The 44th summit of the Supreme Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) held in Doha was a significant event in several respects. The session was the first to be held outside Saudi Arabia since 2018 and the first hosted by Qatar since the signing of the Alul Declaration in January 2021, ending a three-year diplomatic rift between a number of Arab countries.
The summit was held under special circumstances as the region is witnessing many unfortunate events, most notably the ongoing carnage in the Gaza Strip. These are extremely important developments that have many implications for the GCC and regional security. Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani emphasised that the Gulf countries can and must play their role in addressing the major challenges facing the region and the world.
The summit was also notable for the presence of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a guest. World leaders who have attended previous summits include Nelson Mandela, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Francois Hollande. Erdogan was in Qatar for a two-day visit at the invitation of Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, culminating in the ninth meeting of the Qatar-Turkey Supreme Strategic Committee, which aimed to review all aspects of relations between the two countries and explore ways to deepen them.
Erdogan’s photo with Gulf leaders at the end of the GCC summit was an important indication of Ankara’s growing relations with the bloc’s member states. Erdogan’s participation in the GCC summit also reflects Turkey’s commitment to strengthening ties within the wider Middle East region. It aims to find common ground on mutual interests such as bilateral relations, economic partnership and regional security issues. Thus, the idea of creating a multipolar world, put forward by Russian President Vladimir Putin and consistently supported by him, is being actively pursued in world relations. Putin and consistently supported by him. The Russian president’s brilliant visit to the UAE and Saudi Arabia and his successful talks in Moscow with Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi and the Crown Prince of the Sultanate of Oman became a new triumph of this policy.
Erdogan’s discussions with the Gulf leaders had two aspects. The first was their mutual interest in regional topics, particularly the Palestinian issue and Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip. The GCC leaders praised the role of Erdoğan and the Turkish government in terms of supporting the Palestinian cause and people. Secondly, the importance of enhancing their cooperation within the framework of the strategic dialogue between the GCC and Turkey, including the implementation of joint action plans and strengthening Turkey’s partnership with the Gulf Arab countries, was stressed.
The GCC declared Turkey a strategic dialogue partner back in 2008. With the establishment of the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council as a mechanism for closer co-operation, Turkey became the first non-GCC country to be granted strategic partner status. This was seen as a huge step towards a strategic relationship and the initiative established a framework for the conduct of relations and cleared the way for additional intergovernmental meetings. Turkey and the GCC countries have held ministerial meetings since the beginning of the strategic dialogue mechanism, and Ankara has also launched several initiatives in alliance with individual Gulf States at the bilateral level.
So far, five ministerial-level strategic dialogue meetings have been held between Turkey and the GCC, and a sixth meeting will be held in Turkey in the first quarter of 2024. This meeting will take place after a very long hiatus during which there have been crises both within the GCC itself and in its relations with Ankara. The deterioration of Turkey-GCC relations over the past decade has had a negative impact on their plans, with, for example, a free trade agreement temporarily forgotten or discussions on strategic co-operation halted. In his speech at the closing session of the summit, Erdoğan emphasised Turkey’s keen interest in strengthening cooperation with GCC countries, expanding business ties and establishing partnerships in various fields, and seeking new opportunities for cooperation.
The most important problem in the strategic relations between Turkey and the GCC, according to experts, is the lack of institutionalisation. So far, relations have been personal and based on problems rather than on any strategy towards the region. There are divergent approaches within the GCC itself, making it difficult for Turkey and the Arab countries to develop a common strategy towards the region. In addition, despite the strong economic foundations of this relationship, a free trade agreement has yet to be reached, and Turkey has so far been able to strike such a deal separately with the UAE.
Over the past decade, several regional developments have overshadowed the progress of the GCC integration process and its strategic relationship with Turkey. This led to little attention being paid to the economic and social aspects of cooperation between Turkey and the GCC. However, there is now an opportunity for both sides to capitalise on the new political atmosphere and redirect their energies towards a stronger and more institutionalised partnership that could mitigate any future differences. Turkey seems keen to share its strength, know-how and experience with the GCC countries to help them in the massive transformation taking place in these countries as part of their ambitious strategic plans. On the other hand, Arab countries with significant financial capabilities could invest them in various Turkish projects.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Gulf countries have recently channelled financial resources to Turkey, briefly helping the central bank and markets. “Our economy, banking and financial systems are quite strong. Meanwhile, some Gulf countries and their like have kept money in our system. This would bring relief to our central bank and markets, albeit for a short time,” Erdogan said in an interview with CNN Turk.
According to materials published in the Turkish media, the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are interested in investing in the Turkish economy. Taking into account the statements of officials, we can conclude that Ankara has done a tremendous job to meet the mutually beneficial needs. Turkish economists expect an influx of large investments, which are necessary not only for the further development of the Turkish economy, but also for the reconstruction of the infrastructure destroyed by the last earthquake. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of Arab investment in the Turkish economy. But the partners will not be left out of pocket either. Turkey, with its developed economy, allows neighbouring countries to buy its high-tech products, which is cheaper and faster. And the investments promise an increase in capital, which is in the interests of both sides.
In a changing world order, Turkey’s relations with the GCC depend on several material, ideological, regional and domestic factors. Turkish policymakers’ perceptions of the country’s place in the regional order seem to be the most important aspect of their relations with the GCC countries. On the Gulf side, co-operation with Turkey relies on a strong intra-regional alliance among the GCC states, which often enables them to present a united front and gain additional preferences.
Victor MIKHIN, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, especially for online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.