, while Saudi Arabia and the UAE were backing the Tobruk-based government. Caliskan continued to say that this scenario was similar on the Palestinian issue. While both Turkey and the Gulf states support a two-state solution and the Palestinian Authority, Turkey and Qatar were also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated group, Hamas.

The fourth panelists, was Behar Sadriu, PhD candidate, SOAS, who started off by stating that trade initially helped bring Turkey and the GCC region closer together. Sadriu also mentioned that closer ties were also linked to the tacit agreement that Iran should not dominate the region. Sadriu also touched on the dynamics of this relationship in the Syrian crisis. Both Turkey and the Gulf states firmly believe in a future Syria without President Bashar Al-Assad and that Syria represents a conflict zone where there is increasing cooperation between the republic and the GCC region.

The panel took a shift towards the economic side of the relationship starting with Dr. Catherine Long, Public Policy faculty member, Kadir Has University, who spoke about trade relations. Dr. Long started by outlining the primary trade and investment drivers which include political relations and national growth strategies, increased institutionalized platforms, and trade complementarity. Dr. Long also elaborated on two primary trade sectors: hydrocarbons and real-estate and construction. In the hydrocarbons sector, Saudi Arabia is the primary source for Turkey in 2014 among GCC countries, while Qatar was a source of LNG exports to Turkey. As for real-estate and construction, Turkey’s contracting firms are increasing their GCC presence and Gulf investors are major players in the Turkish real-estate sector.

The final panelist was Adel Hamaizia, Committee Vice Chairman, OxGAPS, who spoke about the tourism industry which represents an important sector between Turkey and the GCC. Hamaizia stated that in 2014 alone, there were over half a million visitors going to Turkey from the Gulf, most of which were from Saudi Arabia. Hamaizia elaborated on some of the factors facilitating growth in this sector, such as increased flights and other aspects of Turkish soft power. Hamaizia concluded by stating that the Arab Spring was also a major factor for increased Gulf tourism to Turkey, as traditional spots such as Lebanon and Egypt are no longer safe and Turkey offered a viable alternative.

Click here to download the report "Turkey-GCC Relations: Trends and Outlook"