OPINION

Greece, Turkey and the Arab world

greece-turkey-and-the-arab-world

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is currently in Kuala Lumpur, where he is meeting with the leaders of Iran, Qatar and Malaysia, promoting, among others, his vision of becoming a leader in the Muslim world. At the same time, he and his government are continuing their aggressive rhetoric about the deal with Libya and the prospect of drilling in the region.

For his part, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias is campaigning to inform and make the most of bilateral and multilateral alliances and partnerships in the Arab world. In this context, he is touring – among other countries – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which, like Egypt, play a leading role in regional developments and are currently opposed to the Turkey-Qatar alliance.

Seeking closer ties with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi is an obvious choice and it is rightly being pursued by the Greek government. At the same time, it is useful to maintain channels of communication with Qatar, an Arab country with economic power which, despite its support for Turkey in the dispute caused by the Ankara-Tripoli agreement, remains a player that affects developments.

Qatar is one of Turkey’s major investors. Turkey rushed to the side of the emirate when other Arab countries in the region imposed a trade embargo on the country. Today, Qatar is returning the favor by providing huge financial assistance to Erdogan.

In this complex scene of developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, Greece has rightly approached specific capitals and taken advantage of existing partnerships and alliances. At the same time, there is no reason to completely cut off other players.

Beyond the geopolitical scene, Greece is also pursuing the economic and strategic objective of attracting foreign investment. At this year’s international forum in Doha a few days ago, Deputy Foreign Minister Kostas Fragogiannis met with the head of the Qatar Investment Authority, which is the country’s main financial instrument and manages 330 billion dollars in assets. Qatar’s support for Turkey is well documented, as is the emirate’s interest in investing in Greece. The sizes are not comparable, but the equation can and should include Greece.

Greece, a country with traditionally good ties to the Arab world, has managed to build very close cooperation with Israel. That shows that careful and balanced moves can increase, not limit the country’s role and the benefits it can yield.

It is clear that the Qatari-Turkish relationship is strong, but that does not mean Greece should not develop its own role. Besides, Qatar Petroleum is participating in a joint venture with American oil and gas company ExxonMobil in drilling activities inside Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone. And as a Qatari official stressed on the sidelines of the Doha Forum, “politics is one thing, and business quite another.”

Also, one cannot ignore the fact that Qatar sells significant quantities of gas to Greece, while almost a quarter of the world’s Qatari gas exports are being carried out by Greek shipowners.

It is certain that beyond Greece’s alliance with the US, its EU membership and cooperation with Israel, relations with the Arab world, and especially countries that politically or economically influence developments in our region, are an important part of the puzzle of managing relations with Turkey.